For this critical play, I decided to play Life is Strange, a game developed Dontnod Entertainment. Players take on the role of Max, a normal-looking girl and aspiring photographer who learns that she has the ability to reverse time. With the power to become a human time machine, Max is able to undo the decisions that she has made and redo instances in her life, allowing her to shape her future meticulously with every decision that she makes.
Right at the start of the game, Max is in the middle of a forest and heads towards a lighthouse. There is hardly any context for the user to grasp. As soon as she reaches the lighthouse, she is struck by a flying object and wakes up in a classroom. The transition between a stormy night transitions the user from the feeling of fear, danger and eerieness towards immediate confusion and curiosity. The players don’t know why they are at school. They don’t know why they were at a lighthouse. The narrative introduces large gaps of knowledge that the player wants to fill, igniting a desire to keep playing to solve the mystery.
The game is set up so players can interact with objects in their setting. Many of the objects do not propel the game, but rather set the mood and tone of the game. At first, I thought it was a waste of time to implement interactions for objects like vending machines and pencil cases. However, this is exactly how mysteries and exploration work in real life. Not only do these non-critical objects create a context for the narrative, but they give glimpses of context that the user is missing. They provide the sensation that there is more to discover. This feeds into the feeling that something is amiss, and that the player must fill in gaps to solve the mystery.
The game rapidly propels when Max uses her powers to prevent a girl from getting shot in the bathroom. As the player reverses time, they must be diligently solving puzzles before it is too late. For example, one must quickly set off the fire alarm before the girl gets shot. Time is not stagnant in this game. It is constantly moving, providing players with a sense of urgency as they solve the mystery.
I believe that the most important feature of this game is not the ability to reverse time, but the consequences that come from the decisions that one makes. At several points, players must make large decisions that cannot be reversed once they leave the room. However, they do have the option to reverse time while in that room in order to see the direct reactions of another decision. The uncertainty of how these decisions will impact future gameplay adds to the mystery. For every decision that you make, more questions arise as the future is undetermined. Players will never know if they made the right decision (unless they replay the game) but they do have the option to change their mind, forcing them to contemplate their decisions carefully before advancing.