We Bathed in Moonlight, Drowned in Sorrow’s Embrace

They told me I had been dead for ten months when they pulled my lifeless blue body from the bottom of Lake Delavan. Why I was now staring at the dull brown ceiling of the hospital in the Salma Quarter of Divinity’s Reach instead of slumbering peacefully in the cool embrace of the Mists was not something the priests and priestesses were able explain to my satisfaction. When, after several hours, I regained the color in my face and the feeling in my fingers, I felt an anger that should have remained dormant forever.

I returned their dispassionate gazes, face up in my bed, as my cheeks flooded with uncomfortable heat. This is what the White Mantle looks like when they imbibe bloodstone, they told me. They’re dangerous. White. Mantle. For as long as adjectives and nouns continued to exist, humans would agglutinate them in endless permutations and use them as rallying cries in their idiotic wars against each other. The fact that my parents had once shared a bed in Kryta did not obligate their offspring to care about the kingdom’s politics.

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I don’t give a damn, I replied. Tell me how you brought me back, since you won’t tell me why. They offered conflicting answers: Engineers had concocted a potion that had the power to reanimate the departed; Rangers had called upon the spirits of the forest to imbue my skeletal frame with verdant life force; Mesmers had conjured up an illusion which was temporarily housing my essence; Lyssa had personally bartered with Grenth for the return of my soul until the Elder Dragons had been vanquished and the safety of the Six Gods’ human subjects had been secured.

I want to go back, I growled through clenched teeth. Tell me what I have to do.

Meet your old friend Logan Thackeray in the Upper City. He and the Queen will help you understand what needs to be done.

So I did. It was as if I had never been gone. The Pact still called me Commander, even though it was clear to me that I wasn’t commanding anything or anyone. Braham wouldn’t listen to me. Marjory wouldn’t be told what to do. Kasmeer was conspicuously absent. Anise had developed a thirst for blood, while Canach had developed an endearing brand of wit. Taimi and Rytlock were the only ones I felt I could trust – Taimi’s burgeoning genius needed an adult catalyst to ensure her transition from progeny to practitioner; and where there was a battle to be fought, as there typically was when I was around, Rytlock would be there to guard my back and tell everyone exactly what he thought of them.

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Logan was the one person who hadn’t changed. As much as we had been through, he wasn’t good for anything but commanding human forces. When he told me that General Soulkeeper had offered him the position of Marshal within the Pact, I stopped caring about the organization altogether. Call me what you will, friends. I’ll go where I need to go and do what must be done. The flow of time wraps itself around my sword and shield while Queen Jennah kills with a flick of the wrist and erects a reflective dome over the entirety of Divinity’s Reach by simply willing it to exist.

Tell me again: why do you need me?

Once we’ve slain the remaining Elder Dragons I am going to fill my lungs with as much of Lake Doric’s water as they will hold and return to Eir in the Mists. We’ll spend our eternal twilight leaving heavy footprints in the frosty snow beneath us as we make our way toward the sound of howling wolves on distant ridges.

Game Overwatch

Gather ’round while I tell you a tale of a not-so-young Karinshastha and their experience with a wonderful First Person Shooter game played primarily by people who aren’t female.

I’ve been playing Overwatch for a little over a month now and I’ve come to the conclusion that this very pretty, well-polished game is not something I am inclined to continue with, even on a casual basis. It’s worth the purchase price of $40 as far as I’m concerned. Getting a month out of it is quite all right. I don’t spend much on games in the first place. What drove me to this conclusion was the fact that at some point, I’m going to have to get better at this game in order to enjoy it, and there’s no good way to do that without investing an unpleasant amount of effort into being social with highly competitive young people who are more than happy to rage when things aren’t going the way they’d planned. Microphone required.

The maps are beautiful, the mechanics are smooth, the animations are fluid, some of the sounds are borderline ASMR, and the game play is pure adrenaline. The audio-visual-kinesthetic experience is excellent.

