Here’s a first: in the time it took me to play through We Met In May, I don’t think I ever stopped smiling. Not even once. Admittedly, the games that make up this collection are short, but come on- an unbroken smile from start to finish is no mean feat. We Met In May is a genuinely funny game- a game that is funny because it’s a game, not just because someone has grafted a witty script onto some otherwise indifferent gameplay. It is also a tremendously kind game, not at all the ‘awkwardness simulator’ I initially mistook it for. While awkwardness is certainly something the game explores (particularly in its first vignette), awkwardness is not the feeling that lingers: what does is an abiding sense of acceptance, and gratitude for a dev scene vibrant enough to let a game like this exist.
As the title suggests, creators Nina Freeman and Jake Jefferies met in May, and these self-styled ‘vignette games’ chronicle the early stages of their relationship. Eschewing sentimentality and melodrama, We Met In May instead focuses on those aspects of relationships that inherently involve play. And isn’t that just perfect? Poets, philosophers, dramaturgs and filmmakers have all tried their hand at mapping the dimensions of love, but surely no one is better poised to capture its playful aspects quite so completely as a games designer.
The first vignette, ‘Nothing To Hide’, asks the question: what is the socially acceptable gradient along which we can reveal our dorkiness to each other? Nina has invited Jake back to her room for the first time, and her abundance of sketchy anime pariphanilia leave her feeling self-conscious. A bra slung over the arm of her chair, presumably invisibly mundane when she left her apartment, is now conspicuous evidence of what Nina terms her “computer gremlin lifestyle”. It is up to you, the player, to decide whether Nina hides these objects or not, leaping in the way of your manga collection at the eleventh hour should you so decide. What makes this scene endearing (rather than the interactive Peep Show sketch it could have been) is the fact that Nina’s panic is completely self-inflicted. Jake is The Most Chill Guy Ever ™, a completely non-judgemental presence throughout the scene.
In ‘Beach Date’, Nina and Jake enjoy a sunset by the beach. The episode perfectly stages that weird combination of unparalleled natural beauty with bodily discomfort that only a day at the beach can provide. Nina smothers Jake in Factor 50 sunscreen, handfuls of sand and the contents of bag labelled ‘some chips’ while pixelated blocks of sea foam dissolve like sugar cubes on a lilac ocean in the distance. Nina’s avatar behaves like a ballerina bound by the physical laws of QWOP, her long arms folding in on themselves like the buckling frame of a music stand. And yet… Jake’s eyes follow her every move. It is all so sumptuously romantic. Scene transitions are punctuated by Nina and Jake locking eyes. After all that fumbling, the intimacy of their shared gaze took me by surprise. This is the episode to most likely to make you swoon.
The next vignette gives us a glimpse of what the next Final Fantasy title might look like if Tan France were appointed Creative Director. ‘Strike A Pose’ takes Nina and Jake to a clothes store. It’s up to you to pick out an outfit. Naturally, my first creation was a classy affair, pairing a ‘Sleeveless Turtle Neck’ with a ‘Romantic Skirt’. Nina’s avatar commented: “You can almost see side-boob… nice.” In the second part of the episode, things got a whole lot more JRPG. My outfit had bestowed upon me two special moves with which to wow the socks off Jake: BILLOWING BEYOND SEDUCTION OPERETTA and GLORIOUS LOVE ME BEAM. I chose the former; the results were devastating. I played this section many times over, just to see the battle animations.
Finally, ‘Dinner’s Ready’ provides the collection’s comedic coup-de-grace. While giving away any of the details would spoil the surprise, let it be said that this vignette best demonstrates what I mean when I say We Met In May is funny in a way only a game could be funny. The goal of this final episode is so utterly ridiculous, and feedback it provides such a preposterous blend of high art and lo-fi visuals, I couldn’t help but laugh in giddy surprise. Like I said, from start to finish, I never stopped smiling.
We Met In May is funny and sweet and honest and daring. It is also a reminder that games are just as much a medium for diarists as they are the directors of AAA blockbusters. What better medium to capture those aspects of our lives that involve play? Especially when the subject is love? Above all, We Met In May is a reminder that while love is all those things poets and philosophers have always told us about, it is also something else as well: stupid, goofy fun.