New number who dis?
Both games are played entirely within a lost phone that we, the player, find. In Normal Lost Phone, it originally belonged to a teen called Sam, living a seemingly typical teenage life – fussy texts from Mum, clingy GF, friends that come and go, teen dramas, school pressures and cliques, and secrets. Meanwhile, in Laura’s Story, she has the perfect life – a doting boyfriend, a fantastic job, tons of friends; too perfect. And they’re both missing.
In many ways those games are like a text version of Gone Home meets Her Story via Stories Untold. We’re poking through someone’s life, their inane conversations and emails, all seemingly innocent until suddenly you catch something a little off, a comment in a text that doesn’t match a mention in an email and down the rabbit hole of ‘wait a minute…’ you go.
At first it does feel intrusive going through someone’s phone, reading intimate messages, scrolling through their pictures. It’s voyeuristic, like when you read texts over someone’s shoulder. But that feeling does fade. Because the games need you to stay focused, there’s little in the way of distractions or dead ends. There’s few Apps, photos or messages that aren’t relevant and quickly you’ve exhausted everything. Those are more of a linear story where you unlock chapters.
But that linear story takes some work. Coming up against a passcode means you scour comments, attachments and pictures to figure it out, which then reveals more story and previous texts or comments take on a different meaning. You’re constantly piecing things together, uncovering secrets and hidden plans. You do get caught up in it, even if it’s all fairly obvious but it zips along nicely – I completed both in under three hours.
They may be short, but the phone-owner’s lives are complex and it’s in watching them navigate their situations that elevates the games beyond short timewasters. Sam’s story is the more compelling of the two, as he struggles to maintain intricate lies and secrets both to those around him and himself until a sudden, almost poetic Deus-ex-Machina ending.
Laura’s story though, while often chilling, isn’t as persuasive. We figure out what’s going on immediately, and then the majority of the game is ferreting about looking for codes and passwords to uncover more red flags, causing it to drag before an all too easy resolution. Still, as a story it is an unsettling and all-to-real read, and the ending where we become a participant in her story is satisfying.
In both cases, once you’ve uncovered the main story you have the option to wipe the phone, erasing everything about them – bricking the phone closes a chapter, one that you decide if anyone else gets to read.
Neither game has that slow boil tension of Gone Home, but they’re incredibly clever, and Sam’s story was a fascinating and often moving glimpse into someone else’s life; both reminded me of that quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. And I did breathe a sigh of relief when Laura finally realised her situation.
If nothing else, the Lost Phone games are a frightening exploration of how much we confess and confide to those damn things, and that they don’t forget. Besides the intimacy we share digitally, innocent comments reveal so much when linked together; just by reading texts and comments I’m able to piece together enough to unlock the entire device, and some of the puzzles, like finding Dad’s birthdate by scrolling through pictures and checking the date-stamp are both satisfying and terrifying. I need to change my passwords.
Both games are available as an iOS/Android app, and totally worth a couple of quid to play on the commute. And since it presents and behaves like an actual phone, they’re worth playing just for the people on the tube looking over your shoulder.