The problem I face, however, is that this eventually fades and I find myself craving a structured experience that casual play does not offer. Enter competitive play, in which one is constrained to a handful of character picks out of the 23 on offer in order to be maximally effective for one’s team while not being a burden.

I really enjoy playing D.va, the young Korean mech pilot with armor and infinite ammo and a low skill floor. I’d play her every game if I could. But you’re not supposed to do that in competitive Overwatch – you need to be versatile and swap heroes as the situation calls for it. If they have a Pharah raining justice from above, you’re supposed to bring Soldier 76 and shoot her out of the sky.

Okay, I can do that. Soldier is the game’s best-known all-rounder. He can sprint, heal, do good damage, and his ultimate is literally aim assist. No problem.

I can also bring Pharah. I used to play Quake extensively. I can point rockets at people’s feet and pilot her jet pack reasonably well. I know where my Q button is when I want to unleash a deadly rocket barrage. Sure, I’ll insta-die to a sniping Widowmaker, but as long as I take a few with me, it’s a good trade.

D.va’s getting a pretty big nerf next patch to the point where she’s no longer desirable. Okay, who else do I like to play? Sombra, the hacker, whose usefulness is very situational and requires a team to play around her. Tracer, the zippy track star who requires a great deal of skill to play effectively – skill I don’t have and don’t want to invest the time in training at the expense of other heroes. Mercy, the healer whose usefulness and utility is eclipsed by every other healer in the game and, like Sombra, requires a team to play around her. Ana, the sniping healer who requires an accuracy of 60% in order to be more effective than Mercy in a vacuum.

I’d train for that, I guess. The problem, though, is that competitive compositions are very limited and comprise characters that I mostly don’t enjoy playing. What happens when Ana is taken (perhaps by a more skilled Ana player) and so are the DPS roles (as they usually are)? I don’t mind Lúcio, the super-mobile wall-rider who heals by merely existing. Zarya, the Russian bodybuilder who shoots beams and bubbles is all right. I don’t care for the heavily armored meatshield known as Reinhardt whose rectangular blue shield is mandatory in every single game. I really don’t like Roadhog, a pot-bellied misfit who wears a gas mask and pulls people in with a hook for “picks.” Everyone else, apart from the abovementioned favorites, gets a resounding meh. (Except Mei, she’s super cute and I have no idea how to play her effectively.)

Play something that isn’t on the above list in competitive and you open yourself up to toxicity for having committed the cardinal sin of picking an available hero who is not in the “meta” for winning games. Manageable in a game like Smite, perhaps, where you have 83 gods to choose from and much more flexibility in finding something you like. Not so much in Overwatch, where I’ve found that your often teenage (or younger) compatriots are ready to jump all over your ass at the drop of a hat. And if you’re not playing to win, like you should be, even the Game Masters will jump on your ass.

So just play casually, right?

Well, I think I’ve exhausted my enjoyment of Arcade Play. There’s only so many all-Reinhardt or all-McCree brawls I can take before bowing out. I’m not interested in 3v3 elimination matches or 1v1 mystery duels – I am happiest when operating as part of a largish team – or no limits matches where people pick three of the same hero. Mystery Hero matches are all right – you get a random hero every time you respawn – but they don’t help me git gud at any specific hero.

And then there’s Quick Play, the casual alternative to Competitive Play. In Quick Play, you can play whatever you want and learn your hero’s abilities and the maps and health pack locations and so forth. There’s no team cohesion or strategy to speak of, mostly random Team Fortress 2 with a team that’s a third of the size in a scale-appropriate fortress so you’re bound to run into the Now Spectating screen relatively quickly once you’ve hit level 25 and start getting matched with level 400 players who are warming up before or cooling off after rousing matches of high-level competitive play.

