Bullies: A Retrospective on Life is Strange: Episode One

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gamer_152

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Edited By gamer_152  Moderator

Recently I cracked the lid on Life is Strange and I’m having an amazing time with the game inside. It’s a title that doesn’t just provoke a wide range of emotions, but also thoughts and ideas, and I want to put some of those to text. Keep in mind that what I write over the next five issues of this retrospective is not meant to cover every event in every episode, nor is it meant to be a full review of the game, this is just a look at the parts of the game I think I have something to say about. Spoilers follow and I’d strongly recommend you play the game before reading this, but I’ve also endeavoured to write this in a way that will make sense to everyone.

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As you are placed in the shoes of Max Caulfield and take your first steps down the Blackwell Academy corridors there’s one thing the game really wants you to know and that’s that The Vortex Club exists. It’s not entirely clear what The Vortex Club is, but look at other students and spy the posters on the many school noticeboards and you’ll hear a good four or five times about the popular social clique. However, that’s all pushed out of your head quickly as soon as you find yourself in the toilets watching fellow student Nathan Prescott pressing a gun into someone. In this moment Nathan is as dangerous as he is because of a frightening cocktail of low self-esteem, a lot of power, and little limitation on what he can do with that power. Nathan obviously brandishes his gun and boasts about his potential to use it on people for the same reason that many do in the real world: he has a crippling desperation to feel powerful. Where that need comes from is another question. Nathan looks at least from the outside like the spoiled rich kid, used to feeling like he’s the most important person in the room and unfamiliar with the word “no”, but then again I could also believe Nathan has a restrictive and unpleasant home life and plays the tough guy in school because it’s an outlet. I reported Nathan to the Principal under the logic that it seemed crazy not to tell an authority figure when there was a potential killer in the school. At present this seems to have done nothing to stop Nathan, in fact it looks like it’s doing the opposite, but who knows what’s happening with the faculty behind the scenes?

Victoria at least acts as a less threatening bully. About halfway into the episode she and her friends block the entrance to the girls’ dorm, you dump some paint on her, and you’re presented with the chance to either comfort or mock her. I initially made the joke at her expense. It might seem like the selfish choice, but it’s not only satisfying and there to make Max feel better, it would also make sense that taking her down a couple of pegs might make her less eager to make fun of other students, at least that was the plan. As soon as Max pulled out her camera I saw a look of genuine hurt on Victoria’s face and I knew I had to use my newfound time-travelling powers to reverse the decision. It’s a great demonstration of how bullies can turn other people into bullies, and not only did I care about Victoria, I didn’t want to see Max transformed into an asshole in that moment.

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As it turned out comforting Victoria was not as much a self-sacrificing option as one that created mutual benefit for both of them. It wasn't the instinctive thing to do in that situation, but it meant that both of those characters could laugh at themselves a little. After this brief moment of shared empathy Victoria went straight back to hurling nasty messages in my direction, but with context for her rudeness the edge was taken off. The immediate face-heel turn drives home that her mean jokes and snide comments are much less personal than she’d like you to think. Victoria’s bullying (like Nathan’s) is out of desperation, and Victoria desperately needs to fit in. It’s not that the bully side “isn’t her”, but it’s a version of herself she only adopts for the sake of other people seeing. She doesn’t actually have anything against Max. It also tells you a lot that whether Max comforts or makes fun of Victoria, she still worries she’s made the wrong decision. This looks to be a running theme.

Arguably our third main bully is David. It could be that even when in the company of his family David never learned to put away the harshly enforced order that pervaded his life in the military, it could be that he went into the military because that was his attitude in the first place, it could be a bit of both. It may also be that there’s more to David than meets the eye, but I’m not holding my breath. Telling him off for picking on the rather harmless Kate Marsh made more sense than taking a photograph of the argument. A photograph of him looking frustrated in front of Kate doesn’t prove anything, I thought at least I could affect some change by talking to him. Immediately afterwards this seemed like it hadn’t worked at all, but it cheered Kate up and maybe I really did scare David off.

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I later took the fall in front of David for Chloe’s pot. That’s Chloe who is Max’s old best friend and David’s step-daughter. Mainly this was because I couldn’t find a place to hide in her room, but once I’d done it it felt like the right choice to stick with. Chloe would have gotten in much more trouble than Max over this, even if she’s more resilient in the face of it. For a brief moment the game was a co-op experience. Blaming the drug on Max was a choice Chloe made and it felt like I was making a decision with her as much as for her. I ended up letting that bird into her parent’s room for similar reasons. The pot choice and the bird choice are strongly grounded in both your environment and the characters around you, but in very different ways. I wasn’t particularly paying attention to what I was doing when I stumbled into David and Joyce’s room, but once I realised where I was and that I had a chance to stop a bird hitting the window it didn’t seem fair that an animal die for the sake of making her parents’ a little happier, especially if I might be able to take the blame for it.

From my perspective Chloe herself is getting by surprisingly well considering that she feels like she’s trapped in a place of perpetual abandonment by the people she cares about and is at war with her own legal guardians. As I leave Episode One I wonder if the risqué posters of women on Chloe’s bedroom wall tell me anything about her sexuality or whether they’re a coincidence.

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Bocam

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The game really wants you to like Chloe but she just keeps getting worse.

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@bocam: Love the game, but yes Chloe is fucking obnoxious.

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#3  Edited By Bubbah

@tothenines:

Max points that out as well, in her diary. She mentions that Chloe got a bit touchy-feely when you answered kate's call (back in ep2) and that that's Chloe's petulant side. She also points out that Chloe needs to learn that she can't be her only friend (or something along those lines).
Despite that, I like her character.

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This is such a nice writeup! I really love Max and Chloe's relationship, even if Chloe seems like one of those seriously high maintenance friends at times. Maybe it's because it wasn't so long ago that I was a teenage girl in high school, but the writing in Life is Strange makes the characters feel really authentic to me.

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@bocam: Love the game, but yes Chloe is fucking obnoxious.

I like Chloe and life does seem to shit on her without really giving her a break. Sure sometimes she rages at Max and that really is hard to take sometimes, but I still empathize with Chloe's plight. Mostly because she is the center of the story Chloe is the most well rounded and fully realized character too, with her flaws are in fact not over or under played like Victoria or Warren. Chloe seems like someone you have/could meet in life, and that makes her rather refreshing for a game.

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#6  Edited By jerseyscum

Nathan is more than just a bully: Imagine Eric Harris with unlimited financial and legal resources. Then add enough drug consumption that would kill Jordan Belfort and you've got somebody scary and dangerous.

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#7 gamer_152  Moderator

@monkeyking1969: @vocalcannibal: I feel the same way about Chloe. She can lash out but it's nowhere near as bad as it could be considering her circumstances and ultimately her occasionally over-the-top frustration with the world and people around her come across as flaws in an overall good person. She's a friend to Max in a way that no one else is and I like her style and hardiness. She just wants to create some positivity for herself and her friends.

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