Warren Graham is not the most interesting character in Life is Strange. He’s the second most interesting character.
After the endlessly relatable Max Caulfield, Warren Graham is the most intriguing character of Dontnod’s breakout hit. The Internet is awash with people who have played through Life is Strange and have come away with a strong opinion of Warren. These debates have focused on Warren’s intentions, when they should be focusing only on his actions. He is an archetype of a certain kind of behavior we’d rather not think of as universal. That is why we should look on him with pity instead of anything else.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for all episodes of Life is Strange.
Intentions vs Behavior
Can we say that Warren a good person or not? The reality is it doesn’t really matter. Life is Strange may be a game of pink and orange hues, but its characters come to us in shades of gray (save for the game’s letdown of a villain). Chloe is loyal but emotionally volatile, Nathan is dangerous but emotionally stunted, Frank is unscrupulous but has a soft spot for animals. Life is Strange is a character-driven story because its characters are people we could meet in real life. If it were a story of good people and bad people, it would fall flat on its face.
Whether one believes Warren is a creep or deep down a good (though maybe misguided) guy, most interactions he has with Max can be interpreted as evidence for either side. What matters is whether or not Warren’s actions in Life is Strange help or hurt Max.
What matters is whether or not Warren’s actions in Life is Strange help or hurt Max.
Warren does provide Max with concrete help during the course of the game. This “help” ranges from actual aid (defending Max and Chloe from Nathan in the dorm, providing first aid in the diner) to enabling (letting Max escape from Nathan in the parking lot, instructing Max on how to make a pipe bomb).
More importantly Warren is an emotionally unhelpful character toward Max. He consistently touches Max when he’s around her, at one point touching her head when a hug goes awry. In many cases, Dontnod doesn’t include dialogue from Max to indicate whether she’s okay with this affection (and the character models can be fairly ambiguous as to body language). Warren texts Max throughout the game about “going ape” at the movies, a game element that’s distracting and eventually a bit tiresome. He might say he’s listening to what Max is going through, but his other actions suggest he really isn’t.
Dontnod’s Warren isn’t necessarily our Warren
A while back Vice interviewed Michael Koch, the co-director of Life is Strange, about Warren’s character. In it Koch gave his appraisal of Warren:
“I think that he’s a good guy,” Koch says…”He might seem a bit pushy, but he is in love with Max, and he cares about her. We didn’t see [his actions] as a creepy way to hit on Max. But, yes there is this kind of awkwardness [to Warren].”
So one of the main people behind the game believes Warren is a good person. It still doesn’t matter. An analogy would be the saying that books belong to their readers and not their authors – you don’t have to change your interpretation of a book’s ending just because an author stated in a blog what it meant.
Video games operate in the same way. Developers don’t have a monopoly on the interpretation of the content they produce. Players are allowed to have feelings about a game and form their own opinions.
Earlier in that same interview, Koch states that most of the game’s characters started as high school archetypes, which the team then tried to subvert as the series unfolded. When speaking about Warren’s archetype, he states something very revealing:
“Warren started as the shy nerd who is in love with the main character. He has his issues and his feelings, and has to deal with things like the ‘friend zone’ and getting rejected. I think this appeals to a lot of players and gamers, as it’s something we can relate to – we’ve all felt this way at some point. I see myself in Warren too, and a lot of people can also relate to his awkwardness.”
Warren is based on an archetype of awkwardness. Many people have stated as much when reviewing Life is Strange. For some Warren’s awkwardness is endearing. For other people it’s “creepy”. People have mixed reactions about Warren because they have either been Warren or known someone like Warren.
Nobody likes to admit that they were awkward…As we get older, we generally grow out of these tendencies and forget about them. Warren brings out these memories in us.
Awkwardness is a universal human experience, one many people associate with being a teenager. Nobody likes to admit that they were awkward or acted in an awkward way, especially toward someone else As we get older, we generally grow out of these tendencies and forget about them. Warren brings out these memories in us. Whether he’s sweet or creepy is largely a function of how we remember our own awkwardness (and for some, how people acted awkwardly toward them).
Focus on the actions, not the archetype
Warren has caused so much debate (this editorial included) because it is at its heart a personal debate. Players who see Warren draw from their own experiences to understand him better. In the context of the game, however, it’s unhelpful to try and prove his vague intentions. We’re much better off analyzing how his actions affect Max.
Solely looking at how Warren’s actions impact Max, he did not help her on the same level that Chloe did. He made a few token gestures, but did not really have any appreciable, positive impact on Max by the game’s end.* Despite all this, the passions that arise when people discuss Warren as a character make him one of the most interesting aspects of Life is Strange.
*Warren’s drunk Polaroid selfie with Max was a fluke, so we can’t construe it as exactly “helpful” on his part.