I’ve played my share of Quick Play. It doesn’t do much to help you learn how to play your hero effectively, just what the abilities actually do, so to train for Quick Play (which sounds a bit ridiculous, but whatever), I decided to set up custom games with bots. Hard difficulty Lúcios padding both teams – Lúcio uses a speed boost, moves unpredictably, and keeps you alive – are good for training tracking. Just last night I was fairly adrenalized by my increased ability to track and kill the bots on Sombra while listening to very loud music (best way to train, I’ve found). They’re always running after health packs and are a pain to kill, but I was doing it with regularity.

But did I really pay $40 for a shooting range simulator? And do I want to spend thirty minutes to an hour a day training for an unknown payout at some point in the distant future on the roster of a squad full of jocular man-children (and children) who only like you when they win?

Maybe it’s my attitude that’s the issue here. I’ve calmed my temper considerably, when I can remember to, and have even been able to type words of encouragement in the chat box. But I really don’t have any motivation to get on voice chat and start calling shots or compliment assholes on their play to stroke their egos and stop them from tilting and/or throwing.

Essentially, I’d need to find enough motivation to seek out other players, group up with them, and queue for competitive play as a team in voice chat if I really wanted to get any further enjoyment out of Overwatch. I couldn’t even be bothered to do voice chat in The Secret World, which I enjoyed very much while I was in the swing of things. I think the last time I did it was in Guild Wars 2’s sPvP years ago with my guild – people whom I had gotten to know and who knew me and so I didn’t mind so much talking to them on my tin-can audio jack microphone. Random people? Ehhhhh, no, thank you.

So, bye, Overwatch, I guess. For now? (*shrug*) It was moderately fun and somewhat painful while it lasted.

Gone Home

I’ve gone home. Home is a place where I enjoy my free time without attaching elaborate artificial constructs to the things I do for fun. Composing articles with titles such as “Is Falling Damage a Bad Thing?” or “Are Gender-Locked Classes a Kick in the Pants?” has ceased to interest me. The Secret World’s end game kept me around for quite a while until I got to the point where I decided that I’d just take a vacation until the main story comes back from its extended vacation. I’m ambling through Season 3 of Guild Wars 2’s storyline at my leisure with little regard for anything that isn’t attached to it. The other games I’ve enjoyed in recent memory, Life Is Strange and Gone Home, are both very much story-driven and represent the sorts of things I’ve become much more interested in spending my free time with.

It’s just a product of age. I enjoy telling, experiencing, and reading stories, in that order. If those stories are found in an MMO, fantastic. Lately, they haven’t been. My personal publications are better served by other sites; it may be quite some time before I play a game with a story worth talking about here. In the meantime, I think I’ll have some coffee.

Going Home

I had Help Me by Hako Yamazaki blasting in my ears when I walked into Daimon Kiyota’s renovated “office” and told him I was done. It wasn’t until halfway through his response that I bothered to take the earbuds out and let them hang from my phone’s audio jack almost all the way down to the floor. My deadpan gaze made him stop and rewind back to the beginning, this time with a shit-eating grin in place of his usual Blackbeard smile.

To my surprise, he stopped himself before he started speaking. His suddenly blank expression masked an eerie calm.

“Everything is Jake, Liling.” That got my attention: it was the first time he had ever used my real name – or any name at all. I felt a bit taken aback, briefly. He wasn’t dealing with my usual humorless bullshit and he was no spring chicken when it came to reading people. I could tell that he was just as serious as I was.

“You’ve been on the lam for a long time. There’s nothing going down in town.” He shrugged dramatically for effect. It didn’t have any, so he put a smile back on his face. “Zip your lips, don’t double-cross me, and you can high-hat every drugstore cowboy and gold digger from here to Big Sur. Copacetic?”

“Copacetic,” I said.

I glanced to my left and right, looking for the Bong Cha treatment.

“We’ll skip that part,” he crowed. “You’re too strong, now.”

I nodded curtly and thought about bowing. To hell with it. I put my earbuds back in and walked out the door of the Dragon’s main temple in Seoul for what I hoped would be the last time.

