Some thoughts on... Life is Strange

Today, some thoughts on Life is Strange (Dontnod Entertainment, 2015).

Chronicle of an announced disaster
Life is Strange tells us a tale of an announced disaster. It is to a great extent a tragedy, and like in every tragedy the hiatus is the most important part, that is, what happens in the narrative journey that leads us to the inevitable ending. In that journey the game deals with ordinary, yet thorny, issues such as the transition to adulthood, the meaning of friendship, the act of returning home as an stranger, the loss of a loved one, bullying, harassment, rape, suicide. Dontnod's title succeeds in connecting players to those experiences, making them relatable almost without noticing it. It is easy to empathise with the characters in the game and it forces us to reflect on their problems (which become ours too).

We play as a young adolescent, Max Caulfield, who is in transition to different places: on the one hand, looking to the future, she walks towards adulthood and what it entails in terms of personal and professional choices; on the other hand, looking to the past (since she is returning to her home town, Arcadia Bay), she faces the memories of herself and those she left behind. She comes back to join the Blackwell Academy, a senior high school specialised in Science and Arts, from where she wants to start a career as a photographer. In that uncomfortable quotidian context, Max finds out she is able to rewind reality, to go back in time. The game, a clever decision in my opinion, does not explain where this ability comes from; it is just given to us and becomes the central narrative and mechanic device of Life is Strange. We progress using this power, but it also help us explore the narrative nuances of the game - although we need to remember that, due to its tragic nature,  the main story is already written - by allowing us to retrace our footsteps and take alternative paths. It is about exhausting the arch of possibilities. In this way, Dontnod's work makes an old power permitted by several video games in the past playable: to reload a former save point in order to explore new alternatives.

This approach is key for the player's immersion. Giving us the opportunity to undo our actions, the game leads us to be more aware of our choices: 'I should have intervened', 'I should have said that other thing', 'why did I not do it differently?' Life is Strange makes that awareness even more evident in those scarce moments in which it strips the player of the power of rewinding reality; when we realise, terrified, that our actions will have consequences we will not be able to revert.

Ultimately, what the game gives you on one hand, the power of undoing your choices and letting you explore different alternatives, it is stolen from you on the other: it is, as I already considered above, the inevitability of the disaster. Life is Strange is the experience of a hiatus in which we enjoy a deceitful freedom, because in the end it only allows us to choose between losses. For better or worse, that is the only thing that life usually has to offer.


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