sidenote on life is strange and the delusion of narrative impact equality

Spoilers for Episode 5, the final episode of Life is Strange


After reading Polygon’s review of the last episode of Life Is Strange I wonder why we expect, when we demand choices, to be given choices of equal moral integrity–or of equal emotional impact.

If we are to treat narrative as a reward for choosing “correctly”–and keep in mind that only works if you value the narrative like that; sometimes this can be assumed of the userbase just because of what the game is but sometimes not (sometimes they’re here for the non-narrative aspects of the game–I’m looking at people who insist on playing everything through on nightmare mode for example; skipping through cutscenes because they just don’t care)–then the longer narrative, of the two paths on option at the end of Life is Strange, comes across as “the one DONTNOD wanted us to pick.” Right? And that gets brought up as a mark against the game. That there are these narrative closures of unequal weight.

But I don’t think it’s sensible to expect equally weighted closure across the board. That doesn’t make sense in life–why would it make sense in games? Some decisions are harder than others, with graver consequences. Some skirt the issue. Some close doors instead of open them. Struggling to paint each decision as having the same amount of import is a fruitless effort. Different choices should feel different. And yes, feeling less is different.

I am interested to see that, weeks after the episode’s release, the split is still there, almost 50/50 on that final ending. I’m with the two writers on this one–I sacrificed Chloe. So in their parlance I chose the one the devs wanted me to. But that’s a bit of a misnomer. If you choose to save Chloe you are, after all, choosing to lay waste to everyone else you’ve met through the entire game. Should it not feel empty? Should the portrayal of the two of you at the end not feel like two dumb kids who made the wrong decision? Is it that we want the game environment not to judge? Because that…seems foolish as well. By cutting out that very human judgment you’re cutting off the path to a lot of the emotional impact you very much value. It seems like people want games to be this impartial judge of virtue, where every choice gets to feel “right” insofar as they all reward you with the same amount of feels.

But that’s not realistic, people. You get what you pay for. If you act empty and hollow you get empty and hollow in return. What about that doesn’t make sense?

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