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Fairly major spoilers for Life is Strange, episodes 3 and 4

Butch:

What?

No, really, what?

WHAT??????

So I finished episode three……….

Well then. My goodness.

I expected a twist, but not a HOLYSHITWHAT? twist like that. Damn. That was in my head all day.

Which makes me nervous.

Gonna switch genres here a bit: Remember Lost? For those that don’t, Lost was a TV that I adored. It, too, was a character driven story that played around with time and had whirly smoky things. If you forgot, Lost spent season one laying out the characters, two getting you to care about the characters, three barrelling towards what you THOUGHT was going to be a climax, or close, only to pull one of the great HOLYSHITWHAT moments in TV history in the final three minutes of season three.

Sound familiar? Sure it does.

And we spent the summer after season three eagerly waiting season four cuz HOLYSHITWHAT?

The problem was, what with the show playing with time, that HOLYSHITWHAT moment meant that the narrative sorta had to spend some time explaining, and resolving, and showing what OTHER HOLYSHITWHAT things happened because of the HOLYSHITWHAT moment and all that. It forced the narrative to spin rather dangerously out of control, and led to a death spiral of convoluted moments. It became clear in the final, icky, convoluted season that things would never be resolved, not really, and the series finale was one of the most disappointing in history.

In time stories, the more the characters fuck with time, the worse things get. In time stories, the more the authors fuck with time, the worse things get.

So I’m nervous. I remember the feeling of the season 3 finale of Lost. Felt it yesterday. I hope this isn’t damning Life is Strange to the same convoluted fate.

I have hope, though, as you have played this game and, as I firmly believe that you are a) my friend and b) not a complete sadist, I doubt you would have encouraged me to play this if it devolved into a frustrating, rage inducing, convoluted clusterfuck of a final episode. Right?

But I’m nervous.

Feminina:

Right?

WHAT. Was my reaction.

WHAT. EVEN. JUST. HAPPENED.

But no fear, they did some interesting stuff with it in the narrative and it actually didn’t completely devolve into a nightmarish stew of loose ends and junk.

I couldn’t get into Lost, but I did hear similar summaries, especially about the failure to resolve/payoff all the exciting setup. It’s hard! Creepy suggestive setup is easier than making a satisfying resolution to the setup. Life is Strange does a better job with time travel than many a story, I thought.

Still. WHAT.

There’s some interesting development here as well regarding Max’s powers, which are suddenly way more powerful than we knew. And of course it’s tied to photography, which is such an intense interest of hers. One wonders if her powers developed the way they did because of her existing interest in photos, or if they were always tied to photos and thus would have been much less personal for someone else.

Butch:

Really well executed twist. For all sorts of reasons. I mean, first, it’s hard to get a really jaw dropping twist in when your audience expects a twist. I mean, you knew SOMETHING was coming. Usually when that happens there’s some degree of “called it” or “Yeah, it was either going to be that or the other thing.” But when you know something is coming, and you STILL get all “NO WAY” and the twist still makes SENSE (because had the twist been something completely batshit like “They’re all the hallucination of a giant purple whale” that doesn’t count), that’s great.

And the lines blurred for me all damn day. Every half hour or so, I’d think about some decision I made thinking it was “right” and how that, now, most likely, is fucking terrible. Like, all day. “What have I done?” And even wondered if I should go back (through my power of save points) to change the “past,” only to determine I “couldn’t” because I’d have to restart the whole game.

In other words, I spent the whole day thinking JUST LIKE MAX WOULD, and that’s just great, great execution of game story telling.

Yup, many things don’t do reveals well. Bioshock syndrome. One of the great reveals, setting up one lame assed final act.

And time travel is a toughie. Lost got into all these parallel time lines and how they interact, and it wound up tripping over itself. The more it tried to make sense, the less sense it made. So, here, I found myself kicking myself for taking the “handicapped fund” to help Chloe. Because Chloe IS handicapped, and MAN she’d need that fund. But then, DID I take the handicapped fund? Cuz that didn’t happen, right? Or did it? And if that didn’t, did that other thing? Because that would influence…..

This is the road that Lost got…well….lost on.

