Welcome to Flashback Fridays, where members of Girls Got Game revisit articles or posts they have done in the past. We let our authors republish them here, more than occasionally with revisions. This one is the second in a series done by Carlo. The originals are all up on Facebook. The second installment on GGG is over here. This particular piece can be found here.
Welcome to the fourth and final part of my series on video game character design!
Today we feature a character from my personal game of the year for 2015, our first queer character, Chloe Price from Life is Strange.
At first glance, Chloe Price is exactly the kind of young woman I hope my students don’t become. A foul-mouthed, weed-smoking high school dropout with a chip on her shoulder and a history of bad choices, she’s exactly the kind of character I believed I could never fall in love with.
In Life is Strange, you are Max Caulfield, gawky teenager, newly eighteen, mousy, bullied, and lacking in self-confidence. Max’s surname is significant. Like Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye, she observes the world without participating, except through the camera she carries everywhere.
And then she gets a vision of an apocalyptic storm, and the power to turn back time.
The alpha and omega of Max’s emotional timeline is Chloe, the childhood friend she left behind. Life is Strange has time travel, but it’s not about time travel. It’s about a relationship. As the episodes roll by, the great dramatic points aren’t the milestones in the game’s Big Mystery, but the points where your heart breaks for Max and Chloe, or for their supporting cast. The climactic scene of episode two is one of the bravest things I have ever seen a video game story do.
Players end up doing a lot of emotional work in this story. You’ll watch a boy’s sincere and awkward and heartfelt attempts to woo a clueless Max and can’t help but feel bad for both of them. You feel intense relief when an overwhelmed Max tells all and begs Chloe for understanding, and the latter, amazingly, offers it in full. You feel Max’s guilt and jealousy when Chloe talks about another girl with stars in her eyes. As such, you end up knowing before the character does that she is utterly, head over heels, truly, madly, deeply.
That kind of dramatic irony is amazingly rare in video game. It illustrates a variation of this venerable storytelling element that only a video game may be able to do. Because you have a choice, after that scene, on how to act on Max’s feelings, and your own. By taking active effort to close the gap between a character’s emotional knowledge and your own, you participate emotionally in the story in a way no other medium can offer.
You will feel things. I, at least, had the unearthly experience of weeping in gratitude to a video game character. Players will know the anguish of someone you adore begging for something you cannot possibly give. Maybe you will find yourself wanting to reach through the screen and say I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Max has the superpowers, but it’s Chloe who feels like a force of nature. She is recklessly furious and precociously talented. Irresponsible, steadfast, by turns hatefully selfish and breathtakingly loving, she feels unpredictable the way a real person feels unpredictable. Her character development is superb, not just because her journey is plausible and organic, but because it shapes and is shaped by that of Max, and by extension, the player. And it can be a love story if you want it to be.
Life is Strange is a queer gaming experience. I spent hours walking in the shoes of a young woman falling in love with another woman. As a teacher, fiction of this sort is of immense value to me because it is an exercise in empathy. Games like this remind me why video games can be immensely powerful as a storytelling medium. They also remind me why storms are named after people.