Life Is Strange Is Really Patronising

Life Is Strange Is Really Patronising

I really like the idea of Dontnod's episodic game choice drama-em-up Life Is Strange, but really it just ended up making me wish it would shut up and let me experience it instead.

Life Is Strange is a wonderful kind of idea: It's five episodes long, gives us the much neglected teen girl player character in the guise of Maxine Caulfield, and as Kirk mentions, measuring up against Telltale Game's janky, sometimes buggy game frameworks Life Is Strange is kind of robust and interestingly structured. It has a 'time rewind' mechanism that feels quite fluid to use and it's filled with nice details, such as the delicately illustrated 'diary' that will fill up as Max progresses.

And yet that diary is somewhat of a symbol of my problems with Life Is Strange. It's not that I am complaining it isn't realistic that a teen has time to elaborately illustrate and pontificate on every single moment of life and every choice of the day like that. It doesn't need to be 'realistic' - it's a game. It's just that everything else in the game is an elaborately overwritten chatfest that is nervous you will miss something, and this makes me entirely irritated with everything in it.

As I write this now I am listening to a play-through of Life Is Strange in the background, and the striking thing about listening to the game in audio form only is that the actual visual elements of the game, the environments, the beautiful art of the game, is being made entirely redundant to the player by the huge amount of narrative coming from the protagonist's voiceover.

Life Is Strange Is Really Patronising

In the very beginning of episode one, for example, the game opens on Max in some sort of dream sequence (but not a dream) by a lighthouse, and then she is suddenly in a classroom listening to a massively pretentious wanker proclaim in a self-satisfied manner many facts about photography. Max narrates to herself, for the player's benefit:

"Whoa! That was SO surreal. OK. I'm in class. Everything's cool. I'm OK."

  1. Max's facial expression conveys the fact that she is surprised. "Whoa" is unnecessary.
  2. "That was SO surreal." You were by a lighthouse and now you appear to be in a classroom. Obviously this is surreal. I am not sure Silent Hill games would go out of their way to point out they are a tad "surreal".
  3. "I'm in class." Yes, we know. We can see.
  4. "Everything's cool. I'm ok." This is fine, since it's actually saying something about the character and that perhaps she is reassuring herself because she is unsettled. It might be obvious that she's ok, though shaken, however, because Max's facial expressions are actually telling us this. You know, she isn't dead or injured, so we get it.

That's a little nitpicky, but it's a microcosm of my problems with the game. Life Is Strange continues on like this, over-narrating what is happening, when it is obvious what is happening from the efforts that the environmental designers and animators have gone to, for the rest of this episode. The writing could be stronger - a lot of what Max says sounds like my dad read Urban Dictionary - which doesn't help, but really what's irritating is the sheer amount of patronising information.

Even the track they have overlaid on the first episode, Syd Matters' "To All You American Girls" is a song I think my dad might choose to encapsulate a teen girl life he thinks I had, and it's just a completely cloying and obvious choice - most of my teen years felt like a terrifying slog through a Slayer album to the sound of my own resounding silence.

Teens are curiously silent, aren't they? Teens are pretty contemplative and sullen. They are starting to harbour silent resentment against the world because the world, it turns out, is a bit shit. But when I was a teen that silence opened up my whole world in a way. I became more observant. There was a silent, underlying urgency about being a teen that is missing from this game, because Max's voiceover is so earnest and eager to tell you what is happening… I had no interest in what was actually happening in front of me. I don't know if this fed the purpose of a game this sophisticated-looking. I felt like it was doing the visual artists a disservice.

At one point I was walking towards a lighthouse, following a deer down a path in a forest that was clearly made by the level designers for me to follow. The deer was the only thing moving in front of me: it was obviously made so that I could follow it. I started to follow it, naturally.

After I had been following it for a while, Max announced that she thought that the deer wanted me to follow it.

I WAS FOLLOWING IT, I wanted to yell at her. And suddenly I felt like a patronised teen again, trying to do something whilst an adult gave me instructions like I couldn't possibly understand the world around me. And I wondered: who exactly is Life Is Strange made for? I suspect it is not made for me. And I wonder, really, if it is made for teens. Is it made for my dad?


Comments

    It's not like there should be a challenge in the 'game' anyway. I think of it more like something akin to quantic dream.
    There's an appearance of it being a game. But you're really just watching a movie and picking out I'd say a few minor, going to be irrelevant outcomes.
    the suicide, for example. That was an inevitable lead up, her life or death affecting any real story component (the storm) seem really unlikely

    I think, and I may be going out on a limb here, that the game tries hard to make you distance yourself from identifying as max and instead watching max' story play out. This becomes apparent at the end when it drops a PSA about depression, anxiety and self harm impulses and that if you feel any of these things you should speak to someone about it.
    It is fair to say that if you do suffer from any of the above, feeling like you actually are a character who has or are friends with characters who do then it may have an emotional impact that is less desirable for the developers of LiS.
    There is also the argument that peoples inner monologue tends to ramble quite a bit, spend a few minutes listening to yourself thinking through a scenario playing out in front of you (hell, even just reading my post here) and chances are, every step of the way you are narrating the events or sighing inwardly or suppressing the urge to call someone an idiot and so on.

      I know I certainly narrate my own life in rambling sentences. I also listen to the same songs over and over again and imagine they're the soundtrack to the movie that is my life.

        I have a playlist 3000 strong in my car because hearing the first few bars of a tune is usually enough to trigger instant playback of the entire track in my mind so I skip to the next song. There are a few that I listen to in full because of other reactions they elicit in me.

    I think the most important thing to remember with social justice ventures like Life Is Strange is: Just because you were smart enough to recognise there was a problem, it doesn't mean you're smart enough to come up with a solution.

    Instead of fixing problems and catering to an audience that's screaming for attention and consideration, they have created a shallow, two dimensional version of the worlds they want to see.

    They have, far more than any other "misogynistic" developer, reduced groups and people and emotions down to a completely empty, external observation of a cliche about topics and people who are already generalised against. They've said "hey, look at all these negative generalisations about you! We're on your side though, we're all about the positive generalisations".

    That's not to mention, as said in the article, the completely tone-deaf music selection, songs that were popular perhaps when the 30-somethings who made the game were teenagers (Jose Gonzales).

    Everything about this game makes me want to cringe all the way inside my body.

    Wow, a lot of nitpicky hate for what I consider one of my favourite games this year so far. Really surprised at some of the reactions this game is getting.

    Loving the characters and the dialogue, can't wait to see where the story goes.

      Enjoying it quite a bit too, though it might be due to my lack of gaming time and how LiS comes in neat little 3 hour packages. Same deal with borderlands tales, interesting story, low impact gaming and rewarding payoff. I agree that some of the writing might be a little off, but none of it is as outwardly horrendous as people are making it out to be. Yes all the stereotypes are there but lets be perfectly honest, the stereotypes exist because people who embody them exist. All schools have the likeable nerd, the prissy queen, the drug users, the quiet folk who fly under the radar. The jocks, the assholes and so on. Why should a fictional one be any different? because society says it has to be to make some political or social statement? pfft.

    To answer Cara's question, I think it was made for her dad, or dads in general. All of the Dontnod founders are guys in their 30s and 40s. Makes sense that they would make a game that appealed to them.

    Well then I'm glad I'm at least remotely mature and am able to appreciate the full spectrum of sstorytelling and narrative in gaming without resorting to prejudice and self indulgence to justify my awkward impressions.

    Maybe this person’s experience can put some perspective: https://steamcommunity.com/app/319630/discussions/0/618458030666133138/

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