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Shade Webb Shade Webb
Recommendations: 4

Life Is Strange

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* Dedicated to my own lost friend. I hope that if we meet again in 5 years, you’re doing well and not filled with anger. I hope that both of us learn forgiveness. I hope that forgiveness finds both of us.  *

      Recently I embarked on a wonderful and saddening journey through a video game. I played through this game with my ex-girlfriend and friend at the time, sharing the experience together. The lasting impact that occurred as the result of simply playing a game with a friend has astounded me. We began this as a fun way to spend time together, and a stepping stone for her to be introduced to gaming concepts and how to play them. Not only did the story of the game have an emotional impact, but the act itself of playing through this style of game has changed the way I’ve been thinking about my own life.

       I’m quite aware that I couldn’t have picked a less hetero-masculine topic to write about. Gaming, relationships, a story about a teenage girl with time travel powers, and feelings don’t come up too often with the guys. I can’t help but think of how different this experience would have been if I had played through alone, with anyone else, or even streamed the gameplay like I used to. Without my friend debating me on my choices and asking questions about why things were happening, I wouldn’t have thought nearly as much about this or received the impact I did.

       The purpose and gameplay of this game are important, so I will briefly explain the premise of both. The story of the game covers a young adult girl named Max, as she enters into a private art school to study photography from a semi-famous photographer who teaches there. As the game progresses she discovers she has time travel powers, reconnects with her old friend Chloe, and a large series of dramatic and dark events occur that require her to constantly return to the past and try to fix things.

       The gameplay itself is focused around choices, and discovering the world and people around you. Instead of running around in first person shooting people and picking up collectibles, you have a third person view of yourself, as Max, interacting with the world and people. You can choose to completely ignore entire characters in the game, never speaking to them once; or you can spend hours walking around each scene/level. Taking pictures of squirrels and sunsets, learning about other students and their take on the events that are happening, and even warning people of their impending deaths. While there is a set path to follow that progresses the story inescapably, what you do in between these cutscene events is up to you. A video game version of a choose your own adventure book from the 90’s. Eventually the story ends, but you get to try out every option and rewind as you go along.

       So why does roleplaying as a 19 year old girl who’s adventuring with her long-lost childhood friend matter to a 25 year old gamer? I’ll start with what was probably the most important factor, which was having my friend here with me. As stated before, if I had done this alone or with anyone else, the outcome would have been totally different. I would have treated this as a game, not a story. I’d be trying to find all the secrets, looking up what different choices do, messing with characters just to cause mean and funny events to occur.

       My friend caused me not only to see this as an actual story with events that really hit you, but acted almost as my conscience along the way. Arguing with me when I wanted to do something just to see what would happen. Shocked gasps when we chose something that went horribly wrong. Seeing her react to this silly choose your own adventure game really hooked me in. By the end of the game I’m not just making choices based on what would be the best or help us “win”. I’m thinking about all the things we’ve done before in the story that have defined who Max is and how she would react to things now. I’m feeling this strange personal responsibility for the outcome of this game.

       The second cause of this effect would largely be due to the effects of the story itself. This easily could have been an indie movie or cult hit novel. The characters and events are so real at times. Even when these surreal events are happening, the characters react so alike to what I’d expect in a real surreal situation. I’m not just fighting my disbelief to involve myself in this story, I’m sharing my disbelief with these people in the story. I’m not just desperately trying to do everything right to get the best outcome possible, that’s exactly what the main character is trying to do as well. After you make a huge decision and you hear her think out loud “Man, I don’t know if that’s going to end well.” I’m thinking the exact same thing right alongside her. It’s corny, and ridiculous, but it’s true. The writers here should be hugely applauded for taking a medium occupied mostly by college age males and crafting a game story that does so well at identifying with anyone.

       Also, her being unfamiliar with gaming caused her to ask a lot of questions about what I was doing and why, when we were walking around levels. This in turn of course causes me to think about these things as well. Why am I walking around Max’s room looking at every item to hear what she thinks about it? Why am I watering this in-game plant instead of looking for the next story element. Why am I checking Max’s journal and text messages eagerly wondering what her parents are saying to her, or what she’s written down about the choices we made yesterday. Not only am I doing all these things as the typical response of a gamer trying to collect everything he can in the game, but I’m now consciously aware that I WANT to do them. There are no “collectibles” per se, but there are all of these little story elements that you can choose to inspect or read about along the way, which me and my friend are constantly looking for.

       We were also close enough of friends to have those borderline argument discussions that close friends are able to have without hating each other. It seemed like every big moment of the game that came along, and a decision we couldn’t take back later occurred, we’d sit there for 5 minutes debating on what was best to do. My pseudo-conscience not only kept me in check from just “gaming” here, but also made me think, really think, about what I was picking and why. I couldn’t just pick something and hope for the best, I had to defend my decision and listen to her view on why the other one(s) would be better. I can’t think of a situation in the past decade of my life, where someone has actually been able to sit with me and ask me to discuss my reasoning, while sharing their own, and I took it seriously. It’s so odd to me that this moment of clarity and reasoning come from playing a game.

       Which me brings me to the largest point of all. This game, this story, this series of days playing alongside my friend, have changed the way I’m thinking about my own life.

       At some point along the way, I lost my love and my respect for people. At some point I decided I didn’t want to feel responsibility, loss, or anything painful at all. I disconnected. I don’t know how many years it’s been, but I do remember a time when I was much younger and I really worried about other people. How they felt, what they were thinking, what I should say to them. Unfortunately I can’t remember anytime in too many years, where I have done that recently. I feel like I’ve spent a large portion of my life only looking at what I want and need, and how I can attain that.

       My friend pointed out to me since we finished that game, that I cared more and cried more tears of the results of some game, than I ever have about my own life. She hasn’t known me forever, just a few years, but a few years is too long for someone to be able to say that about you. I think now that she was exaggerating. I do care about people and my life at least somewhat. At least enough to do what it takes to keep the people close to me around. I don’t think about my decisions though. I haven’t been weighing outcomes, considering feelings, or wondering what I should do nearly enough. If I was Max I’d have a lot of dead people on my hands, because I’d just keep fucking everything up.

       So there you have it. Believe it or not, as short-winded as possible. How a friend, and a video game, gave me a truly cathartic experience. Thank you Alyssa. Life sure is strange.

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