CAUTION: Minor spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned.
[dropcap size=big]E[/dropcap]veryone wishes they could have a single superpower. Flying, invisibility, being Batman, time travel, and immortality are usually pretty high on the list. I hate heights though, and being invisible sounds really cool at first until you realize it doesn’t do much for you. Immortality is great, but what about when your loved ones start dying? And trust me, being Batman isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—that dude has issues, man. But time travel? Time travel has always sounded pretty cool to me—being able to redo past mistakes, or travel forward and see what awesome technology is coming—it would basically be the ultimate cheat code for real life.
Then I played Life is Strange and discovered that time travel sucks just as much as the rest of them.
Life is Strange is similar to Telltale’s adventure games. You control Max as she walks around, points-and-clicks at stuff, and makes some tough choices. After seeing a girl get shot in the bathroom at school, however, Max discovers she has a unique ability: she can reverse time, and change the immediate future. Max has no idea how she got this power, and doesn’t understand how she can use it—but she can, and as I played the game I looked on with envy, wishing—like everyone else in their twenties—that I, too, could go back and alter the stupid choices I made in high school.
At first, I thought this mechanic would undermine the choices the game presented to me. In Telltale’s The Walking Dead, you made a choice, and had to deal with the immediate consequences. Sometimes, little choices would get people killed, but you had to live with them. I thought that Max’s ability to reverse time and weigh-out those repercussions would kill the buzz, a little.
However, the exact opposite happened. The ability to really mull these choices over was absolute torture for me. The developers do a great job at making each outcome bittersweet. For instance, there’s a moment later in the chapter where Max reunites with her estranged best friend, Chloe. These characters haven’t seen or spoken to each other in five years, but you kinda fall for them—there’s this level of awkwardness between the two, but also a level of comfort, and Max really opens up as a character in these moments.
After some time, Chloe’s stepfather comes home. He’s a militant asshole, and rather strict—if he discovers you in their home, he’ll flip out. So Chloe asks you to hide before he barges into her room. You then get to watch as the scene plays out: they argue, Chloe’s dad discovers a lit joint, and a choice presents itself: do you step out and help Chloe, taking the blame for the pot? Or do you stay hidden as Chloe asked? At first the choice is obvious, but then you realize that Chloe’s dad works for the school, and—based on previous choices—you’re already walking on eggshells around him.
You can play out the immediate repercussions. If you choose to help Chloe, she’ll be appreciative, but her dad threatens to start undermining Max’s already-damaged reputation at school. If you choose not to help Chloe, your reputation is unscathed, but Chloe’s father ends up slapping her across the face, and when you talk to her later she seems really shaken up about it.
When I play these games, I always try to make the choices based on how I would react to the situation. This choice? This stupid little choice in a fictional video game? I mulled this over for almost twenty full minutes, replaying the scenarios in my head and trying to determine which outcome would be the “best.” But that’s the thing: there is no best outcome. You either betray your friend or potentially destroy your future as a student. That’s not an easy choice to make, and the game gives you infinite time to think about it.
I realized, then, that if I were a high school student with time-rewind powers, I probably would’ve been stuck in school until well into my thirties, mulling over every single conversation, every outcome, until I had achieved perfection. I thanked whatever-higher-power-there-is that I had not been cursed with such an ability, and realized that pretty much all superpowers come with repercussions that just plain aren’t worth the hassle.
This is why some people become supervillains, I think.
Life is Strange is the selection for the January 2015 “Not Crowdfunded, But…” series. You can read more Life is Strange articles here.