I have the special privilege of teaching high school students, many of whom are very interested in gaming. We often recommend games to one another, and most recently our favorite game to play and talk about is DontNod’s Life is Strange.
When I play Life is Strange, I come at from a young adult’s point-of-view, being nearly 8 years out of high school myself. Life is Strange makes me very nostalgic for the rough and tumble days of my youth. For my students, however, they come at the game as teenagers just interacting with characters they view as their peers. They know exactly how Max and the other characters are feeling because they are currently experiencing that time in their lives where emotions run high.
“I’ve never played a game that felt like it was about me—not to say that I have super powers or anything,” said a student in my class.
It’s interesting how time matures you and forces you to experience things and people in a different way than you would have previously. For example, my students are all very infatuated with the teen rebel, Chloe Price with her blue hair and punk attitude.
Many of them want to be like her or date her, so while playing as Max, they trust her fully. She’s their friend, right? Why wouldn’t they trust her?
“I trust Chloe most of all, you can tell that she really has your back,” said another student.
I, on the other hand, look at Chloe and see a part of my past. I remember being the dejected teen with so much loss in my life that I didn’t know what to do with myself. When I play the game, I know not to trust Chloe.
She’s not a bad person, necessarily, but it’s clear that she wants people to hurt the way she hurts, and how she manipulates those around her is selfish. It’s toxic behavior. So, when I look at my students, it scares me.
Would my students let someone take advantage of them that way?
It’s very interesting how my students view the adult characters in the game. Principal Wells, Mr. Jefferson, David Madsen, and Joyce are all considered equals to Max in the minds of my students. Max has the power to turn back time that gives her the ability to handle situations when engaging with adults.
My students approach the adults the same confidence that they would any of the students at Blackwell, failing to recognize that despite Max’s special abilities, the adults are still in the position of power. The adult characters’ power and their resources give them the upper hand. Thus, they are ultimately the decision makers in the lives of Max and her friends.
The adult world sets the standard for what is right and what is wrong in society, so it’s no shock to me that Life is Strange depicts seemingly corrupt adults.
David Madsen’s character, for example, is one such case where my students and I don’t see eye to eye.
We are all in agreement that despite whatever valuable information David might be collecting, he should in no way be photographing, harassing, and stalking young women. Though what my students and Max fail to recognize seems to be the severity of the situation. They come at the situation as if, they are the ones’ in control. They treat David as an equal. I, however, recognize that David is in the position of power as an adult.
He has autonomy to do what he wishes, while Max and her friends do not. Whether or not David is a good person remains to be seen, but I recognize that he has the ability to ruin Max if he wishes to, and this does affect my decision making.
Life is Strange appeals to my students’ feelings of invincibility.
They have no fear when faced with authority figures, a complete disregard of danger, and see the best in people. Time has certainly taught me to be more cautious with my actions, who I choose to make a part of my life, and the things that I choose to say.
My students, like Max and her friends, aren’t quite there yet. Life is Strange has made me recognize the influence and persuasion I have over my students, while simultaneously making me appreciate their recklessness and wild hearts.
“I’m careful with my decisions, but I probably don’t think about the consequences enough,” admitted one student.
Ultimately discussing Life is Strange with my students has been a real learning experience. It’s opened the door for serious conversations about friendship, betrayal, rape, consent, drug use, suicide, feminism, and much more. I applaud DontNod for making such a game, one that can fill generation gaps and can help people find common ground over this meaningful and beautifully executed story. One student summarized:
“Life is Strange is an experience. It makes me feel like I’m not alone.”