Friday, 7 April 2017

All the feels of Life Is Strange: how a video game helped me cope with life

So this is another post in which I come out as a lover of non MMOs. This one is dedicated to Dontnod Entertainment, the French game studio that developed Life Is Strange.

There are many praising words about originality and beauty that befit Life Is Strange. But for me, the game stands out because it helped me through a difficult period of my life. I've been meaning to write about it for a while now, but never managed because it's an emotional thing (although I did mention the game in my Steam Awards article). It's now more than a year since I played, so I will give it a try.

Near the end of 2015 I left my Erasmus exchange in Sweden earlier than planned. My father was gravely ill, so I moved into my parents' house to spend time with him. Those months were the saddest and most intense of my life.

I think anyone who has experienced the loss of someone close to them after a long sickbed can confirm that it's emotionally taxing to be at their side 24/7 for months. At least, it was for me. You need to take your mind off things sometimes or it will become unbearable. At the same time, it's near impossible to actually think of something else. My father needed more and more rest every day and we were constantly at the ready to spend those sparse last moments we could with him. Life revolved around one thing.

Life Is Strange was what kept me sane those months. Together with my brother (and sometimes Conrad), we occasionally immersed ourselves in the strange world of teenage girl and photography student Max. Life Is Strange is a one of a kind type of game. It has no multiplayer, but it lend itself well for playing together nevertheless, with one person behind the controls and the other looking. Sometimes, playing through it felt more like watching a movie than playing a game, no doubt because of the cinematographic visuals. I guess there is a reason Life Is Strange is referred to as a "graphic adventure game". It would be an interactive movie, though, because it is you that decides what is going to happen. Think Bioware RPG but then with choices that matter more. There is an intricate web of decisions that influence each other in ways you cannot tell beforehand, much like in analogue life. There is no combat in Life Is Strange, just puzzles and exploration, but it never bored us. Discussing what course of action we should take was a great way to spend time together and escape reality just for a little while.

The game is witty, beautiful and, most of all, portrays the essence of what it is like to be a teenager exceptionally well. In an organic way, many important themes surface, such as friendship, identity, coming of age and loss. Life in Life Is Strange is not romanticized much, it just is as it is: and sometimes that's rough, unpredictable and painful. I think that's exactly why it helped me during that difficult time. Something that would've felt less real wouldn't have been able to let me escape into a world because my own emotions were as real.

The friendship between Max and Chloe (a central theme) really rung true for me, perhaps because an old childhood friend of mine was much like Chloe - we were just ten years younger or so. The nostalgic highschool setting made me reflect on what it was like to grow up, and I would be surprised if I'd be the only one. Meanwhile, the game was full of references to nerdy internet culture that never ceased to crack me up. I have a whole screenshot selection of scenes with Illuminati symbols scratched on surfaces somewhere out of sight.

Apart from just being an amazing game for all the reasons stated above, Life Is Strange also helped me through a tough period of my life and will therefore always be special to me. And for that, Dontnod Entertainment, I'm forever thankful.

This post is part of the eight annual Developer Appreciation Week (DAW), running from April 3rd to 10th 2017. Everyone is welcome to join the prompt and spread some game dev positivity (#DAW8).


  1. Ah, Life is Strange! Every time I read about the game or see a Let's Play of it all the feels come to me again. It is a game that surprised me and one of the few where I felt legitimately afraid of not being able to save a NPC.

    It is also one of those games that I might want to play it again but since the game is so very linear, being pretty much about making decisions/solving puzzles, it makes it hard to play the game again.

    Regardless of that, it is certainly in my list of best games of all time.

    1. This one is definitely on my list of best games of all time as well. I tried to really go for those this DAW. It's shameful that I haven't written about them earlier, really.