Because I HOPE everything I’ve done matters. It would be VERY VERY cheap if now they’re all like “Yeah…..all those butterflies? PSYCHE! Do over! It never happened!” That would suck. But if they don’t, that’s a lot of butterflies to iron out….almost as many as Lost had…..

We shall see. But yeah, nice touch. I like it.

And good use of collectibles! There was one picture I didn’t get. It was in the past, and I was so weirded out that I just plain forgot to look for the final photo. So I didn’t take it. So imagine my surprise when a choice was “Took a picture in the past.” And I didn’t! Because I missed it!

That’s a collectible, dammit! And the fact I missed a SILLY COLLECTIBLE matters!

Dude!

This game is pretty good.

Feminina:

I didn’t take the handicapped fund. So if Chloe needed it, I couldn’t do anything about it, whether or not it actually happened that we even had the chance to take it, considering…ow, my head!

Tell me if it makes a difference. Max never mentioned the money at all in my game, but maybe it will come up in yours. It has to mean SOMETHING. I can think of a way it might come up, but I don’t know if it actually will.

And I really liked Chloe’s dad, who seems super nice, but the looming question of WAS IT WORTH IT hanging over everything…I don’t remember if I took a picture in the past. I don’t think I did.

But yeah…what if we had? Where was that going to show up later?

We should play this game about 6 times. Or just read the wiki, I guess, which is less satisfying but also takes a lot less time. Or just leave the questions lingering, which is what I’ve done up until now. Because all the time in real life you don’t know what would have happened if you’d done something different, and we learn to live with that, so just living with the choices I made and never really knowing what might have happened if I’d chosen differently kind of feels right.

Though one could argue that in THIS game of all games, it’s not ‘cheating’ in spirit to look up the alternate paths. Still, I haven’t done it.

Butch:

I just played some more, up until I got back to the present….future….whatever…..back. So this response is out of time. Much like our blog.

I didn’t kill her. Well, I did, because the past, or present….whatever…. But I didn’t give her the morphine. So she’s dying and hates me in the alternate universe. Hmm.

I need more coffee…..ok. Here we go.

Well, I did, in Chloe’s room, find a letter from Blackwell telling her that she should go elsewhere because the school isn’t accessible and needs more funds to become accessible. Did you find that?

The guilt. It piles up.

You didn’t take a picture in the past. I can tell. Friend stuff, remember?

The problem here, with the “was it worth it,” is in the narrative. The narrative, so far, is very good, but a problem is that I don’t know this William. Max does, and I see Max saying Max likes him, but I’ve talked to him twice. So…yeah…he seems nice….but, as the player, if it’s between him (who I’ve heard is nice) and Chloe (who I really like cuz I’ve spent the whole game with her), that’s kinda a no brainer. The pull to keep him alive isn’t so much HIM so much as the life Chloe would have. Is it better to have a great family, go to Paris, be surrounded with love and die young, or have a life that she says is “dipped in shit” and be unhappy? Can you even make that decision at 19? We shall see. But certainly, I don’t feel enough of a bond with this William to save him just for being him.

Well, now that I know pictures can lead to time travel, and now that I know that Max chucks the special “go back in time” picture in the fire, one would think that a spare picture of that moment would make it so we could go back there if we wanted. Maybe.

It does feel right to leave some questions. And, I think, that’s the intent of the developers, cuz I’m gonna talk about trophies.

So many games have trophies you kinda need to play the game several times to get. Play on every level! Find every impossible to find thing! Etc. This game is pretty much “take all the pictures,” and they make them easy to find, and give you little sketch hints as to where to find them. They’re there to be there, but that’s it. There’s nothing to incentivize even the most die hard trophy hunter to play it six times.

Not cheating to look it up…..but I also think a point is that even when you THINK you’ve studied the options, and “seen the consequences,” you haven’t. This twist was all “HA! You THOUGHT you were cheating, didn’t you, with your second chances and ‘knowing’ what was going to happen! How’d THAT turn out?”

Feminina:

I gave her the morphine, man. “Here you go, girl. Enjoy slipping off into a dreamless eternal slumber.”

