Fixed Points and Flexibility: Change and Choice in Life is Strange

If you suddenly had the power to reverse time, would you use it every chance you got, or would you save it for important opportunities? How would you determine which opportunities were important? Better yet, what if you desperately wanted to turn back a certain event, but found out that you couldn’t?

Life is Strange explores these topics and more. The game is, according to Wikipedia, an “episodic interactive drama graphic adventure”. In laymans terms, the game plays out like an episode, of which there are 5, and gives the player the opportunity to interact with the episodes by turning back time at certain events. The plot focuses on Max, a photography student who discovers her superpower after watching an old friend of hers get shot in the bathroom.

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Yeah, this game gets real really fast.

This enables her to enact the “butterfly effect”, the idea that small changes in a system will have major consequences for the future. We become Max as she lives her life, and make all her choices for her. We decide what she looks at, who she talks to, what she says to those people. Max isn’t just a character, she’s a conduit for the player. As Max goes about her day, she figures out some of the perks to her power: give the wrong answer in class? No worries, just remember what your teacher said was the right one, rewind time, and give it again. Boom, he thinks you’re a genius. However, there are certain things you can’t change, indicated by a logo and a block of text that says “choices made here cannot be changed” or something along those lines.

So what makes those choices, those fixed points, more important than Max’s minor ones? In the grand scheme of things, wouldn’t every reversal enact huge consequences for the future? That is, after all, the idea of the butterfly effect; a flap of a butterfly wing in North America has the potential to cause a hurricane in Asia.

We quickly find out that the fixed points in time are ones that will drastically affect Max’s future in a life-or-death kind of way. Changing the answer on a test won’t really shape her destiny. The biggest effect that will have is a higher score written on her sheet. But making the choice whether or not to tell the principal that a kid in the school is carrying a gun? Imagine the situations that would spiral if Max tells him that. Imagine what would happen if she didn’t. Seems a lot bigger than a test score, doesn’t it?

We have no idea why or how Max got her powers, but it all seems to point to her friend, Chloe. Chloe was the one who was shot in the bathroom, the event that triggered Max’s powers in the first place. Why did they trigger then? The shock of seeing a childhood friend get killed, or something more? As we go through the game, we learn more of the history between Chloe and Max – how they drifted after Max moved, how Chloe went down a darker path, and how their differences divide them still.

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Change is a central theme in Life is Strange, but not just in terms of the changes Max can make with a wave of her hand; we also have to deal with the changes Chloe went through while Max was away, and maybe even the changes within Max, ones that she can’t see in herself yet. Even the title of episode 1, “Chrysalis” indicates the biggest period of change for an insect, the time when they emerge into adulthood. It’s possible that Max is in a chrysalis-like state right now, going through intense changes. But unlike other people, she has the ability to reverse some of them. Whether or not those reversals are good or bad, however, is yet to be seen.

Episode 2 was recently released, and I’m excited to see what changes Max made in Episode 1 affect the gameplay of Episode 2.


Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Is_Strange

http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/life-is-strange-episode-1—chrysalis

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