How does Life is Strange create meaning?
Life is strange is a graphic adventure video game developed by Dontnod entertainment that is famously known for its butterfly effect mechanic. Life is strange’s mechanics are based around player choices that affects the outcome of the plot, although this manner of gameplay falls into the ‘Tell-tale game’ category, the game has a more in-depth twist to it. As well discussing the successful use of subculture to create meaning through character design and the visual aesthetics which I will expand on using different theories from theorist such as, Caillois, Huizinga, Mäyrä and Norman.
Tell-tale games allow players to make a choice within the game although most of the choices within the game don’t effectively affect the outcome of the plot whereas in Life is strange the most minutiae decision will greatly affect the outcome of the game. This can strongly relate to Roger Caillois definitions of play which puts play into 4 different categories. Life is strange has all the characteristics in a game that would fit into the Ilinx (or vertigo) category of play, Caillois describes illinx play to be one of risk taking and deliberately brings a sense of fear to the player, this classification of play is a prominent key feature to Life is strange’s game mechanics as the choice given to the players have consequences relating to whatever choice they’ve made. Players are made to feel the weight of responsibility by choosing between moral decisions the game gives them, deliberately making players think deeply about their actions for the long run. And through my personal experience of playing the game, I’m often left to think more into the game then I would be playing any other game as id be left to choose between whether to save one character’s life but result in another character being paralysed. The rewind mechanic in Life is strange is a very useful tool given to the player as they can rewind time to correct a mistake they’ve made to change the outcome of their choices, but this is also limited as player cannot go back in time if any major choices have been made and there is a limit to how far back players can go as it has physical effects on the character by giving her nosebleeds and damage the fabric of time from altering time extensively.
Similarly, Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga discusses the idea of the “Magic Circle” in his book Homo Ludens (1938) going on to describe the magic circle as a world within a world, where one world (the real world) has things such as uncertainties, responsibilities and fear where as in the gaming world there are challenges that can be overcome, immersion and narrations. Although Life is strange can be considered part of the magic circle, it’s been argued by theorist by the likes of Caillois to say that the magic circle can be permeable. To relate to Life is strange, the game mechanics and challenges reinforce this as players often feel the emotional and psychological effect from playing the game leaving them with experience and meaning.
“When a player continues to the game, the game itself starts to impose its own rules making the actual rules of nature governing real physical objects effectively less important”
(Mäyrä, 2008, P.16).
In relation to the aesthetics and shell of the game, Life is strange’s design and meaning is created through the games visuals. The game has skilfully manages to use its visuals to create rhetoric meaning, In episodes 1-4 the game has a warm hue throughout with the use of natural sunlight in classrooms and bedrooms and throughout parts of the game there is always a notable orange-ish warm hue creating a calming vibe for players as they progress though the game but as the game goes on to its final episode, players see a notable change in the game visuals with everything reverting to darkness with a cold hue to it as a result of players having manipulated time so much to the point the foundations of reality are falling, with weather changes and unnatural disasters. The dramatic change in colours has an effect on the feel of the game as players feel the weight of their actions.
“Games can offer their players experiences that range from the aesthetics pleasures of Impressive graphics, music, storylines and (sometimes) well scripted dialogue”
(Mäyrä, 2008, P.22).
Notably Life Is strange’s characters create meaning through their way they are designed. The designers of the game have successfully created meaning with signifiers through the use of the characters clothing and mannerisms. To expand on this point using Frans Mäyrä, the author of; An introduction to game studies, Games in culture (2008). In the book Mäyrä talks about various things about the studies of game, but what I’m focusing on here is his piece on making sense of games, he goes on to explain “A contextual relevant for understanding a game might be informed by the developments within and between particular genres” (Mäyrä, 2008, P.2) This point strongly reinforces my point about the characters given a cultural meaning through the way they are designed. Chloe (one of the characters) Is a good example as her design signifies the subculture of grunge. Her tattoos and ragged clothing as well as bright blue hair show through as rebellion and angst. This makes her character a lot more relatable with a mass demographic being teenagers. The way grunge culture has been interpreted to fit into the genre of the game has been successfully shown using music choice with artists such as Syd Matters and Angus & Julia Stone who are folk indie artist and through Character relationships. Max and Chloe’s relationship being an ambiguous relationship, questioning their sexuality and finding out who they really are relates to their targeted demographic. <!– mostly reblogs • I hope we keep getting more posts from the concept…
In conclusion, I believe that life is strange successfully creates meaning through its well thought out character design and character relatability through the signifiers portrayed in the character design. But as well as great character design, the affordances of the gameplay with its use of the butterfly effect chaos theory to give the game more depth and meaning through player choice allowing interaction between player and game.
Caillois. R.(1961) “Man, play and games” Gallimard (Ed). Paris
Huizinga. J (1983) “ Homo Ludens” Beacon press. Boston
Mäyrä, F. (2008) “An introduction to game studies: games in culture” SAGE Publication Ltd. London
Norman, D. (2013) “The design of everyday things” Basic books. New York
Figure. 1. Max having a nose bleed after using her rewind powers too much. (2015)
[screenshot] At: https://seriousaudiencesonly.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/review-life-is-strange-episode-5/ (Accessed on 17.11.16)
Figure. 2. Max and Chloe driving away from their high school. (2014) [screenshot] At: https://www.engadget.com/2014/08/14/life-is-strange-ambiguous-young-love-among-leading-ladies/ (Accessed on 17.11.16)
Figure. 3. Max and Chloe, character model sheet. (2015) [screenshot] At: http://mostlymilkwood.tumblr.com/post/138491747447/i-hope-we-keep-getting-more-posts-from-the-concept/ (Accessed on 17.11.16)