Kingsmouth is on the other side of the country from my parents’ home in California, so there was still the business of arranging a cross-country flight. I traded in my Pax Romana for a modest sum in pounds at one of the black market vendors in London – apparently the council’s currency is worthless outside the not-so-secret circles that float it.

It was enough to take care of transportation to the West Coast and then some. I bought new clothes for the first time in ages and dumpstered the black-and-purple hoodie that had been my mainstay for the past two years. Mixed memories, more good than bad, none of them worth dwelling on.

I still think of Shani, sometimes, when I look up at the moon at night. Probably better to forget about that one, too.

When I arrived in front of the light-blue rambler my parents called home, the door opened before I had even stepped out of the taxi. As I tipped the driver my mother called out to me with such agitation in her voice that I nearly tripped over my own toothpaste-white shoes running up the sidewalk.

“Oh, Lily. Thank goodness you’re here.”

“Mother! What’s wrong?”

“I made too much for dinner and your father and I can’t eat it all up by ourselves.”

“Oh…” I laughed stupidly, as if I were a six year-old child again. And then it dawned on me that my mother had just called me by my American name for the first time I could remember since I had been born. I looked down at her brown eyes behind thick-rimmed, thick-lensed glasses that cost more than mine did. Her smile, well, you couldn’t put a price on that.

“You’re not angry, mother? After everything that’s happened?”

She pursed her lips and pinched my left cheek between her thumb and index finger. “Just forget everything and start over. Oh, and Liling…”

“Yes, mother?”

“Welcome home.”

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Late to the Afterparty: Overwatch

I’m unfashionably late to the after-afterparty where everyone’s passed out and some people are even beginning to wake up with massively overpowered headaches that will follow them throughout the day. My interest in MMOs has waned to the point where I can only be bothered to log in to The Secret World every couple of days for one to three consecutive days of play, and then only if the people on my friends list are going to be running classic Nightmare dungeons or, more recently, Kaidan Elites (AEGIS dungeons). This interest in MMOs will undoubtedly be bolstered by the return of Nostalrius in its second incarnation on December 17th, which will see me resuming play on my priest and rolling up a fresh warrior for tanking dungeons on the PvE server where I’ll be free to roam with a headcanon full of nostalgic musings on fantasies that disappear when the game client closes.

In the meantime and downtime, I’ve been looking for a gap-filler. So, on a whim, I decided to buy Overwatch after mulling it over for a week or so. It’s a multiplayer shooter with heroes and objectives and mechanics. It’s easy to pick up a specific hero’s ablities; mastering them in matches against human players may take quite some time depending on one’s FPS experience and killer instinct.

I have no killer instinct to speak of and don’t really know why I’m shooting at other players. I presume it’s because they’re shooting at me. I think I’m doing the whole Overwatch thing wrong, anyways, because I hate the popular damage-dealing heroes Genji and Hanzo and prefer to play mostly support and sometimes tank characters almost exclusively. I’ll even switch from Mercy with her single-target healing/damage beams and resurrection ultimate to Lúcio who possesses a speed boost/healing toggle (with an amplifier) that functions most effectively when he “exists” in the midst of his teammates.

Things like positioning, situational awareness, map terrain navigation, and aiming are coming back to me slowly. Twenty years ago I played shooters quite a bit – the feelings died down as I got older. One of the things I asked myself when contemplating the purchase was: why are you getting back into player combat after your experiences with Smite? Don’t you remember? It made you hate other players.

Overwatch is a bit different so far: I’m relatively low level, so people don’t seem to mind much what others are doing, which is great because if anyone were to notice my individual performance in some of these matches and I made the mistake of leaving voice chat enabled, I’d probably be called some things I’m not interested in hearing. In any case, after several rounds against the A.I., I began playing Quick Play exclusively (non-competitive matches) and have been having fun to the tune of two hours a night. Perhaps this will change as my skill improves, but for now I’m content to watch my Play of the Game once every thirty matches in which I stand with my nose in a corner and a healing beam on my team’s Winston as he kills three players in a row with his monkey rampage ultimate.