I can’t say no to Chloe! Unless she wants to steal money, I guess…

Now…I did wonder with this bit whether or not the game is being pretty harsh to quadriplegics, many of whom surely prefer to be alive and do not appreciate the frequent assumptions in media of all sorts that their lives are not worth living and the best thing they can hope for is to just die already.

We could argue that Chloe’s life is terrible not because she’s in a wheelchair, but more because there’s no support for her/her parents and she’s become a huge financial burden because we don’t have universal health care or whatever (I vaguely recall seeing that letter from Blackwell? I don’t remember it saying “join us we’re building ramps!” which would have been a positive note that I might have registered…so it might have been the same, I don’t know).

On the other hand, some people in a similar situation probably do agree with Chloe’s assessment, and actually do wish they could just have a morphine overdose. It was made clear that she’s miserable not just because she can’t move (and I did like that in fact we saw her being pretty mobile, out on the beach with Max and stuff), but because she’s actually in constant pain and that medication is more and more failing to address her discomfort, and she’s going to die anyway.

I guess the question is, was this insulting to people who can’t move their arms and legs because it assumes they’re miserable drains on society, or did it individualize Chloe’s situation enough that her immobility is only part of the story?

I can’t, obviously, answer that question, but it definitely came up for me, because that’s the argument around assisted suicide that strikes me as the strongest opposition to it. I don’t care about vague religious arguments about how only god can choose someone’s time to die, but the question of whether helping people die when they really want to could gradually become a sort of general social encouragement to people to die because hey, that’s easier than building those ramps or whatever…that’s a lot tougher.

Anyway, my call was that she was in sufficient control of her faculties that she was able to decide if she wanted to stay in her situation or not, and she was my friend, so I ‘saved’ her the only way I could. But I get deciding the other way, too.

Butch:

Ah, see, I saved Kate, so I wasn’t about to let people just die. I was in character.

Yeah…she’s unhappy. And she’s a burden. And very lonely. I mean, they’re losing their home, that sort of thing. And she’s dying.

Sure, if she was just paralyzed and still expected to live to be 82, then yeah. Live on, girl. But they took care to make that not the case.

But not killing her was in character. MAX wouldn’t have done it. Especially my super Max, who finally got recognition for saving Kate. She’s gonna do what she did: Say no way and try to go back.

Except, why didn’t she just go back, save William, and say “Dude, he’s gonna buy you a car. Don’t ask how I know, he just is. Don’t drive it. Give it to charity, m’kay?”

I know, I know, don’t pull strings in time games. Sorry.

Feminina:

Well, there you go: I failed to save Kate, so in my mind, everyone’s expendable.

Ha.

Although come to think of it…hmm….we’ll see how some other choices you make align (or not) with mine, and talk later.

Oh, and I failed to address your points about not knowing William well enough to choose him over Chloe. I totally agree that we don’t, and in fact, choosing him over Chloe is not an option the game gives us, nor are we, I think, in any way supposed to regret that “leave William alive and Chloe dying paralyzed” was not one of the butterfly choices.

I just meant that I liked him based on what we did see of him (his banter with the girls in the past, his cheerful response to Chloe’s mom’s fateful phone call). I think they did a nice job there of making him a likeable, human character that you genuinely regretted losing. I felt bad that he was dead ‘again’ after my little excursion, though as I said, not enough that I was upset that NOT changing the past back to how it was wasn’t an option.

But no, I don’t think choosing him over Chloe was ever on the table in my mind.

Butch:

But, also, we were supposed to buy Max’s caring. In a movie….ok…maybe….but in a game with line blurring, a game that was so effective in making me FEEL what Max was feeling yesterday, it seems a drop of a ball here. “Uh….Max just cares, ok?” doesn’t work well in games. We’ve seen it before. It’s the opposite of line blurring.

Plus, in this instance, I’m still not sure WHY Max cares so much. We haven’t gotten any plot point that would establish that. I mean, sure, ok, I would care if a friend’s parent died, that would be sad, but Max is acting like William and Joyce are like her second parents. William seems to be a deeply personal loss for her, more than just “He’s nice and my best friend loves him, and Chloe will be sad.” MAX is devastated. Personally. And I have no idea why. I mean, maybe there is a why. People get close to other people’s parents. But that hasn’t been established here, so her deeply personal sorrow feels displaced and only there to be convenient to the story.

