I’ve been playing a lot of Life Is Strange 2 lately. While I’m mostly doing this to catch up for the final episode dropping on December 3, I also find that it’s a very good game to play around this time of year – a slow, soothing contrast to the harried pace of the holiday season. It’s also doing a number on me, because it’s making me think about how I treat my own little brothers.
Life Is Strange 2, like the game before it, is an interactive narrative where you play through a five-part story and at crucial points make a choice that affect how the story unfolds. You play as Sean Diaz, a sixteen-year-old Mexican-American forced to go on the run when an encounter with the police goes awry, leaving his father dead and revealing that his eight-year-old brother Daniel has superpowers. While a lot of games like this present you with difficult choices – an early dilemma in Life Is Strange 2 asks if you’re going to keep Daniel’s powers secret from the only family you have – Life Is Strange 2 likes to make things especially hard by letting you know whether a decision will affect Sean, Daniel, or both.
Like my colleague Gita Jackson, who’s been reviewing the series, that extra layer of consequence has me catching a lot of feelings. It also makes the game’s choices mean more to me, and not simply because they involve a character I don’t control.
A lot of games like Life Is Strange are about the illusion of choice – there’s maybe one big diversion at the very end, but until you get there, most of the same things happen no matter what you do. How they play out can be different – maybe you share a kiss with one character instead of another, or a relationship is more hostile than affectionate – but players will experience almost all of the same plot beats. Most games like this, like The Walking Dead or Tales From The Borderlands, end each episode by breaking down all of the major choices you faced and telling you how your decision stacked up against other players. It’s fun to compare your choices, but it also reveals how narrow the lanes are.
When Life Is Strange 2’s episodes end, you’re not just simply provided a list of possible outcomes held against your own – you’re given a list of potential ways Daniel could have reacted, behaved, or been hurt. In doing this, the game becomes less about plot, and more about character. This leaves more room to surprise me and gives more weight to how I behave as Sean. It doesn’t matter if a lot of the same things happen in my game as in other players’, because with Daniel there, how they happen becomes much more important.
When provoked, will Daniel lash out at me, or someone else? Does he listen to me because he wants to, or because he has to? Does he resent my decisions? Things will always go awry in a predetermined way, but will they turn south because I was awful to Daniel, or because of some external factor?
Like I said, I’ve got brothers, and they’re just now entering early adulthood, so this hits me in a very specific way as we navigate our new relationships now that we’re no longer all under the same roof. We were always going to grow and become our own people, but how we grew – those choices were on us, on me. And we, of course, had no idea how they were going to pan out.