Just recent­ly the sec­ond episode of Life is Strange was released and it was a big step up from the first episode. There is still a lot of mixed reac­tions to the game specif­i­cal­ly its use of teen lin­go, but what­ev­er quirks it may have are worth going through. The sec­ond episode has Max take a step back and the spot­light is put on Max’s friends Chloe and Kate. While the mys­tery of Rachel and Max’s friend­ship with Chloe remains inter­est­ing, the clear star is Kate. The prob­lems Kate goes through that were hint­ed at in the first episode meet a dra­mat­ic con­clu­sion that is both sat­is­fy­ing and touch­ing. With such a sto­ry heavy game it may be sur­pris­ing, but the writ­ing is not what tru­ly gave the end­ing its impact. Instead Life is Strange takes full advan­tage of its inter­ac­tiv­i­ty to con­vey its mes­sage and it is one of the few games to suc­cess­ful­ly depict the prob­lems teenagers go through in a mod­ern world.

One of the best aspect of the game is the way it presents the vic­tims of bul­ly­ing. A large focus of the sec­ond episode is the bul­ly­ing Kate receives for a video of her at a par­ty. It isn’t clear what Kate does in the video, the first episode has a note that says “we love your porn video” while oth­ers stu­dents say she just made out with a few guys, but what is clear is the dam­age it has on Kate’s rep­u­ta­tion. In both episodes the white­board next to Kate’s dorm room always has a mes­sage like “Will bang 4 Jesus”, serv­ing as a cru­el reminder for what hap­pened. At the very start of the sec­ond episode a few stu­dents can be seen watch­ing the video and mak­ing com­ments on it and lat­er the ever so kind Vic­to­ria can even be seen writ­ing a link to the video on the dorm bath­room mir­ror. It becomes clear that most if not all the stu­dents have seen the video and stu­dents like Vic­to­ria make it much worse. Before the play­er even talks to Kate about her sit­u­a­tion, they walk into her room and it is clear that she is not han­dling things well. Her room is almost com­plete­ly dark, the nor­mal­ly spot­less room has piles of clothes, pic­tures of skulls can be seen in con­trast to Kate’s nor­mal­ly chil­dren book like art­work and words of dis­ap­proval from her fam­i­ly can be found. When the play­er final­ly talks to her it reveals that Kate’s one mis­take was attend­ing a par­ty and tak­ing a sip of wine which was then esca­lat­ed by a pos­si­ble drug­ging. Even after real­iz­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of being drugged, Kate still feels guilt and shame which reflects the all too real emo­tions felt by vic­tims of bul­ly­ing.

What Life is Strange Got Right (Spoilers)

 

The severe bul­ly­ing Kate goes through ulti­mate­ly leads her to attempt sui­cide by jump­ing off a build­ing. Here is where the game real­ly shines, with Max’s pow­ers on cool down, Kate can either be talked down or meet an untime­ly death. Play­ers must prove to Kate that she does mat­ter and she can sur­vive the sit­u­a­tion she is in. Being there for Kate when she needs some­one, active­ly try­ing to reduce the bul­ly­ing, learn­ing about her fam­i­ly, and learn­ing about her beliefs are all things the play­er must do to save Kate. By mak­ing play­ers see Kate’s strug­gle and mak­ing them actu­al­ly pay atten­tion to Kate, the devel­op­ers effec­tive­ly make play­ers care for Kate and oth­ers in fright­en­ing­ly sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions. With such a sen­si­tive top­ic so many things could have been done wrong yet they were han­dled with tact that is rarely seen in videogames.

The writ­ing in Life is Strange is debat­ably good, but it is safe to say it’s no mas­ter­piece and it’s not what gave Kate’s arc the impact it had. What tru­ly gave Life is Strange its’ impact is the inter­ac­tiv­i­ty only found in videogames. Every choice that deter­mines if you can be that last voice of hope for Kate is entire­ly decid­ed by the player’s actions. If the play­er treat­ed her as sim­ply a dis­trac­tion to the mys­tery with Rachel, the friend­ship with Chloe, or the time con­trol­ling pow­ers then it is like­ly they ignored Kate rein­forc­ing her belief that no one real­ly cares about her. On the oth­er hand, if the play­er took the time to real­ly under­stand Kate and found out all they can then they are act­ing like a true friend who cares about Kate. These two ways of act­ing reflect the ways real peo­ple act and putting the play­er in the shoes of a friend to a sui­ci­dal teen allows the play­er to expe­ri­ence at least a frac­tion of the pres­sure and emo­tion involved in suc­ceed­ing or fail­ing to save a friend.

Even with all of its flaws Life is Strange is sign that videogames are start­ing to merge game­play and sto­ry in a mean­ing­ful way. If the sto­ry was told in any oth­er medi­um it just wouldn’t have the same impact. When all the pres­sure of sav­ing a life is put on to a pro­tag­o­nist in any oth­er medi­um, the audi­ence is mere­ly observ­er who can say “Well they messed up, they should have done some­thing else”, but in videogames it can be “I messed up, I should have done some­thing else”. Up until recent­ly videogames have nev­er tak­en advan­tage of this fact despite how obvi­ous it sounds. Dontn­od, the devel­op­ers of Life is Strange, are one of the few to suc­cess­ful­ly rec­og­nize and imple­ment this fact into their games. As more and more devel­op­ers began to merge game­play and sto­ry, videogames will take a huge step for­ward as a medi­um for sto­ry­telling and enter­tain­ment.