I grew up a gamer and, in my heart of hearts, will always be a gamer. But there’s kind of a problem: I’m not very good at gaming. I’ve never been one for strategy. In shooters I’m generally the one spinning in circles trying to figure out how to change my gun and – oh, never mind, game over. I’ll be waiting over here, guys. You finish saving the world.

I think part of the problem is I grew up in the age of turn-based roleplaying games and 2D platformers. I never quite developed the skillset for modern gaming. And anything Facebook based like a Farm/Sky/Star/Sea/City-ville my brain recognizes as a waste of time.

So despite my love of games and gaming, I don’t do much of it these days.

Enter Lifeline. Developed by 3 Minute Games, Lifeline chronicles the journey of Taylor, who has crash landed on a far off planet and for some reason is texting you. Lost and alone, you are their only source of grounding as they struggle to survive. (By the by, I’m saying ‘they’ because Taylor’s gender is never revealed.)

Title card for the game "Lifeline" shows a human in a spacesuit in silhouette, in a rocky ravine.

Part The Martian, part Choose Your Own Adventure, Lifeline is pretty fantastic. Taylor sends you text messages and you can choose one of two canned replies. By way of making suggestions and offering your thoughts on what is happening, they move forward in real time. So if Taylor is walking, they’re walking in real time. You might not hear from them for an hour or so. There is a fast mode if you want to skip this, but it really adds to the game.

When I was working through the game for the first time, I found myself checking my phone. Wondering how Taylor was doing. This is especially true in moments of drama. You’re left feeling anxious and concerned about a character. In a game. It’s pretty great.

Screenshot of messages in the game "Lifeline"

I don’t want to offer spoilers, but like in so many Choose Your Own Adventure books, endings are sometimes less desirable, so you can backtrack if needed and try another path in your decisions tree and hope it leads to a different fate.

Lifeline is also easy because you can play it in your free time. Unlike other so-called casual games which I find are often repetitious and meaningless, Lifeline freezes in time if you can’t reply to Taylor right away. There’s no, “Hello? Are you there?” like when you’ve neglected a real conversation. Just a nudge from the game: Taylor is waiting for you. My free time has been chaotic lately, so it’s nice having something I can drop in and out of.

I was playing Lifeline: Silent Night, its sequel, on a plane last week and my seatmate finally had to stop and ask me what I was doing. I had been chuckling because it has a bit more nerd pandering this time, which is pretty funny. I explained the concept and wrote the name down for him. He sounded like a bit more serious of a gamer than I, but seemed excited to give the game a try.

I think the Lifeline series can appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike because at its core it’s just a good story done in the perfect format. Plus it’s a lot of entertainment for a couple of bucks. It works on either Apple or Android phones. Give it a shot.

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