Feminina:

Hmm…I don’t know, man, I actually felt that Max’s sorrow WAS established (for me, anyway). It’s like you said: William and Joyce were like her second parents.

That’s pretty much the message I got from the whole game, so yeah, I bought that Max cared when he died, because I bought that she was close to them. I doubt that this perception had anything to do with our various butterfly choices, so maybe it’s just about my tendency to cut things more slack and read into them in the most generous way possible?

But I don’t know…I really don’t remember finding it odd that Max cared–I just accepted that yes, not only had she and Chloe been really close, but Chloe’s family had been like her own extended family. The way Joyce talks to her when she first goes to the diner (basically loving but a bit gently guilting like “it sure would have been nice to see you before”), the way Max and Chloe and Chloe’s dad all talk to each other in the past, with a familiarity suggesting Max is at Chloe’s house all the time…it worked for me. I bought that they were all super close, and that this adds to the intense weirdness of the fact that Max and Chloe haven’t spoken in years before the game starts. FEELINGS, so many complicated FEELINGS involved.

Butch:

No no, I get that MAX cared, but I didn’t. I cared a LOT when I saw Chloe in a wheelchair, but when William died? Not so much. That was more “movie” moment than “game” moment. Sure, it was a good, well acted scene, but I was watching someone be sad, I wasn’t sad myself. It wasn’t a feeling that crossed the line like all the concern/guilt/confusion about the choices I had made that led to Chloe being hurt.

Do we ever find out WHY Max and Chloe haven’t talked? In either reality?

Never mind, don’t spoil. It is odd, though. Especially in this day and age. It’s not 1995 like Gone Home. People text, people email. Even when they live as far away as Boston.

The text mechanic reminds me: Did you open Max’s journal in alternate reality space? Cuz it resets….back to page one. And MAN she’s a bitch. I want to know why.

Feminina:

Ah. Well, I dunno. I guess I liked William, and liked Happy Chloe and Joyce, enough that I did actually care. Not as much as Max cared, I suppose, but then, I didn’t have a chance to know him as well.

And yes, it’s very interesting that Max was SO different in Reality Two (or whatever we want to call it). She felt secretly guilty about not contacting her paralyzed friend more often, and went full Popular Girl to counteract it? They never really explain that.

And it’s true, people do have means of staying in touch these days, even when separated by the vast, mutant-infested wilderness that stretches between my town and yours, but it’s also true that people drift apart (out of all the people I knew in college, I’m in regular contact with…um…you? I mean, Buttons now and then, the Overlords, but months can go by where we aren’t in touch with them, and I feel kind of bad about this, but…it’s not either of us intentionally avoiding each other, we just get busy, and don’t have games to talk about).

So it didn’t seem that weird to me that maybe when Max moved away she totally MEANT to stay in touch, as one does, but then got distracted, and then the more time passes the harder it is to casually send someone a message, and before you know it everything’s awkward. There’s no big explanation in the game, which I think maybe is intentional, because it’s saying there ISN’T always some big Reason why people stop talking, even when one of you assumes there must be…I got the sense Chloe wanted to know WHY, and Max was just kind of vaguely “I don’t know, stuff,” which isn’t satisfying to either one of them and which therefore increases the awkwardness, but which is probably the truth.

Why don’t we talk to the Overlords more often? I don’t know, stuff. We’re all busy.

Butch:

I mean, one would think that having a tragedy happen to a friend would make one MORE empathetic, but whatever. It’s a good narrative, but not perfect. What is?

People do drift apart. And it’s usually the one that gets left behind that gets shafted. Max was out doing whatever she did in Seattle, and Chloe had…Rachel? Drugs? Not much else.

Games. Keeping people together since 1981. Or so. Good thing we play.

And they say gamers are all hermits.

Man, you’re right though, we never talk to people. Now I’m depressed and stuff.

Pretty much, we’re all busy. I had hope when we became PSN friends, but he has no PS4 and only watches Netflix and never messages. Or did once. He’s missing out on screenshots. I hold out hope that he’ll get a PS4 and I’ll see ol’ LordSquad playing something. We shall see.

But at least we have each other, Femmy. Huzzah for games.

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