Life is Strange is just one of the many examples of queer women's troubling treatment in the entertainment industry.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!
There are few games that have elicited such an intense emotional response from me. A lot of games I play are too high fantasy or too different from the life I'm living. The characters are familiar, but not in a "Oh, I know someone like that kind of way," so emotionally, I can pull myself away from them and simply enjoy. That is not the case with Life is Strange.
I did not know what expect. A few people told me to write about it, and honestly, I dreaded starting it up on my Xbox One. Episodics can be so... long and dull - the whole "butterfly effect" system is often contrived or a little white and black. So, as I began my adventures as Maxine "Max" Caulfield, I was pleasantly surprised.
[S81YI31512556766] Max and Chloe hydra.cdn.sqexeu.com
In Life is Strange, as Max, you are an aspiring photographer/student at Blackwell Academy, who - after having a vision of a devastating tornado - develops the ability to go back in time. And with help of her best friend, Chloe, you embark on a dark journey down and twisted rabbit hole into the secrets of the world around you.
To say that Life is Strange's story is great would be an understatement. It takes its episodic platform to new heights, bringing a level of emotional development for the characters that a lot of video games don't capture. This is due to both the writing the game's overall cinematic feel. Plus, the game's "butterfly effect" actually has a lot of weight - as most of the choices you make are almost never amazing choices.
I enjoyed every second of developing Max and her relationships with the people of Blackwell. And honestly, it was almost a perfect experience... until I got to the end. The ending of this game hurt, and not in a good way. It became one of the many, many examples in a long line of straight people's ability to use queer women to generate tragedy.
[8VE9D51512556766] Max staring out at the storm hydra.cdn.sqexeu.com
First, let's talk about Max. Max is a character that grows based on your decisions - which means you can choose Max's love interest. You do this by either choosing to pursue things with her male friend, Warren, or with Chloe, her best friend and the main instigator of the game's plot. I can't say for sure exactly what choices determine this, but in the end, I chose not to romance Warren at all.
Then you have Chloe, the other half of the game and the queer love interest. Chloe basically drives most of the plot forward. You save her from getting shot with your powers, and this leads to uncovering one thing after another. She's Max's polar opposite - displaying a confidence and a drive that Max slowly gains throughout the game. And, the small moments, when she and Max are alone are adorable. And Chloe is an amazing character with a tremendous amount of depth.
Discussing these two characters in terms of sexuality is both interesting and frustrating. On one hand, they are both clearly meant to represent bisexuality and/or pansexuality, due to their mostly fluid nature when it comes to attraction. The obnoxious part of this is that the same-sex attraction is much more hidden and hinted at, whereas the straight attraction is boldly stated. And, neither of these characters discuss their sexuality - which, while not necessary, annoyingly ambiguous. I like to think of them both as bisexual.
Max and Chloe's relationship starts strained. Five years prior, Max and her family moved away to Seattle. Max is only just returning to Blackwell at the beginning of the game. During this time away, she has not attempted to contact Chloe - which Chloe is justifiable bothered by. However, as the plot unfolds, you see these girls develop one of the closest and most poignant relationships I've ever seen. This makes the ending all the more offensive.
[I4UP7A1512556766] Max (Left) and Chloe (Right) holding hands. hydra.cdn.sqexeu.com
Because the entirety of the game's outcome relies on killing her or not.
The violent storm that Max has a vision of? It's a result of her screwing up reality by saving Chloe about a million times - and the only way to keep from destroying an entire town is by letting your best friend/potential lover die. And let me tell you something, as a queer person, who played through that ending - I was seething.
At the end of the game, after going through a nightmarish (and incredibly annoying) level. We are taken to a large Lighthouse - where most of the storm visions take place. Chloe carries you up to the top of the Lighthouse's cliff, and you realize that this massive storm happened because you went back and saved Chloe so many times. Chloe, realizing what this means, produces a photo for Max to use to go back in time and let her die.
You're left with an ultimatum, you either let Arcadia Bay die (an entire town, mind you) or you sacrifice Chloe and save everyone. And of course I'm going to save everyone, because I'm not a sociopath! Not to mention, but choosing to kill the people of Arcadia Bay, you are throwing away all of the work you've done with the other characters. And believe me, you do a lot with the other characters.
[375TEC1512556766] Max and Frank, the local drug dealer. hydra.cdn.sqexeu.com
The game makes you choose to kill Chloe and if you've taken the time to do the more romantic path with her, both of you share a kiss before you go back in time. This is so cruel to queer women, and perpetuates the same obnoxious trope: All queer women must die. As the credits rolled, I slammed my controller down and had to take more than a minute to relax myself.
I realized how tired I was of seeing these same things over and over again. Why do queer people - especially women - have to sacrifice themselves to save society? Why does wanting to save them come at the cost of hundred of lives? What's up with that?
Not only do you have to choose to kill Chloe, but you are forced to listen to it happen and watch Max's grief. I felt disgusted having to sit through it, because it's not fair. The entire game relied on Max's relationship with Chloe - Max would have never started on this journey without Chloe. And we have to kill her? Why is this always the twist that people use? Why do we have to kill another queer woman? Is it for the tears? Because let me tell you something, queer women are getting enough shit in real life for me to have to sit through it in a damned video game.
So, in the end, Life is Strange now sits in a Hall of Infamy with Orange is the New Black and The 100 as a form of media that killed off it's queer woman for no real reason. And I have never been more disappointed.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and writer of plays and screenplays, based in NYC. Do you guys have a game that you think is significant to the LGBTQ+ community? Email me, and I'll give it a look!
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