Kimmy from Star Maid Games
After playing through Kimmy, the newest game from Nina Freeman of Cibele fame, I had to sit with it a while to process how I actually felt about it. Originally developed as a Humble Bundle exclusive, Kimmy is a visual novel-inspired offering that’s long on narrative and short on interactivity.
Despite a couple of flaws, though, it made an impact and impressed me with the way it explored social issues and traumatic childhood experiences by hinting at them instead of portraying them outright.
Drawing on the actual experiences of Nina Freeman’s mother’s childhood, Kimmy is set in suburban Massachusetts during the summer of 1968. Protagonist Dana, soon to be entering fifth grade, meets and begins babysitting a younger neighbor, the Kimmy of the game’s title. Shy and withdrawn, Kimmy comes from a family going through significantly more challenges than Dana herself has experienced, and Dana makes it her mission to help Kimmy befriend the other kids in the neighborhood.
Revealed primarily through dialogue – always a Freeman strong suit – Dana and Kimmy’s interactions with the other kids in the neighborhood explore seemingly simple themes of friendship, communication and forgiveness while also hinting at darker and heavier themes. Bullying is an obvious motif and an appropriate one given the setting, but the game also obliquely refers to racism, homophobia, alcoholism and child neglect.
Fun and Games (or the Lack Thereof)
Even by visual novel standards, there’s not much to actually do. While Kimmy provides a modicum of choice by letting the player pick which neighborhood kids to interact with on each given day, these choices have little effect on the narrative and none on the ending, only revealing additional bits of different characters’ back story. Unusually, Kimmy doesn’t even present dialogue choices.
The one nod to “games” as such is the variety of old-fashioned childhood games – like Double Dutch and hopscotch – that Dana and Kimmy play with the other characters. Using supplies purchased at the corner store with Dana’s babysitting funds, these games are presented as multiple choice quizzes as Dana explains the rules.
I found this to be an unnecessary interruption more than anything else. There are no consequences to guessing incorrectly, the answers are for the most part fairly obvious, and the same quiz repeats each time Dana teaches a game to a new player.
While I suppose credit is due for attempting to add some semblance of “game” to the narrative experience, rushing through a multiple choice quiz on the rules of tug of war for the third time wasn’t interesting to me. I just wanted the story to move along so I could get to know the characters better.
Coloring Outside the Lines
Writing and creating a mood is definitely Nina Freeman’s strong suit, and she – along with co-writer Laura Knetzger, who also provides the childlike but effective illustrations – delivers here. Dana comes across as Pollyanna-ish and almost painfully innocent, especially in the game’s introduction – would a ten-year-old be so naive, even 50 years ago? – but her solid insistence on doing the right thing and being kind and understanding makes her hard not to like.
By the game’s unsettling conclusion, I empathized with Dana’s growing realizations and her frustration. Kimmy captures a very specific turning point in the experience of growing up: the moment when you realize both that the adult world can be an unkind place and that there’s nothing you can do about it yet. There’s probably a word for that feeling in German. While the game leaves many of the questions it poses partially unanswered, it does an exceptional job evoking that feeling.
Kimmy isn’t exactly fun, and it isn’t exactly a game, but it’s a meaningful story delivered in an unusual way. Like Cibele, it made me uncomfortable in places and left a lingering impression on me, and given Freeman’s demonstrated ability to deliver thought-provoking narratives in a digital format, I’m even more curious to see what she’ll release next.
Kimmy is available via Steam and itch.io.
Watch the official trailer for Kimmy below: