Critical Play: Mysteries

For my critical play, I chose Life is Strange, a game by Dontnod played through the perspective of a teenage girl called Max. The premise of the game is that Max, somehow, finds that she had the ability to turn back time, which prompts the desire to team up with Chloe (her friend) to solve a mystery disappearance and uncover some of the darker sides of their precious looking town. Although we may class this game as a mystery because of the exploration of the town and the investigative work to discover what happened, there is also a big emphasis on some themes commonly associated with teenage girls, such as bullying, suicide, euthanasia, and sexuality. Throughout the game, there is a powerful message about choice. Max (or the user) has the autonomy to make choices that will impact the lives of many. Our choices in the game shape the narrative

There is a lot going on under the surface of the story. The game is set in a town that originally seems to be quite peaceful and quiet although as time goes on our beliefs of the town change. The game allows us to explore the changing expectations and dark realizations setting up the gameplay to work mostly around dialogue trees, exploration, and puzzle solving. All of these allow the player to progress through the story while solving challenges. As we make choices in the game, the impact of our decision is felt by Max and by those around her. The time travel aspect of the game is not the primary focus of the game but rather understanding how to navigate complex choices and decisions about critical topics such as the ones pointed at before.

Some narrative elements are woven straight into the clues for the puzzles while other present themselves in slightly different ways, such as through the dialogue chosen for interaction. The narrative elements are the main focus of the game. The objective of the game from the perspective of a user is to impact the narrative of the story. We play to figure out what is going to happen to Max and if she’s able to solve the mystery she is tackling.

The game does a great job at keeping the player engaged by interlocking some dull /unimpressive moments with some intense / dramatic scenes that touch on some very personal and sometimes worrisome issues. I can imagine how this game could be seen as triggering for some people who have had to deal with some of the decisions presented in the game. For the rest of us, as we are put in Max’s shoes, we get a taste of what making some of these decisions might feel like.

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