[CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 4 OF LIFE IS STRANGE]
Have you ever known somebody who wanted to die?
Somebody you loved; somebody whose physical form had failed them, a person slowly fading painfully from existence. A person who wants to die because they no longer want to be a burden on those they love, and who wants to die because they want it to happen on their terms, even though (or sometimes entirely because) nothing else happened on their terms.
Strong, wilful and charismatic people reduced to a thing they do not want to be, whether it be through age or through tragedy.
I saw what was coming in episode 4 of Life is Strange a few minutes before it actually happened.
I imagine most people did to some extent, and I’d also imagine most people playing felt the same cloying fear of dread begin to grip hold of their stomach as I did before Chloe actually asked Max to end her life, but for me that scene, framed with intravenous tubes and the unmistakable alien smell of medical equipment in a home, reminded me of the day my Grandmother told me she wanted to die.
When Chloe tells Max that she’s had enough of living - that she’s sick of her body slowly, agonisingly and inevitably shutting itself down and that she wants her final memory to be of sitting with her best friend remembering the glory days, time freezes. This isn’t unusual in Life is Strange; it’s what happens every time you are forced to make a difficult decision that can affect the narrative (either indirectly or directly, and sometimes in ways you won’t see coming), but on this occasion the stark, binary choice of allowing someone to descend further into medical dependency (I don’t know if you’ve ever spent time with someone receiving palliative care but it is a deeply upsetting experience for all involved) or carrying out the one action that would be most harmful to their body but most therapeutic to their soul, I felt a tear roll slowly down my cheek.
A person does not tell another person that they no longer want to carry on living without a very good reason - in a situation like this they are saying it because the idea of staring at the same walls until their shell expires is something they can no longer stand. It is a thing that you know that person wants, and that doing it for them would be the ultimate act of love that any person could perform for them.
I paused the game; time had already frozen in Max’s world, but putting a mechanical barrier between myself and the game felt more than necessary.
Life is Strange is a story about regret, and about friendship. About love, and relationships, and the things people do for other people whether they should or not. It is a game that makes you think about the times you wish you could change; the single moments you wish had never happened, and the people who life took away from you, either through geography, tragedy or personality. It’s the story of a girl who is given the ability to change the world around her, who slowly realises that the blood on hands is indelible, and that only the source of it can change.
If you have ever wished you could change a moment in your life, Life is Strange is a game that will, with unnerving reliability, grab you by the collar and hold your face to that mirror and demand you look.
It’s a game with some plotholes and some not-great vocal performances. A game with some crap puzzles and some writing that will likely always be controversial.
But it is also an enduring depiction of two young women, each angry at the world in their own way and for their own reasons, uniting over something that they are barely in control of, and I challenge any human who has never been furious at the melange of random chance that our universe can spit at us to carry Max and Chloe through five chapters of story without stopping and remembering, and wishing they had done that one thing differently - what if I had never knocked on that door, or taken that flight? Would I be happier?
Would I like myself more?
I unpaused the game and I pressed Square. Max stood up and turned Chloe’s IV up to maximum and sat with her friend as her final request was granted, and I thought of my Nana and I tried to decide whether I wished I had been able to do the same thing for her.