Accidental Queens’ newly released game, A Normal Lost Phone, has an appealing hook: you have found someone’s unlocked smartphone, and now you have access to everything inside. It’s a power fantasy, but where other video games let you win the Super Bowl or punch Nazi scum, A Normal Lost Phone has you invading someone’s privacy one app at a time.
If this doesn’t immediately give you panic hives, consider this: a casual tour of my phone would net you the locations of my favorite bars, past medical appointments, countless social media accounts, private messages with friends and family, and a glimpse of my sex life. This is how modern horror stories start.
But A Normal Lost Phone is not a tale of dread — quite the opposite, in fact. As you dig through this stranger’s life, you’re piecing together a sort of mystery. This phone belongs to Sam, a teenager who appears to have gone missing in some capacity.
A Normal Lost Phone is playable on Android, iOS, and Steam, and has an interface much like your typical smartphone. You can play music, sort through old texts, read emails, and browse through photos. The brunt of your time is spent sorting through dates, messages, and personal info to crack Sam’s passwords and figure out exactly why this phone went missing in the first place.
A Normal Lost Phone has echoes of Gone Home, where you’re exploring your family’s disheveled house, or Her Story, in which you take on the role of a detective searching for old clips in a police archive. In all three games, you piece together the game’s narrative by virtue of your own wits.
But unlike those games, A Normal Lost Phone veers into morally sticky territory. You haven’t been given permission to view these deeply personal details. To solve the mystery, you must dig through old messages and calendars to further hack into Sam’s life, but it never makes you question why you’re doing this. Do you really need to dig through Sam’s second secret dating profile? Do you have the right to lurk through anyone’s confessions on an anonymous online forum?
The game is a tale of queer discovery, but the answer to whose discovery that is is blurry. To unravel its mysteries is to also commit a serious act of transgression. The information you learn is for your own voyeuristic pleasure — you can’t call or post to anyone’s social media accounts, though you can shoot off a pre-drafted message or two — but you’re still an active participant in discovering someone’s gender identity without their consent.
A Normal Lost Phone prods you into specific actions, and I think its ending is meant to feel hopeful. In its final messages to the player — a private conversation you’re privy to because, again, you have access to Sam’s emails — it explicitly spells out what you should do with the information you’ve found on this phone. When you, a stranger, have finished combing through Sam’s personal life to your satisfaction, you wipe the phone’s memory. The credits roll.
I applaud Accidental Queens for its intent to give players access to a perspective they may never know otherwise. It’s a coming-of-age story that deserves to be told. But the execution of how a player learns about Sam’s secret feels like a violation that continues to sour the experience for me. At the very least, it’s a reminder: always lock your phone.