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.
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 games. 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 video games 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 video games it can be “I messed up, I should have done something else”. Up until recently video games 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, games will take a huge step forward as a medium for storytelling and entertainment.