How ‘Life Is Strange’ Uses Games As a Storytelling Platform to Help People

Spoiler Warning: This article contains full spoilers for the entirety of Life is Strange Season 1.

For years, games have acted as escapism. Life is Strange, however, could be described as the exact opposite. What happens when a game gets you to look at your own life instead? Well, in Life is Strange’s case, an incredibly powerful story that can bring comfort and relatability.

Many people still see games as an inferior storytelling platform to books, or films, perhaps, for a variety of reasons. And yet Life is Strange is a story that wouldn’t have been as powerfully told through any other media form. Instead of watching Max go through an extremely tough period in her life, you, as the player, have to find the strength to push on through and keep playing. Instead of just watching Max learn that she cannot fix everything, you learn that moral too.

A great example of the story, arguably, at its best would be a scene from Episode 4 – Chloe asks you to end her life in this alternate timeline, and put an end to her suffering. In her own words, Chloe is “at the mercy of everybody,” and states that “I want to make my own choice… please… help.” She is dying slowly, and wants to end everything on her own terms. It’s important to note here, that many people which happen to be physically disabled live happy lives. In this one case, though, Chloe is in pain, and she is dying.

 

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Many people still see games as an inferior storytelling platform to books, or films, perhaps, for a variety of reasons. And yet Life is Strange is a story that wouldn’t have been as powerfully told through any other media form.

While this should be Chloe’s choice, and not Max’s, the option to accept or refuse her request is presented to the player. Max is the only one that can reach the equipment controlling her morphine intake. This is easily one of the toughest choices in Life is Strange, and I took a good ten minutes to decide. Not a single fibre of myself wanted to, but I accepted Chloe’s request. (Even writing this article is tough, from an emotional standpoint.) Max stood up, and increased her lover’s dosage. Chloe made sure that Max knew she was loved, before… simply drifting off. Ceasing to be.

The camera then pans slowly around Max’s shoulder to focus on Chloe’s lifeless body – and retains that image until the player picks up the controller and somehow finds the strength to continue.

Despite the obvious mechanical reason to give players control here, being the option to rewind time and make another decision, the moment of interaction serves a much greater role – it gives the player a chance to recollect themselves, and eventually push forward.

While playing through the scene and writing this article, I think of my grandad. How I woke up one morning to find that he had died overnight, and how I stood by his lifeless body later that day. And having felt Max struggle through this situation, I had grown a connection to the character. I can look to her struggles and relate – feel a little less alone.

I don’t believe this would be as big a help if Life is Strange was a book, or a television show, perhaps. I didn’t see Max’s struggle in continuing – I felt it. The moment allowed me to explore a situation that was similar, in some ways, to one I’ve lived through, helping me to come to terms with it a little bit more than I had before.

And that’s a single choice in a game with many. The player, and Max, spend the entire story making decisions in an attempt to fix things, but new issues introduce themselves as time goes on. It escalates, to the point where no ‘happy ending’ is in sight – where there is no solution.

Despite Max having an impact on the world around her, and being a loving, caring person, she cannot fix everything. At the end of the game, she is forced to sacrifice either Chloe or everybody else in her hometown of Arcadia Bay. As well as being absolutely heart-breaking, the scene is also a revelation – an acceptance: that you cannot live a perfect life. The player has to choose either Chloe or Arcadia Bay and move forward. After making all previous choices in an attempt to find solutions, the player is finally taught, here, that they cannot fix everything. They experience the process of learning that lesson, rather than just watching a character do so.

This is also one of the only choices in the game where you don’t have the opportunity to rewind and make another decision – having that ability here would work against the overall idea of accepting the imperfections of life and moving forward.

 

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While playing through the scene and writing this article, I think of my grandad. How I woke up one morning to find that he had died overnight, and how I stood by his lifeless body later that day. And having felt Max struggle through this situation, I had grown a connection to the character. I can look to her struggles and relate – feel a little less alone.

I was taught, from childhood, that nobody is perfect. And yet we spend so much time trying to find solutions, that we never really come to accept that our lives cannot be perfect.

While this revelation is crushing, it has also brought me some comfort. As more and more problems introduce themselves in real life, it’s easy to feel out of control – as if I’m not keeping on top of things. While trying to fix problems certainly helps, the list often seems endless. For a time, I’ve felt no real comfort unless I figure out all of these uneasy situations. But by accepting that I cannot live a perfect life, I’ve managed to find some comfort in that neutral ground. To find some comfort when not everything is okay.

I’d argue that the two moments I’ve examined in this article would not have been as impactful in any other media form. The bond formed between Max and the player, as well as between the story’s morals and the player, are stronger than ever. Life is Strange is a breakthrough – not only for games, but for storytelling on the whole.

And this is just how two scenes from one game has helped an individual. Out of the millions that have played or watched Life is Strange, it’s bound to have helped people in various ways, either similarly to how it helped me, or in a wildly different manner. But that’s the power of a beautifully told story.

This one was told through a video game, which proves that the platform can be incredibly powerful – not only for connecting to characters, but for making a positive difference in peoples’ lives. I genuinely believe, and hope, that we’re just beginning to scratch the surface with games as a storytelling form.