There is something very distinctly lacking in the ‘games of the moment’. It’s not in the graphic style, cross-platform capability, DLC’s or loot-boxes. It’s humanity. As a culture of gamers, we have become so set in the lands of Destiny and Halo, sci-fi techno-driven futuristic co-ops with the deep grizzly generic of main male characters, or the world of Fortnite after Fortnite Battle Royale money traps. When it comes to the real essentials that don’t involve headshots and kill counts – a story, some well fleshed out characters, a motivating purpose – we find ourselves rather dried up for choice.
It’s a crying shame that we seem to have lost the entertainment and intrigue of the gaming world to gain guns, trashy dance moves and ultimately to line the pockets of YouTubers
Now don’t get me wrong, I am a great lover of many a genre in both the gaming and literary world. After a childhood and consequent young adulthood of Lego games (long may Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga reign), you can’t count me amongst the indie games snob list. However, I think it’s a crying shame that we seem to have lost the entertainment and intrigue of the gaming world to gain guns, trashy dance moves and ultimately to line the pockets of YouTubers.
In comes my holy grail, the game that I will immediately thrust upon anyone claiming that there’s no choice or that they are bored of everything available: Dontnod’s Life Is Strange. Brimming with potential and power, this is one game which I think, despite only recently having come to the attention of the more ‘mainstream’ gaming audience, has the ability to inject just enough real life into the gaming world once more.
The most impactful way in which Life is Strange offers a new start is in their development of their protagonist characters, and their attention to detail when creating even the most minor of supporting characters. The TellTale style game puts you into the shoes of Max, a high schooler and dedicated photographer who wakes up after a supposed nightmare with the ability to manipulate time, then has to save her childhood home town from near-apocalyptic destruction. The more impressive of the studio’s feats is its ability to combine the popular world ending and supernatural power tropes, into the life of a very normal teenage girl with normal and incredibly relatable teenage girl problems.
The marked difference is that rather than using Max’s powers to take on the forces of evil, they are better focused within the storyline on small, yet world-changing actions
Friendship, family, grief, sexuality, bullying and school, all in incredibly sensitive albeit not always perfect ways (you can’t expect an all-male team to hit the nail on the head when it comes to female friendships every time). The marked difference is that rather than using Max’s powers to take on the forces of evil, they are better focused within the storyline on small, yet world-changing actions. This includes engaging and manipulating the conversation to gain favour or sleuthing around the incredibly detailed world map, more than they are concerned with bold gestures and combat.
Alongside Max, we have her childhood best friend Chloe, whose powers lie in loyalty and love rather than the supernatural. After Max’s five years of absence, Chloe has lost her father, and has built herself an armour of blue hair, tattoos and the occasional threat of violence. After you, as Max, make the choice to save a girl (who turns out to be Chloe) who has just been shot by the high school jock, you set yourself on a path of reconciliation and redemption. This is where the real poignancy of the game comes in. As you fight to pull down Chloe’s barriers you find yourself whipped up in the drama of finding her missing ‘friend’, saving her from the violence of her stepfather, and eventually falling in love. The latter is not a part of the characterisation, however, which seems forced, or gimmicky.
It is completely and fluidly woven into the storyline, without being used as an unnecessary plot device to amp up the sexy. There is as much power in sitting on Chloe’s bed after you search for their childhood mixtape, as there is in saving the world. This game, in my opinion, truly proves the impact of real characterisation and detailing in the gaming world, to create a well balanced, thoroughly believable set of protagonists, which I hope other developers will catch onto soon.