The makers of A Normal Lost Phone, a meta mobile game where players dig through the personal data of someone's misplaced cell, are aware that their premise could — and did — cause some backlash. As my colleague at The Verge wrote upon its release earlier this year, the game invites us to scan through it to an uncomfortable degree.
With its follow-up, Another Lost Phone: Laura's Story, the team at Accidental Queens is taking those criticisms to heart.
"We didn’t do it for the first one, and it was a mistake, but we tried to make it better," said studio co-founder Elizabeth Maler of avoiding the game's potential creepiness during an interview at Gamescom.
"We have a disclaimer in the beginning that you are about to invade someone’s privacy, don’t do it in real life."
Another Lost Phone: Laura's Story also adds some additional distance between player and character. While they still rifle through Laura's text messages, calendar and photos, players don't take an active role in her life. They don't have to reply to any texts or emails, nor do they ever get to do more than observe. In the first game, players had to impersonate the lead character at one point, something Accidental Queens regrets and nixed for the successor.
But Maler questioned the need to even warn players against the ethical dangers of voyeurism at all.
"In a shooting game, you don’t have to tell people, 'By the way, don’t kill someone in real life,'" she said. "But here, you are invading someone’s privacy, but it’s not a real person, it’s a character in the game. But it’s not that problematic, because it’s a game."
"It's a game" likely won't appease A Normal Lost Phone's critics, especially because the game's lead was a teenager going through a serious personal crisis. Another Lost Phone does make a greater effort to demarcate the lines between reality and fiction, although it's very easy to forget that the game's mobile user interface isn't that of an actual phone. It stars an older, more mature lead as well.
"It's less of a personal story and more of a story that could happen [and] that happens to a lot of people actually, and we want to raise awareness of this special issue more clearly," Maler said.
That issue remains a mystery, fitting of this detective-like puzzle game. Another Lost Phone will hit iOS, Android, Mac and Windows PC later this year.