28-year-old Sunday Blombergh was a devoted mother from Florida who loved her siblings and, her family said with tenderness, her cell phone. In 2010, her body was found decomposing in the Georgia woods. Earlier that spring, a black-and-white poster created by her family showed Blombergh how she was before she went missing on April 22—smiling and tanned, hazel eyes shining even when transferred to a depressing poster’s grayscale. Plain text noted the signs of life on her body: “Tattoo on calf of a design and a ‘red star outlined in black’ on the inside of each wrist. Spiral goddess on Rt Shoulder Blade.”
Uncannily, publisher Square Enix’s 2015 episodic adventure game Life Is Strange (spoilers for which follow) prominently features “missing” posters for its major character Rachel laid out in the exact same way as the posters for Blombergh, whose in-laws were ultimately charged with murder after reportedly shooting, strangling, and stabbing Blombergh in a bid to get custody of her daughter, Isabella, then only 7 years old. The in-game posters contain similar identifying information, too, and some players, including Isabella, say they were immorally ripped from real life.
“So yeah, found this out a while back,” Isabella writes in the caption of a 2020 TikTok that currently has nearly two million views. “Uh, everything about Rachel even down to the way she dies is similar.”
In Life Is Strange Rachel Amber goes missing on April 22, the same day Blombergh disappeared. She, again like Blombergh, had been planning to move before her premature death.
The in-game poster indicates that Rachel was 5’5” and had hazel eyes, like Blombergh.
Instead of a “tattoo on calf of a design,” Rachel had a “tattoo on calf of a dragon,” but she also carried “a star on the inside of the left wrist,” as Blombergh did on both of her wrists. The game’s poster requests you call the sheriff at (555) 388-6020 with information, which is the same number Blombergh’s county sheriff directed calls to, only with a different area code.
“On Rachel’s wiki page, there are several descriptions that are near-copies of Sunday,” her nephew, Skylur Blombergh, told me over email. “‘Generally considered popular and nice, but also rebellious;’ [the wiki writers] imply Rachel was a drug addict, and [describe] her love for art. That was Sunday nearly to a T.” But he emphasizes that, despite what inconsiderate media coverage suggested, Sunday had stopped using drugs much prior to her death.
While Skylur discovered the connection between Sunday and Rachel through Isabella’s relatively recent videos, some Life Is Strange players were already comparing posters for the real and virtual missing-person cases less than two years after the game’s release. They wondered on Reddit where French developer Don’t Nod might have found the poster. More recently, fans raised the topic on Tumblr, where they questioned why the poster details seemed copy-pasted, on Twitter, where they demanded Don’t Nod’s response, and perennially on TikTok.
Blombergh’s family was never contacted, Isabella revealed in another TikTok.
“I’m confused, too,” she said. “Like, I understand stealing the template of the missing poster, but stealing the description of my mother is kind of weird. I’m conflicted. I love the game though.”
“My grandfather, Reign Blombergh, broke down when he first found out about it,” Skylur told me, “because he felt as if people wouldn’t just leave it alone. That seemed to have been the general consensus among the family.”
“The developers [...] should have reached out to the family,” he concluded.
Don’t Nod declined Kotaku’s requests for comment, saying that “we cannot talk about Life Is Strange without Square Enix’s consent, as they fully own the rights of the IP.” Square Enix did not respond to Kotaku’s repeated request for comment.
Despite pop culture’s frequently issued disclaimers, art habitually and freely pilfers ideas from real people’s lives. These stolen qualities and intimate secrets are woven into art like a vibrant red thread, the secret sauce responsible for the intrigue of Taylor Swift’s songs, the shiver you get when you discover a poltergeist movie was “based on a true story,” and the gratifying veracity of satires like Succession.
But most people are not living for art. Creatives have gotten in trouble for taking too much before, like in 2021, when writer Alexis Nowicki wrote in Slate about her realizing that Kristen Roupenian’s viral short story “Cat Person” (soon to be a movie) was about her personal experience with an ex-boyfriend, who had died.
“In retrospect, I was wrong not to go back and remove those biographical details, especially the name of the town. Not doing so was careless,” Roupenian ultimately wrote to Nowicki. “I can absolutely see why the inclusion of those details in the story would cause you significant pain and confusion [...] and I will do what I can to rectify any harm it caused.”
Nowicki absorbed this apology, and then described how, now, Roupenian’s fiction sometimes informs her interpretation of memories she had originally formed firsthand. Art is a tool we use for finding fresh perspective and that function exists independently of who made the art, what they intended it to be about, or why they made it.
That continues to be true for a story like Blombergh’s, one filled with bleak, open wounds: a child separated from her mother, a family from their daughter, and a young woman brutalized and buried, exhumed unwittingly for a video game.
But maybe stealing isn’t as wrong as pretending like it never happened. Skylur, in some ways, appreciates that his aunt, whom he calls “an easy person to talk to,” and “a very strong individual, all the way down to the day of her passing,” is at the heart of a video game.
“I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing that [Don’t Nod] took inspiration from Sunday” he said. “I find something about it nice, almost like Sunday was immortalized by Life Is Strange.
“Millions of people have played the game, with many of them connecting with Rachel. In a sense, it was as if they were connecting with Sunday, also,” he added. “Millions of people know about her without even fully knowing.”