Game review: A Normal Lost Phone – a misplaced mobile reveals a mysterious backstory
Find someone else’s phone, begin to read their texts and continue the thread of their life in this immersive and enticing game that raises questions about the way technology shapes our lives
Virtual computer interfaces in PC games aren’t exactly new – they’ve been seen in dozens of recent titles including Shenzhen I/O and Pony Island – but it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for developers to tap into the same idea on smartphones.
Immersion works best when it recreates our everyday mundanities, heightening and augmenting them to fit into gameplay dynamics.
A Normal Lost Phone was originally released in a different form last April as a free PC game, but the game was received so well that developer Accidental Queens went back to the drawing board, ripping apart the original release and creating the latest version, which sells for an affordable HK$20.
The concept is simple: you find a lost smartphone – although with no phone signal or internet reception, and just a few apps. By digging your way through its text-message history and invading the owner’s privacy, the story starts to become clear.
This is a teenager’s first smartphone, and chats with his dad as well as other family members reveal an interesting if mysterious backstory.
Once the texts are done, you go through emails, then chat conversations, forum posts, dating app history and other details that increasingly make you feel like a modern voyeur, snooping into a life that started out dull, but slowly becomes fascinating and hard to turn away from.
It’s hard to say exactly why without spoiling the story, but the developers obviously worked hard to craft this very modern tale, and this shows in the narrative restraint and slow-building story arc.
The writing takes precedence over any major visuals or gameplay challenges, but that’s not to say time hasn’t been spent on those areas. The game perfectly recreates the standard phone operating system, so anyone comfortable with an Android or iPhone will be able to jump right in.
And more importantly, as the game progresses, you start to involve yourself in the owner’s life: sending texts, finishing emails and generally being as invasive as you can. That’s really the main triumph of the game: making us question why we’re doing this and what we hope to achieve. I know it’s only virtual, but at some points, I did feel a little dirty for getting so closely involved.
A Normal Lost Phone is a step forward in the mobile gaming world, but also one that takes a modern philosophical leap, asking questions about the nature of technology and the ways it controls our lives.