Last Saturday, (8th Oct.) I finished Life is Strange. The game was so engrossing that I played Episode 5 in one go. As with Bridget Jones’ Baby, I loved the game so much I don’t think I am capable of writing about it objectively.
Why did I like it so much? That’s an easy question to answer – the characterisation. Max Caulfield and Chloe Price, the two protagonists, and support cast, were written so well that they stopped being characters on the screen before me and somehow entered my very spirit. I will miss them greatly.
SPOILER ALERT ++ PLEASE DON’T CONTINUE READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW THE GAME ENDS ++ SPOILER ALERT
To recap on the story – on 7th October 2013, Max Caulfield, an 18 year old student at a prestigious art school in Arcadia Bay, Oregon acquires – by means unknown – the ability to rewind time. At the same time (no pun intended) she has a vision of a tornado destroying the town.
Later that same day, she is reunited with her old friend Chloe Price. Chloe is trying to find out what happened to her friend Rachel Amber who went missing six months earlier. Max decides to help her; their search forms one of the two major narrative threads of the game.
The other is Max’s use of her rewind power to stop catastrophic events from happening, including – several times over – Chloe’s death. There is a consequence to Max’s use of her rewind power, however, and it is manifested in the strange environmental changes that Arcadia Bay sees – dead birds, beached whales, two moons, an unscheduled eclipse, snow in autumn.
But that is just the beginning, because Max comes to believe that, through her use of the rewind power, she is responsible for the tornado.
The denouement of the game finds Max and Chloe on safe ground overlooking Arcadia Bay and watching the tornado approach. Chloe realises that Max can stop it by going back in time through a photograph that she took right at the start of the game, just before she first rewound it in order to stop Chloe being shot dead by another student.
If she does this and chooses not to make that first rewind then the sequence of events that followed her doing so will not happen – as she will know better than to use her power – and Arcadia Bay will be saved. Saved, however, at the cost of Chloe’s life.
When the option to either ‘Sacrifice Chloe’ or ‘Sacrifice Arcadia Bay’ came up on the screen it was as intense a moment as I have ever experienced while playing a video game. Having said that, having previously read about this choice, I knew which option I was going to take. I never had any doubt about it – I chose to save Chloe.
In giving Max the photograph Chloe offers to sacrifice herself for Arcadia Bay. She justifies this choice by referring to her selfishness as a person (in comparison to her mother and step-father, and indeed so many people in the Bay, who all deserve to live so much more than her). When Max refuses to accept this argument, Chloe suggests that by saving her life on multiple occasions over the last week, Max has been ‘delaying [her] real destiny’, her fate: to die.
Max tells Chloe that she can’t choose between her and Arcadia Bay. Chloe replies that she is the only person who can make that decision, and so the two options come up on the screen.
Chloe gives Max only what appears to be two credible reasons for sacrificing her rather than the Bay. In reality, neither is good enough.
It is true that Chloe is selfish. But the reason she is selfish is because she is at the least emotionally scarred and at worse mentally ill both, ultimately, on account of her father’s death, which she has never properly recovered from. Her ability to judge what should happen as the tornado approaches Arcadia Bay is, therefore, impaired, and simply not to be trusted.
Let’s say we put that aside. Even then, Chloe’s argument remains invalid. She claims that her mother and step-father deserve to live more than she does. Maybe they do, but if Max could speak to them they would undoubtedly – in their goodness – tell her to save Chloe rather than them. It is in the nature of those who are good to sacrifice themselves for those whom they love. And Chloe’s mother’s and step-father’s response would carry greater weight than their (step-)daughter’s as they do not have her mental ill health and do have the greater wisdom of age.
Chloe says that there people who deserve to live more than her. This admission, whether it is true or not, is humble and holy. In making it, therefore, and believing it, Chloe makes herself one of the best people in Arcadia Bay, one of those who does not deserve to die on account of their character. The statement undercuts her argument.
The appeal to destiny or fate is an invalid argument. Max could easily reply that by saving Chloe’s life so many times she was not denying destiny but affirming it – for all they know, it is Chloe’s ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’ to achieve great things in the future.
One thing that Chloe certainly gets right is the fact that only Max can make the decision about what to do next, for only she can step back in time to stop herself from saving Chloe’s life when the latter is shot.
I decided not to do this on the grounds that Max has no moral authority to sacrifice Chloe. If she is the cause of the tornado then the only person she has the authority to sacrifice is herself. And that would only be the case if Max had kept on using her rewind powers even though she knew what the consequences would be. And when I say ‘kept using’, I mean selfishly so. Otherwise, I believe she is only required to do what she can to save as many lives as she can – even if it is just one person, Chloe (Remember the Jewish saying, if you save one life, you have saved the world). That she is the cause of the tornado is neither here nor there. Max did not know that her rewind power would cause the tornado so cannot be held accountable for it.
Having said all that, if Max had accepted Chloe’s arguments and sacrificed her, while she would – to my mind – be acting wrongly, her culpability would be reduced due to the highly pressurised circumstances in which her decision was made, which in turn reduced her ability to make an informed choice. Chloe, meanwhile, would die a heroic death (the same would be the case if Max sacrificed herself as she would be going beyond what was required of her).
If this seems strange, after all, my reasoning has lead to the destruction of a town and deaths of many people, bear in mind that morality is not simply a numbers game. Doing the right thing can sometimes lead to deaths as well as save lives. Ask any war time leader. That may seem unfair but that’s life, and life is strange.