      I almost never replay single player games, but there are a few things I would like to find out still for Life Is Strange. For instance, right at the start, in the first chapter, you can accuse 3 persons in the head master's office. On of them is the one you later will know is responsible for everything, but on your first playthrough it doesn't make any sense to pick that option. I wonder what will happen if you do pick that option in your second playthrough with the knowledge you now possess. It would be truly meta if that would cause other things to happen (for instance in how that character will behave to you). Maybe that's a bit too much to ask, but I'm still curious. I probably should check YouTube for that rather than do a whole new playthrough, although that may turn out to be tricky as well to hunt down. I'll probably never know.

    2. Heh. I have been doing some work on my blog and found out your comment about the game last year where you said you wanted to do a review of the game but kept forgetting about it. I guess you just needed the right event to write it. :)

      Hm. Good question about that scene. I don't think it will impact on anything. But then again I didn't think certain interactions with a certain person wouldn't make anything different either until I got to the end of Episode 2. Finding a Let's Play of the game might be a better idea but tricky, indeed.

      Speaking of which there is one that is going on right now about the game. They started it last week and only did three episodes so far (Of about 20 to 25 minutes each).They tend to do more the analysis/nitpicking type of "Let's Play" with some joking around. So I am not sure if that is your kind of thing.

      Here is the link for their first episode of the Let's Play in case you (or anyone else) are interested:

    3. Yes! I don't know why, but DAW just clicked for me this year. I usually don't write that many stories for it at all. I think I'll stick with the format. If I play any cool single player games this coming year (and I really am really slow at playing new games, I take my time to enjoy them; absolutely no rushing on my end) and I don't know where to start for a blog post, I might just delay it until next year's DAW. :)

      Thanks for the link! I checked it out, and I don't think it's really for me. To be honest, I don't like watching videos of other people playing video games that much (I rather just play them myself), so it's probably just me. I don't know, I just find it very boring, especially if it's a game I've already played. This method of entertainment is just reserved for others. :)

      The end of the blog post underneath the first episode also kinda turns me off.
      "I’m the one that writes these blog posts, and I have almost nothing to say about Life is Strange. I don’t have any strong opinions on it. I don’t love or hate any part of it with any noteworthy level of passion. So I dunno what I’m going to talk about in this space."

    4. It might be a good idea. This format works pretty well for talking about the games you enjoy! :)

      And I am pretty slow to play through games too... Although in my case it might be more a case of ADD then returning to a game so long after I played I have no idea how to play it anymore or what I was doing or deciding "Maybe I should start it again from the start..."

      I didn't used to like "Let's Play's" for the same reason. Then one day I was really bored and decided to watch the "Let's Play" of Fallout: New Vegas from those guys (I already read the blog regularly). From that day on I was hooked. What I did find though is that Let's Plays can be a hit or miss. It really depends on how much you like the person who is playing and the, of course, the game being played. When it works it can be a pretty entertaining experience, kinda like watching your favorite sports team or athlete.

      I also found it is a good way to find out if a game I am interested in but I am not sure if it is something that I will actually enjoy. That is how I bought some games I'd probably otherwise skip or not even hear about. It can also be good to learn a few things in games that I'd probably would never thought of even attempting.

      That last line is because he usually is the one who writes the posts for their Let's Plays. Usually they all have played the game before starting the season. In this case he and one of the others (Rutskarn) only played the first episode while everyone else played the game to the end. He is also usually uses those posts to expand on what he was talking in the videos. I imagine that since he only played the first episode it is also harder for him to do that as he doesn't have much of a big picture of the game to think how the different pieces fit together.

  2. I feel sorry for your loss. Must have been a painful moment in your life.

    I'd like to give this game a try, I looked it up on Steam and it seems like something I could relate to. Puzzle solving? Deep storylines? Seems like my thing. My teenage days have left me as the bitter person I tend to be. I do play single player games a lot myself, but I never blog about them either, although I've been thinking about it.

    1. I can fully recommend Life Is Strange. As you can read above, it ranks among the best games played ever for both Rakuno and me. The puzzle solving is light (compared to true puzzle games out there); it is more about the story and decision making. But if that's something you like, then the chance is high that you'll enjoy Life Is Strange as well.


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