Jay Castello
Freelance Writer
jaymcastello@gmail.com
@jayplaysthings

On Life is Strange and Validation

I couldn’t sleep last night because I was thinking about Life is Strange. Mainly, I was trying to work out why it felt so important to me. The answer, I discovered, is validation.

My very first thought about Life is Strange came from the journal Max keeps. I was stunned by how much of myself I saw there. Max is eighteen and has just joined Blackwell Academy which is some kind of higher learning institution that I can’t figure out the exact title of because I’m British and American schools confuse me. She’s talented, but anxious. She is actively trying to figure out who she is. She’s confused, she’s excited, she’s scared. She’s bisexual. (Okay, this isn’t explicitly set out in that journal, but let me tell you, as a bi woman myself it was all very familiar.) All of this was me three years ago. As the game went on I came to realise that all of this is me now. When Max intervenes against David, when she’s talked into going swimming, when she kisses Chloe, that’s me, and I can all but feel how hard her heart must be beating.

And then there’s Chloe. Suddenly I was equally stunned by how much of myself I saw in Chloe. I see a lot of people saying that Chloe, and all the characters, are just cardboard cut out stereotypes. But Chloe is absolutely real, with everything human about her dialled up to eleven because, you know, this is fiction. Chloe is me in a more intense world. I have had, and plan to go back to, hair like Chloe’s. Chloe’s clothes are my clothes, but with more skulls and tattoos. Chloe is scared and confused and angry, and all her emotions are my emotions, but stronger, because Chloe has been through so much. Chloe’s coping methods aren’t mine, but I recognise them.

And it doesn’t stop with Max and Chloe. I see myself and people I know in Kate, in Joyce, in Warren, in Stella and Allysa and all of the dorm girls. I see my life in the details, too, in the detail in the background, in the music, in the grounds of Blackwell, and in the conversations. I don’t care that the conversations are “a minefield of teen drama, stale pop-culture references, and 21st century meme-speak” to quote one Steam user. These are absolutely the conversations I have on a daily basis, though, again, exaggerated for story telling. To be honest I can see how that would annoy people because, you know, people hate teenage girls and love to disparage the way they act and interact (see how Max is ridiculed for taking selfies because they’re “vain” and “shallow” even though selfies are great you can fight me on this) but that’s a whole other topic for another day. What I’m trying to say here is that the world of Life is Strange is so real to me.

And that’s important because of validation. So much media, especially video games, revolve around the glorification of strength, but a specific kind of stoic, outward, violent strength. Life is Strange says that it’s okay that Max is anxious, and celebrates her courage and kindness despite it. It tells us that Chloe’s destructive, fearful anger is okay, and so is her vulnerability. It validates Kate’s hopelessness, and Joyce’s life choices, and Max and Chloe wanting to kiss each other. This is a narrative that forgives powerlessness and emotions and humanity. And it puts all of this validation in a setting that makes it feel tangible and personal and real, and especially to those who need that validation more than others: young players, female players, queer players. And that’s what makes Life is Strange great and engaging and important.

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“A critic first and a gamer second”?