It was my birthday last week. After 39 years of breathing in and out, I realised I need to accept the changes that have happened in my life. There’s hints of grey hairs showing on the sides of my head, I could nap anytime or anywhere and hangovers have become extended nightmares. Despite my heart and mind trying their best, my body has started to say “Nah son” more often these days.
So imagine my surprise this year when I found myself heaving with tears at two o’clock in the morning after completing the final episode of Life Is Strange. I was mesmerised by the events that happened. My heart felt like it had been set on fire. This tale of loss, sacrifice and love hit me like a hammer made of diamond. There was nothing left but a pile of rubble. As the credits rolled, I couldn’t bring myself to drag myself to bed. Nostalgia for what I had experienced was already starting to manifest and I wanted to go back to the town of Arcadia Bay immediately. But it was all over. Soon afterwards, I realised that was the first legitimate time I had cried while playing a video game. Even now, when I see certain scenes or hear a piece of music from its incredible soundtrack, the tears return. Life Is Strange is stunningly powerful.
Over the course of five episodes, Life Is Strange tells the quiet tale of Maxine Caulfield, a young student at Blackwell Academy in a fictional Oregon town. The entire game takes place over a week and Max has to deal with everything from trying to achieve greatness in photography, the return of an old friend and the disturbing elements of Arcadia Bay which makes her question everyone’s motives. Oh, and she also just discovered she can time-travel.
But that’s all I’m going to tell you. You don’t need to know any more.
Here’s what I will tell you however: Life Is Strange made me realise I will never be young again. More than any event in my life. More than any piece of entertainment. More than any advice from a friend. Not a single moment in my life has matched Life Is Strange in forcing me to accept that my youth is gone.
It’s a difficult thing to accept. The realisation that most of what you thought your life was simply no longer exists. Or it has transformed into something else without your permission. Parts of your life that you once considered vital have now fallen away like broken pieces of driftwood into the open sea. In the long run, this might be for the best but it doesn’t always feel that way. In fact, sometimes it feels like a small tragedy that nobody else will understand. A tragedy that will stay with you forever. Until you’re old and frail and you have vague memories of mix tapes, bad mistakes and hesitant love.
Max is struck with a power that we wish we all had. The ability to take it all back and make the right choice. To regain things we have lost. She is unsure of herself in most situations but knows all too well how crippling loss can cause a black stain on your heart. One that will never go away. The way she uses it is both hasty and necessary. In some cases, brutal and unfair. But it all made sense. Every choice that Max makes over this bizarre and shattering week in her life feels right. Even if it’s wrong.
One of the more surprising aspects of Life Is Strange is how the time-travel feels like the least important part of the story. The people that inhabit the halls of Blackwell Academy and the streets of Arcadia Bay are designed to serve a purpose but through this, they all become fully-rounded human beings. They are scared and angry. Indecisive about their future and sometimes ashamed of their actions. In ways that seem familiar.
Especially when it comes to the students of Blackwell. I remember being friends with people like this. The ones to avoid, the ones to pity. Some of them want to keep to themselves and that’s fine. I didn’t feel like pressing them for more conversation if it was obvious they weren’t in the mood. Maybe we’ll catch up later. Maybe the simple act of talking to them might leave them with a good impression. You never know.
I’m so sure of many compartments in my life after being around for 39 years. Yet there’s always the constant reminder of the yawning chasm of things that I don’t understand and don’t want to deal with. I remember that chasm being much, much bigger when I was young. But the key difference was that it was also filled with endless possibilities. Opportunities and hope that were laid out in front of me like a smorgasbord of delicious treats. Did I pick the right ones at the time? I think so. But perhaps I missed out on a few really important ones. I’ll never know. These days, that chasm I mentioned seems just as intense but much more narrow.
Max, Chloe, Warren, Kate, Victoria, Joyce, Frank, William and Rachel all played their part in bringing these emotions to the surface of a very stormy ocean. The town of Arcadia Bay is littered with regret, rage and tantalising joy. It mirrors life itself in ways that some of us never want to admit. I’d love to have some pancakes at the Two Whales Diner after school but there could be people there I don’t want to see. Samuel, the janitor at Blackwell, is always acting weird but I want to hear more about his squirrels. Even the most minor of characters feel like they have tons of history you’ll never get to hear about because you’re too busy with your own stuff. Just like a teenager. Just like Max.
I miss the pool party. Chloe’s rad bedroom. Warren texting me all the time to give me compliments. Blackwell’s trees and relaxing grass. Joyce’s caring nature. Frank’s dog, Pompidou. I want to hang out in Arcadia Bay forever. Breathe in its Pacific Northwest atmosphere and listen to the sounds of Sparklehorse and Foals. I want go back more than anything.
But that’s not an option. The emotional freight train of Life Is Strange means that I can never really experience it a second time. Not only will it not be the same, I feel seeing everyone again will cheapen everything. Make it less than it was. That’s something I just can’t bring myself to do. I just need to let it go. Like my youth. What was once amazing and overwhelming is now something that is no longer mine. It all happened way too fast. Too much regret and wasted chances. On the other hand though, it all made me who I am today. That person is mostly okay so I suppose I made the occasional good decision along the way.
I made a good decision to play Life Is Strange because it is the best game of 2015.