Your name is Max. You have just woken up in the middle of a storm and need to find out what is going on and get to safety. You stand up and walk against the wet wind towards the lighthouse on the peak. When you get there you turn around to notice the worst and most amazing hurricane you’ve ever seen. Suddenly I boat flies out of the water and crashes into the top of the lighthouse. The glass top comes crashing down and you wake up in art class.
I never intended to fall in love with a game. I opened my steam account and quickly glanced at the front page for something new to play. The title Life Is Strange caught my attention probably because I like games about life. When I saw that it was only $5 I knew it was meant to be.
Life Is Strange is an interactive narrative presented in five episodes. Only episode one, which came out early this year, is currently available. The game’s main website describes it best:
“Life is Strange is a five part episodic game that sets out to revolutionize story based choice and consequence games by allowing the player to rewind time and affect the past, present and future.”
I did not read this tidbit before I started playing though. All I knew was that I would be playing an interactive story. So when I was presented with the option and ability to rewind time and change my decisions, not only as a game mechanic but as a character attribute, I was stunned. This is something that I have never seen in gaming before and it presents an interesting dynamic.
When you make decisions in this game, they are marked down on a swirl in the upper left corner of the screen which you can use for reference when you rewind. But more than that, the game reminds you that this decision in particular will have consequences.
Just this simple reminder makes you reconsider the decision you just made. You rewind and try the other choice. But for most of the influential decisions in the game, both sides have pros and cons to them. There is nothing to let you know how this will play out in Max’s future, and so I started to become paranoid. Even little decisions like letting some guy draw a picture of you (shown above) has consequences. And I started to freak out about how that could possibly influence anything else.
But then I realized something. This game represents the closest thing to real life that I have experienced in a game world. Sure your character has the super natural ability to rewind time, but this concept of consequences to every action is something that is experienced in real life every day and never thought about. You don’t consider that you are setting off a certain set of events when you decide to play hookie from work one day. You just do it. And even though the same thing is happening in this game, you become hyper-aware of everything you do and what that might cause in the story line later on.
This awareness causes what to me feels like a duality of freedom and constraint. Simply because I have the freedom to switch decisions as many times as I want (only if you don’t leave the room) but the awareness of knowing whichever decision I choose will have an impact on my storyline that may be positive or negative and I can’t possibly know is constraining and terrifying.
My extreme reaction to this game may simply be because I am a college senior about to graduate (in 35 days) and now I must consider that everything I am doing now will impact my life later on. If I take this internship will I still be able to have this job? If I take a month to travel will I even want any of this by the time I get back?
I fell in love with this game because, to me, it demonstrates one of the purest human conditions and implications of Life. You have control and you don’t all at the same time, and you have to learn to be okay with that and keep playing…keep living.