Tom Humberstone


life is strange

There's a moment in Life Is Strange halfway through the third chapter where, after an eventful evening, you lie on your best friend's bed and talk about how complicated life has become, how it would be nice to freeze this one moment. The early morning sun basks the room in Terrance Malick light, a light breeze blows an American flag posing as a curtain, and the camera cuts around the room as Bright Eye's Lua plays. You can press a button and return to the story whenever you want, but I found myself letting this moment play out for the duration of the song. Partly wanting these characters to have a moment of respite, and partly because I was enjoying being transported back to my teenage years. 

There are a lot of moments like this in Life Is Strange. It's a game about empathy, friendship, loss, growing up, gathering ye rosebuds, and a great many other things that would spoil the story for people yet to play it. And it's successful at all of those things because it gives you and the main protagonist Max time to reflect. To think about the ramifications of your decisions, and to, sometimes, just savour the moment. Because Life Is Strange really wants you to remember to savour the good times. It has a commitment to mono no aware that you rarely see in Western entertainment. 

The game came out about two years ago so I'm aware I'm very late to the party. Some friends had recommended it, but I still managed to know very little about it going in - if you haven't played it - I highly encourage you to do so without reading too much more. The first chapter is free on Steam and the season pass is only £15.

In trying to find some writing about it that captured how I felt, I came across this from Leigh Alexander:

Do you remember the first time you, grown a bit bigger, returned to someplace you used to play? You and her, in her room with the posters, letting the music play? You still remember, don’t you, what it feels like to make your way through an endless corridor of lockers, bodies and souls, chatter and friction? This game uses memories like these to craft its sentimental high points.

On the face of it, the game is Veronica Mars by way of Donnie Darko with pretensions towards Twin peaks - but that's such a reductive reading that ignores so much about what makes this game so powerful and unique. It's an impressionistic, broad portrait of how it feels to be a teenager and a smart deconstruction of teenage wish fulfilment. No other piece of art has been quite so effective at making me physically and emotionally feel that age again.

Don't be put off by the awkward teenage dialogue and clanging pop-cultural references in that first chapter (in fact, nothing could sound more suitably adolescent - who among us can say our teenage years were spent without these things?) - in the end, that disarming earnestness will charm it's way into your heart if you let it. All pretences of cynicism on my part were melted away by the end of the second chapter.

I really can't recommend this game highly enough. That's my two year late hot-take.