I can’t believe the places where Life is Strange is going.
(Spoilers for Life is Strange episode 4 follow!)
A week ago I was adamant that the game’s developer, Dontnod, wouldn’t actually make you play through the timeline you open up by the end of episode 3. In my mind, having Max open up a timeline where she saves Chloe’s dad but, in doing so, harms Chloe pretty severely, made for a great cliffhanger, yes. But when you have the ability to rewind time, I thought there was no chance we’d stick around in this timeline-gone-wrong. Surely, I thought, we’d quickly use a photograph to warp back to a different timeline.
But no. That is not what happens. Instead, Max does stay within the timeline, at least for a little while. First, you take a stroll on the beach with Chloe. She tells you about her accident: a car crash broke her spine, and now she has no sensation beneath the neck. Max did stay in touch in the aftermath, sending letters and such, but overall, Chloe was on her own. Nearly everyone abandoned her.
She asks you not to feel sorry for her, which is fair, but at the very least it’s difficult not to feel like a massive jerk: this happened because of you. You are responsible, and you can’t really own up to it without sounding bonkers. In this timeline, Chloe doesn’t know about time travel and all.
Eventually, you go back to Chloe’s house. Things have changed.
Chloe’s condition requires a lot of gear, maintenance, and money. Her parents do support her...
But things are taking a toll on them, too. The bills are piling up.
More importantly, Chloe’s condition is deteriorating as time goes on. The way people talk about it, it sounds like her treatment is only buying her some time. The ultimate outcome seems inevitable.
Still, you spend time with Chloe. You watch old movies, you shoot the shit. You promise to become a better friend. You even help administer some morphine. After looking through an old photobook, Chloe hits you with a gut-wrenching request:
What are you supposed to do when your best friend asks you to assist her in committing suicide?
This isn’t the first time a video game has brought up the subject of euthanasia for me. Usually, though, it’s wrapped around a ridiculous premise. Say, for example, someone got bit by a zombie and they want to save the group from having to kill them down the road. Sure, the reason why you’re faced with this choice in Life is Strange is equally outlandish—you time-traveled there—but the moment itself is mundane and human. That in turn transforms the choice into a major gutpunch.
I tried talking her out of it. I told her about Kate Marsh, and how I convinced her that life was worth living. How could I go from that, to just letting my best friend die? She reminded me of her circumstances...
And I thought about how alone she feels now, how much of a burden she thinks she is. I stared at the screen for a long time, unsure of what to do. I thought, wow, isn’t this a video game ass choice, deciding who lives and who dies once more? I sought out a reason to mark the choice as superficial, or a video game’s cheap attempt to make me do a Difficult Moral Choice. I looked for any reason that I could use as justification to be cynical about it all, to steel me from what the game was asking me. Instead, I just thought of all the times Chloe and I hung out, shared small, intimate moments. I thought about the kiss we shared. I thought about how, no matter what I did, no matter how many times I reversed time, some things remained constants. Alyssa getting dunked on by fate. Chloe dying, repeatedly, in a number of different ways. At the hands of Nathan. At the junkyard. The train. It’s some terrifying final destination shit.
Is Chloe destined to die? Am I so dedicated to keeping her alive that I would be willing to watch her die over and over again, for an endless number of reasons she can’t avoid? How long could I keep this going on? Am I doing it for her sake, or for my sake?
Crushed, I did the only thing that seemed right.