Developer Accidental Queens is returning to its spin on modern voyeurism with a followup to mobile game A Normal Lost Phone. But though Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story follows many of the same rules as its predecessor — the entire game is played on a smartphone that mirrors the one in your hand — many of its improvements are a direct reaction to backlash from the previous title.
In Another Lost Phone, players assume the role of a person who’s picked up a wayward phone. Inside, they’ll find a slew of texts, emails, and photos that act as breadcrumbs to the game’s greater mystery: what happened to Laura, and why she seems to have gone missing. It’s the same premise as A Normal Lost Phone, but the game’s developers say they’ve taken criticism of that game — and how it handled a very serious transgression — to heart. “We think that a lot of this criticism was justified,” says co-founder Elizabeth Maler.
In the first game, players took an active role in impersonating Sam, the phone’s original owner. They could send message drafts or even photos on Sam’s behalf. This, says Accidental Queens, was a flaw on their part. “We realized it wasn’t a good idea, ethically speaking, but also in terms of game design,” Maler says. “We tried to put the player in the position of weakness. This, sending stuff, it undermines this position. It wasn’t good for what we tried to say with the first game.”
In Laura’s Story, players never have the chance to directly interfere without Laura’s consent. Their role is completely that of a fly on the wall. The developer has even included warnings before the game starts that players should never actually snoop through someone’s personal messages. “We think it’s OK because it’s a game, and you should be able to do stuff in games that you don’t do in real life,” Maler says. “Like killing people, or driving spaceships. That’s not, for us, an interesting critique. The thing is, having a game where you have to look into someone else’s life, allows us to give a message, and we think the message is important.”
That message plays heavily into the game’s other warning. (Spoilers ahead about that topic.) Laura’s Story touches on abusive relationships, a topic that Accidental Queens hoped to shed some light on. Before writing the game, the developer spent time speaking with organizations that tackle abusive relationships to better understand the biggest misconceptions. Chief among those misunderstandings, Maler says, is the idea that abusive relationships are rare, or that victims should just be able to leave on a whim. “There is a big misunderstanding about how the cycle of violence works and why people get dragged into it,” Maler says. “And also about what people should do if they want to help, and how to help, and the fact that there are organizations that are willing to help.”
Laura’s Story feels like a more thoughtful iteration of what Accidental Queens set out to do with its original game. By allowing players to experience the story through messages both from a victim and loved ones, it provides a more nuanced look at how emotional abuse unfolds. It’s at times a difficult game to play, but a necessary one.
Accidental Queens says there are no plans to pursue another Lost Phone game, but the team does want to continue exploring social issues. Each new game is a chance to delve into a topic that is rarely talked about it games. “We can help people,” Maler says.
Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story is available on the App Store, Google Play, and Steam.