MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR EPISODE 2!
If you have not played episode 2 of Life is Strange yet and want to knowing nothing about it than do not read this post. Here is a picture of Rinoa from FF8 being a terrible person to eat up space in case you started scrolling.
I will be blunt. The first episode of Life is Strange is rough. The plot sort of shambles forward, dragging its feet roughly over the ground, not really caring about what it trips up over. The dialogue is terrible with what an older person assumes young people would talk like with their ‘hip new word speak’. For a game that has its main gameplay mechanic being the ability to rewind time to fix mistakes it would have been so satisfying to smack certain characters around the head with their skateboards and then rewind time so they never knew it happened.
The ending about a hurricane did not really grab me since the idea that you can stop a force of nature with time powers seems like a failed experiment before it even started. What did make me pick up episode 2 was to see if they would go anywhere with the Kate bullying angle. It was pretty heavily implied that something really bad had happened to Kate in the first episode. You have here being picked on with her being hit with a ball of paper at the beginning which if you investigate mentions her debut porn performance. If you compulsively look around the campus like I do you would see along with all the missing Rachel posters are a few abstinence posters that Kate has put along with prayer group activities. All these things combined point to a pretty nasty scenario. Which was why I was happy to see half the focus of episode 2 being on what happened with Kate.
Episode 2 starts off with the very heavy implication that Kate is a victim of date rape. She went to a party had one glass of wine and was suddenly out of it. Without control she was making out with all the boys while someone filmed her. What they did not film was the part where the character Nathan took her from the party did something else to her while she was unconscious and gave her more drugs before dumping her outside her dorm.
Take that in for a second. You have a video game telling the story of some very dark shit that unfortunately happens to girls all the time in the real world. Did you ever think you would see a video game tell this type of story without you being able to stop it. The logic in most games is giving you agency. Personally I assumed if I was ever going to see this story in a game you would playing someone who had to save a female friend from being drugged. You would have some driving sequence where you have to get to the bar in time and then do a quick time event involving you stopping her from taking the drink which would then end in you having a fight with the scumbag who spikes people’s drinks. Queue the victory screen with confetti flying in the air and some bonuses for your character. I would especially expect something like that in a game that has a time travel mechanic, so you could always rewind time in case you did not get it right the first time.
Life is Strange does not go in that direction. This is not that kind of story. By the time you start playing the event has already happened and there is no way you can stop it from happening and all you can do is sift through the aftermath and that is some bleak stuff. In the first 15 minutes of the episode you see what type of bullying Kate is going through. On the white board next her dorm room someone has written ‘Will bang for god’. When you are in the showers Victoria and one of her friends will come in and start talking about how much of slut Kate was at the party and will then leave a link to the video on one of the mirrors for people to see.
What is interesting about the bullies in this game is how they are depicted. They are mean people there is no way around that but they are not outright evil people. If you talk to the ones under Victoria it is clear that they are going along with what Victoria wants, there is no real malicious intent with these people they just go along with Victoria’s flow, not wanting to get caught up in her cross hairs. Some give reasons for their actions such as they are making fun of her because of her abstinence program or as another will admit with a bit of digging that they are dealing with a sick mother and picking on someone else is just a way to deal with their own emotional baggage at the moment. Finding out these little bits of information fleshes out these side characters a bit more so they do not fall into the category of vindictive bitch A and B, adding to the very grey moral scene around this issue.
Life is Strange also forces us to see the impact this has on the victim. When you go into Kate’s room you have the colour palate of complete darkness with all sources of light shut off and sealed up to set the mood. You also get glimpses of Kate’s state of mind at the moment when you contrast some of her early drawings which are identified as colourful and fitting for a kid’s picture book. Her more recent work is much more monster themed and is identified as her H. R. Giger period.
Dig around a bit more and you see passages in the bible marked out with her trying to cope with the situation through her faith. You also find a much more unpleasant thing that people in this situation go through being the response from family. The video of Kate at the party has gone viral and her whole family has seen it. You find letters from her Mum and Aunt demonising her actions, throwing blame on her without hearing her side of the issue with the promise that they will pray for her wicked soul. I have never been in a situation like that but it is not hard for me to imagine how much you would need support from family and to have them turn against you without listening to you would be completely demoralising and unfortunately this type of thing happens, the victim is often blamed for the stuff that happens to them. It was Kate’s fault that she was at that party, she put herself in that situation it is not the person who drugged her who is at fault she allowed herself to be drugged. That is the kind of sentiment this letters give off. The only positive one is a letter from her father who tells her he still loves her and believes in her. Just one positive in a sea of negative that is drowning Kate.
The game then puts you in the awkward position of what do you say to this person when they reach out to you for help. Do you support their decision to contact the police despite all the available evidence being against them as well as the perpetrator being very influential in the community? Do you tell her to keep quiet and wait for a better time to act? When you see signs of bullying such as Victoria leaving links up on walls and hurtful messages left near her door do you just walk by or do you act and erase them before someone else can see them?
All of these things, even the stuff that happened back in episode 1 all add up to the finale of episode 2 when the bullying has gotten bad enough that Kate attempts suicide.
You get your chance to talk Kate down but the game establishes the seriousness of this moment by taking away your time travel powers. You have one chance with this, no fucking up and then going back to fix it, one chance, take this seriously. Depending on what you did throughout the last two episodes Kate may come down or she may jump. To the games credit this situation felt genuine. It did not feel like it was grabbing you by the hair and forcing you to feel something since everything in the episode has been building up to this point.
I did not have high hopes for Life is Strange when I picked up the first episode but if they can treat the issue of date rape, bullying and suicide this seriously then imagine what other games will do when investigating this issue. Because the more awareness that is brought down on this stuff the better, not only for the game industry but for the people who play them. There is so much stuff in this world that cause people pain simply because we do not know how it impacts someone else. Stories like this at least let us glimpse inside the issue and understand it a little bit better so if we are unlucky enough to come across this in the real world we can handle it just a little bit better.
I honestly believe stories like this are needed more not just in games but in everything else.
Does this make Life is Strange a game everyone should hold up with high regard? The answer is No. The game has its faults and while it brings awareness to a serious issue it prepares you for it as much as a FPS prepares you to fire a gun in real life. This does give me hope for stories in games though. It is great to see games taking steps forward in a positive way.
As long as they do not fuck it up in the next three episodes though.
FF8 art found at: http://nebezial.deviantart.com/gallery/