Digital Gems is our weekly column where we highlight contemporary and classic downloadable games that we think are worth your attention.
I think we all had a friend like Kimmy growing up. Or maybe, you were a Kimmy. A neighborhood kid that looked off, like something was wrong underneath the surface. But the kids bullied... as they do. The adults kept quiet... as they do. No one questioned or seemed to care. Except for when another kid notices, another kid cares.
The game Kimmy follows Dana, an older kid in a quiet 1960s Massachusetts neighborhood. One hot summer day she stumbles upon a wandering little blonde girl named Kimmy. Kimmy’s extremely shy, having wandered away from the porch she was tied to. (Tying kids to porches is “old-fashioned” but cheaper than a babysitter, according to Dana’s mom.) Dana is immediately drawn to Kimmy, and takes on being her babysitter.
Kimmy is a visual novel co-written by designer Nina Freeman and illustrator Laura Knetzger. The game was programmed by Aaron Freedman, features a score composed by Louie Zong and sound design by Amos Roddy. Kimmy originally saw release back in January of this year exclusively through Humble Bundle’s Humble Monthly as a Humble Original. Today, Kimmy is available widely on Steam, itch.io, and even the Humble Store for the first time, for $9.99.
Freeman’s past games have had a laser-sharp focus on personal experiences. From the doomed MMO-acquainted relationship in Cibele, college-aged sexual assault in Freshmen Year, and a child’s curiosity of sex in how do you Do It?, Kimmy diverts the focus primarily away from Freeman and co-writer Knetzger themselves. The game instead finds itself inspired by Freeman’s own mom and her experience babysitting a kid with a troubled homelife. Despite its 1960s setting, the dialogue between the neighborhood children pulls from Freeman and Knetzger’s own experiences.
As Dana and Kimmy grow close, and Dana learns more of Kimmy’s mysterious situation. Kimmy’s lonely, having had no friends really prior to Dana, so Dana helps her get acquainted with the locals. There are many people to befriend around town (so many that multiple playthroughs are essential if you want to get to know everyone). There’s Jimmy, the disheveled kid with his nose always buried in a comic. There’s crush-worthy Anthony and his sweet little sister Amber, the sibling duo who loiter downtown, their ages mirroring Dana and Kimmy perfectly. Dana and Kimmy spend their days talking to their friends, getting to know them better, and most importantly: playing street games.
Over the course of my playthroughs of Kimmy, I played quite a bit of street-bound games. Kick the can. Hot potato. Marbles. Bloody knuckles. At the start of every babysitting day, I'd flock to the local general store to spend my hard-earned quarters on new games to show off to my pals. Kimmy enwrapped me into 1960s childhood, and all the ways kids would finesse their way to spend their free summers in an era far away from technology.
While playing Kimmy, I found that I didn’t know how to play any of its games—my 1990s-bound childhood was relegated to hopscotch and Pokemon trading cards—and as the game directed me to bid instructions to pals, I’d usually get it wrong the first try. Fortunately, Kimmy isn’t the sort of visual novel that punishes you. There’s no fail state (unless you count spending time your free time unwisely with different people). Instead, you’re launched back to your bag’s inventory, and given the opportunity to guess again.
As Kimmy progresses, the friends you interact with begin to talk of all the other times Kimmy was able to hang out. The times when not even Dana was around. It was here that I felt like Dana was doing good. She helped bring Kimmy out of her isolated comfort zone, and into the lives of others that love and appreciate her company too. Kimmy only grows more lively. Excitedly chatting with passersby, glowing at the idea of a slumber party. Kimmy becomes alive.
While I didn’t babysit many kids outside of my cousins growing up, playing Kimmy reminded me of playing with the neighborhood kids of my apartment complex. The kids who I remember their faces and their families clearly but never their names. I remember playing tag and trading Pokemon cards, but nothing of our probable light-hearted conversations. There was always a Kimmy though—shy, secluded, until they joined the neighborhood group through one way or another—no matter what apartment my mom and I bounced to. And I hope they’re okay now.