Games

Growing Up in 'Life Is Strange'

I expect Max will learn what many of us face as we age, the reality that all of our decisions have consequences, many of them unintended, no matter how empowered we are when we make them.

Knowledge is a super power in Life is Strange. Well, not really, but close enough. Max Caulfield, the protagonist of Dontnod’s Telltale-esque adventure game, can actually rewind time. This lets her prevent a school shooting and avoid being crushed under a falling tree, sure. But more importantly time travel lets Max weigh her options in conversations. It lets her know just the right words to say or the right facts to hide or reveal. Time travel is a means for Life is Strange to address nostalgia, regret, and the social pressures of growing up.

Recently an old friend got in touch to apologize about an interaction we’d had in the distant past. It was strange to revisit a time that I barely remember, and stranger still to think about my life in that particular moment. I am not an old man, I know that, but even I have regrets. There are people who meant too much to me once that I have let slip out of my life, and there are moments where I wish I could have said the right thing, found the courage to put into words the feelings I wanted to share, to say the things I know now to be true. I have a hard time imagining any life lived without regrets.

This theme of regret is partially why Life is Strange is uniquely compelling alongside other games of its genre. In The Walking Dead, there are no “right” decisions because the world is an apocalyptic mess. In Life is Strange, things actually seem manageable. Yes, a premonition of some sort portends a devastating tornado hitting the game’s cozy town of Arcadia, but the drama from scene to scene centers on the politics of an art academy. When Max is bullied by Victoria, a little bit of “time magic” lets Max dowse her with a sprinkler system and break her entitled bully persona. The game offers a high school fantasy that I certainly envy: the ability to impress, coerce, and befriend with expertise, to make a life without regrets.

Interestingly, voyeurism is a key component of Max’s social toolkit. While poking around a classmate’s dorm room, she can discover a discarded home pregnancy test. When confronted about her aggressive snooping, a quick rewind offers Max an out. Instead she reaches out as an empathetic friend, someone who cares enough to reach out and ask about her well being with tact. It’s a moment to connect with someone, albeit one afforded by an ethically dubious power. Max is exploiting the ability to snoop undetected for all its worth, which pairs nicely with another storyline about a disgruntled security guard who is attempting to install cameras all over the school and actively spies on his own family. Like the guard, Max is trying to safeguard her world from mistakes.

Photography is its own attempt to preserve untarnished moments of time.

Of course even time travel is not enough to map out Max’s life to perfection. The ability to rewind is limited, only allowing Max to jump a few minutes or so into the past. She can take all the time she needs to measure her decisions and test others’ reactions, but when she commits and moves on from a conversation that’s it, there is no going back. For the most part, there are no matters of life and death, but the warning that a decision “will have consequences” is still unsettling. What if I make a mistake and don’t realize it until it’s too late?

Dontnod released only the first episode of Life is Strange so far, but it already has the trappings of an excellent coming of age story. The fear of making the wrong decision, of setting yourself on a path you cannot change, often punctuates adolescence. Even when your life appears wide open to you, it can still numb you with its ability to forge ahead along routes unplanned. Of course growing up fits so perfectly into an adventure game like this one. I expect Max will learn what many of us face as we age, the reality that all of our decisions have consequences, many of them unintended, no matter how empowered we are when we make them.

About halfway through the game, Chloe, Max’s former best friend, confronts her for not being around in her greatest time of need. I too have failed some dear friends, I know that. The ability to rewind time in Life is Strange doesn’t fulfill some fantasy in which I have cleaned my life of regrets. Instead, it reminds me that accepting them, incorporating my mistakes into the narrative of my life, is just part of growing older.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.