Full disclosure: I heard about LongStory on Twitter when the words “gender-neutral avatar option” made me stop scrolling. Um, yes please? I downloaded both available episodes (the first is free, the second is an in-app purchase that I was more than happy to make) and it was so worth it. While there were, inevitably, a few technical pitfalls, the narrative spoke to a part of myself I haven’t revisited in at least a decade, and let me tell you, the experience was enlightening.
LongStory is a dating/adventure app game with a flavor of Sherlock Holmes as you assume a high school student trying to uncover the mystery of locker 1224. It’s a charming little game that surrounds you with a colorful cast—literally and figuratively. I was delighted to find that the art shaped the characters in distinctly unique ways, allowing for a variety of different races and body types, which was delightful to see. Still, only Colin and two adults are larger, but I’m holding out to see if more body types are represented in later episodes.
Dialogue moved smoothly and organically. I felt like I was having a real conversation with these characters, and not once did any of the dialogue feel manufactured, which was a pleasant surprise given how difficult it is for adults to capture the way teenagers speak. Though wary at first, my impression of Hanniferjane (your typical Mean Girls entourage blended together: Hannah, Jennifer, and Jane) surprised me after further investigation. I’d wrongly assumed that LongStory would fall back on hollow tropes in order to maintain an antagonistic force, but (without spoiling!) I can say they did an excellent job circumventing what you’d expect from the popular girls crowd. Well done!
What I really want to talk about is the storyline between the playable character and Nora, which was so visceral, so realistic, that it immediately hit a nerve with me. As a teenager, I’d made several friends online through LiveJournal, writing and sharing stories with them the second I left the classroom. It was around the time brightly colored flip phones were becoming the new thing, and where we’d rank each other on the social scale based on how many gem stickers we had on the front of our respective screens. (Clearly, it was a simpler time. RIP MySpace.) Although I didn’t have portable online access then, I spent most of my time texting my so-called “internet friends.”
I can’t tell you how real this gameplay felt to me. I was speaking to myself in high school again, carefully playing out a scenario I’d lived before: the slow, terrifying realization that not only was I gay, but the girl that I had a crush on lived thousands of miles away. We connected online, but did that make what I felt any less real? As I played, my hands were shaking. This was real. This was my story. I never expected to have this kind of visceral experience playing an app game, but it felt strangely cathartic all the same.
As you progress in LongStory, several romance options become available regardless of what gender your character is. What’s really nice about this setup is that you can just as easily ignore romance completely if you’re more interested in the main storyline: unraveling the mystery of locker 1224. It’s very much a low-pressure, stress-free game where you’re encouraged to pursue what interests you. If only I’d had something like this as a teenager.
It seems like a small detail, but what I absolutely adore about LongStory is that, in the dialogue options, it gives you a second chance to change your answer. You have to click your response twice in order to progress. Developers: Thank you. Seriously, for someone who experiences anxiety in dialogue situations (I frequently return to a previous save because the conversation didn’t go the way I’d hoped), this was a wonderfully relaxing addition to the gameplay, so kudos.
Technically speaking, the button sensitivity could use some tweaking. As thankful as I was to have more time in a conversation, a few of the response options stuck and I had to wait before trying again. With a bit of patience, the bug wasn’t bad. On a lesser scale, I was confused by the buttons on the opening and credits page. It wasn’t entirely clear what each of the icons were meant to represent, so I spent some time clicking all of them just to see. This could be my general lack of experience with app games, however.
My advice? Download LongStory. The first episode is available for free on iOS and Android. We need to be supporting games that celebrate this kind of diversity in a safe environment. It’s so, so important for young people to have this kind of game readily available to them, and more than that, for us adult folk to be able to reflect on what it is that shaped us when we were that age. This was a delightful game, and I’m excited for the third episode to be released!