What A Fold Apart Gets Right About Long Distance Relationships

Closing the distance, one fold at a time.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of a fulfilling romantic relationship as the endgame to my life. Everything else, from school to hobbies to work to really anything and everything, always fell in line behind finding a partner I could consider my best friend and greatest love all in one. Maybe I watched too many movies when I was growing up – can one actually romanticize romance?

At one point in my life a few years ago, my drive to find that perfect love sent me into a long-distance relationship. Playing A Fold Apart at PAX West last month was like watching moments of my own life play out in the form of colorful on-screen avatars. The touching indie puzzler tells the story of long-distance love and accurately portrays both the moments of total connection and fragile disrepair. Before the game’s co-creator Mark Laframboise told me it was about his own history with long-distance partnership, I already knew the plot came from someone’s life experiences. A Fold Apart’s genuineness can’t be faked.

Even in a world where the internet keeps us all connected, long-distance relationships (LDRs) are often still thought of as doomed attempts at love, like two people in an LDR are kidding themselves and failing to see how it so obviously will end. In reality, many LDRs are carried on with the truest intentions, with both partners agonizing over the distance, sometimes even breaking the bank to close that distance just for a fleeting few days, and always keeping their focus on some critical day in the (hopefully) near-future where that distance is erased for good.

In A Fold Apart, these feelings are brilliantly expressed through gameplay where the two customizable characters literally fold their papercraft world in pieces so that they can be together again. The repeated use of this mechanic is more than just A Fold Apart’s puzzle element, though. It also supplements the story beats well, like how it can be so hard to align your life with your partner’s when you’re miles and hours, even several time zones, apart.

On one coast, you may have just gotten home from work and you may be exhausted, while your partner, perhaps even thousands of miles away, has eagerly waited for you all evening on their day off. That disconnect is extremely challenging. Sometimes someone might say something the wrong way on the phone, or worse, via text message, and it can be so easy to drive your partner away for hours or even days at a time.

In a typical relationship, your partner may blow off steam in another room or drive around your shared city coming home that night. But separated by miles and hours, it can be tragically easier to disappear. The world isn’t built for this sort of love, and that’s why the vast majority of people don’t bother trying it. It’s infinitely easier to love locally.

It’s certainly not all bad though, not even close. Like the lovebirds in A Fold Apart, sometimes a well-timed message from your long-distance partner can be the vital reassurance you need to get through a crappy day. Juggling a life so far from the one person you want to be next to is an ever-present strain, and it can tint everything else you’re doing in colors of short-fused annoyance. Seeing happy couples roam the streets can be just as upsetting as partners being taken for granted.

It can feel isolating, like everyone expects your partner to be unfaithful and wonders why you expect it to work out. So when your partner drops an adorable message into your phone at just the right time, it’s like a video game come to life, you’ve collected a power-up. In A Fold Apart, there doesn’t seem to be actual power-ups, but the emotional boost the lovers get from the best times spent with each other is relatable. They were thinking of you too. Often times, that’s all you wanted to hear.

It’s these moments of synchronicity that drive long-distance couples to keep trying. While your clocks or zip codes may not match for months or even years later in the best-case scenarios, two hearts can align on any given night, and it’s these moments which keeps two people working on their love. You learn not to take each other for granted, and because of that, long-distance love has the potential to be more solidified, a guaranteed success story because the mountains you climb together are so steep so soon. It’s romantic Darwinism, where the strongest survive to reveal to earlier naysayers that their love was real all along.

A Fold Apart’s early moments swim in these specific, familiar emotions, and they give the project important authenticity for it to connect with players when it releases later this year, whether you’ve been in a long-distance relationship or not. For me, it was an almost tearful demo on the PAX West showfloor because I spent a year and a half living like the characters in A Fold Apart back in 2013 and 2014. Today, I’m thankful and happy to say we made it through those trials and the woman whom I once called on the phone from 3,000 miles and three time zones apart, I now call my wife, the mother of my children, and the partner I spent all my life searching for.