Illustration by Popularium. Source images Square Enix
By some unexplainable force I do something I rarely ever do: click on an ad for a game on Steam. And as fate would have it, all five episodes are on sale. Thus begins my epic Life Is Strange experience.
As the story unfolds, I begin to relate to its main character, Max (never Maxine!), in a sort of otherworldly way. Being a bullied social outcast was a burden I knew well in my youth. I’m a musician, so I relate to the struggling artist in Max, and quickly find myself aligned with this heroine who is half my age. It happens so naturally that I don’t notice until I find myself standing over the body of Chloe, who I will later discover is my estranged best friend.
She’s been shot in the bathroom by Nathan, the school bully and drug dealer. Through a series of events I find out that I can reverse the events that just transpired. I can rewind time.
Suddenly everything changes, it’s disorienting. Now I’m in elementary school. It’s the day I meet my best friend.
Imagine 5th grade. Now imagine how much it sucks: math class, cliques, and bullies. I take solace in a small group of fellow gamers, who are considering letting me into their circle.
One day I’m given a chance to prove myself. After a lengthy argument about Nintendo vs. Sega, the crew is deadlocked and turns to me for the tie-breaking vote. I explain why Nintendo is superior: you can’t play Zelda, Super Mario Bros., or Metroid on Sega. My answer commands instant respect. The conversation turns to the local arcade, and I find myself talking with my new friend Dane, gushing about our shared favorite arcade game, Operation Wolf.
The chats became more frequent and I’m hanging out with this group of outcasts regularly. We eat lunch as a group, sit together in class, and spend every minute of recess discussing video games and music. Dane and I learn more about each other every day.
It happened that two stars (or moons) fell from the heavens within a 24-hour period and created two people in two different countries. Dane was born in Jamaica and hours later I was born in Brooklyn. Dane would come to America soon after.
There’s that disorienting feeling again, and Dane and I are walking home from school. I remember this day well. The school bully, Mike, is following us. I know what happens next.
The clanging of his bike chain intensifies behind us like the Jaws theme. We increase our pace, but he’s gaining on us. Suddenly he launches his muscular frame from the bike, tackling Dane in one swift movement.
I know I should stay and help, but my survival instinct kicks in. Mike is clearly unstable; does he have a murderous intent like Nathan in Life Is Strange? I don’t plan on finding out. I run, but Mike gives chase, leaving Dane lying on the ground in pain. I find myself flying through the streets; people, apartment buildings, and cars are a blur. My strategy changes: I dart out into a four-lane road, sweat pouring down my face as I dodge cars, trucks, and city buses in hopes that Mike gets hit by one of them. I make it home in one piece, heavy with the guilt of knowing I abandoned my friend.
But like Max, I’m not about to have my life dictated by a bully. The Gaming Gods give me a second chance. I rewind.
I reverse the little spiral in the corner of my screen / brain to the point at which Mike approaches. This time though, I grab a branch from alongside the road. I listen for the sound of his chain. When I hear him getting closer I turn and lurch toward him, jamming the stick into his front wheel. He flies over the handlebars and collapses in a heap in front of us. I let him know that if he messes with Dane he’s messing with me, too.
Or that’s the way I wish it went down. But I can’t rewind time in this game. Life isn’t Life Is Strange. Life is regret. You live with your choices forever.
Luckily, Dane forgives me for not having his back that day, even if I don’t forgive myself. I fast forward through the adventures we have together:
Making outrageous scenes on public buses, pretending to be possessed by the devil or performing strip teases for bus drivers that had the misfortune of following behind us; lighting smoke bombs and bonfires; blowing up things with M-80s and blockbusters. So many “missions”, whether through the rocky, rat-infested terrain beneath the Caesar’s Bay shopping area, strange trails through woods, abandoned airport hangars, or a trip down to one of our many stops at the Jersey Shore.
We are inseparable.
Dane’s family eventually moves away. Our adventures become limited to once a year, when he visits. It is similar to when Max and Chloe are apart — estranged best friends. Yet, that once a year we get together, it seems as though nothing has changed. And as we get older it becomes easier for us to get together, despite the physical distance between us.
I’m Max again. I take a deep breath. I’ve got a game to finish.
A tornado is threatening Arcadia Bay, and I’m standing with my best friend, watching destruction approach. She’s standing there in her beanie, looking at me with love and sadness. I am reminded once more of Dane. Of what it felt like to abandon him so long — yet only mere moments — ago. Dane looks over to me; it’s a look I know well.
And that’s when I realize that Life Is Strange is offering me my final decision of the game, the moment that I’ve been building up to for five episodes. Or an entire lifetime. The options are clear: prevent thousands of deaths and the ruin of Arcadia Bay by sacrificing Chloe, or save Chloe and let the world burn.
I don’t have to think twice. I’ve got my friend’s back.