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In which my mech self-destructs behind strategically stacked crates and two enemy players die off-screen. Well done.

As in Smite, I don’t really like most of the heroes. Pharah’s rocket launcher reminds me of the Quake series which I used to play very heavily two decades ago, so I don’t mind her. Sombra, Mei, and Widowmaker are cool even though I suck at them. D.Va is the stereotypical k-pop streaming hearthob who is most effective as a tanky DPS harasser and is therefore a bit difficult for me to get used to, somewhat like some of the support gods in Smite who didn’t really seem to “do anything” until their play style clicked with me several matches in. Unsurprisingly, Mercy is my favorite healer aesthetically. Lúcio is an enormously useful healer and enjoys the advantage of being “meta.” I like rifle-toting grandma Ana, too. Unfortunately, I’m no good at sniping if the target has any amount of mobility.

And actual live opponents do. They are surprisingly aware of where I am at all times and annoyingly deadly. Sometimes I’m murdered without mercy in the space of five minutes. Unlike Smite which has Conquest matches that range from 25-45 minutes in length, a round of Overwatch is over fairly quickly and I’m free to leave in between matches without penalty. I’ve begun acquiring a collection of sprays, skins, and icons, most of which is pretty fluff to look at in the Hero Gallery when I’m done for the evening.

When it comes down to it, it’s a nice game to play when there’s nothing else I’m hot to trot for. I’ll probably never play it competitively, however; I have little tolerance for toxicity. That’s one thing that all of the multiplayer games I play have in common: they’re most fun when played with nice people. It’s no wonder a lot of us are playing single-player games these days.

Life Is Strange Fan Fiction: “After This”

Games are endlessly rewarding: they birth fantastic stories both within and without. Once upon a time I wrote about Guild Wars 2 and I still, from time to time, post flash fiction or short stories about The Secret World. Now, I’m writing about my latest love interest, Life Is Strange. The euphoria has died down; there’s a resonant mental energy that continues to buzz and gives the illusion that I am made of ten thousand moving parts. If you’d like, you can read the illustrated Thing “How to be perfectly unhappy.” by The Oatmeal and you’ll understand how I feel. Games are a conduit, a catalyst, a source of inspiration. Humble beginnings, stepping stones, or maybe…just what I like to do.

“After This” by Karinshastha

I’ve published it on Archive Of Our Own, one of the most active, user-friendly sites I’ve found that’s been designed for people who enjoy reading and writing fan fiction. So far I’ve completed one chapter. It’s a rather dreamy second-person narrative which tries to emulate the style of Alyssa Wong, an award-winning flash fiction/short story author whose work I admire. I don’t know how many chapters are in the cards, to be quite honest. Sometimes I can come up with a first draft that’s fully formed, albeit skeletal; most of the time, as is the case with “After This”, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the story until I’ve actually written it.

It’s great fun.

 

Favorite Game of 2016: Life Is Strange

Life Is Strange has become my favorite movie. I’ve watched it twice, both times with somewhat different decision-making but with the same basic themes, one of which was impressed upon me at the game’s midpoint: Maxine and Chloe, the title’s protagonists, are partners in time. The dynamics of the cast of associated characters revolve around this locus and play out based on your decisions large and small. Tonight I’ll be playing it for a third time, bearing in mind the knowledge and theories I’ve gleaned from reading hundreds of pages of commentary, fan fiction, and analysis, as well as from watching dozens of videos devoted to its intricacies. It’s a game that invigorates the imagination and invites endless discussion on the heavy themes it addresses unflinchingly: bullying, suicide, euthanasia, PTSD, and mental illness, among others.

I briefly thought about writing a hyper-ballad dedicated to this wonderful game with which I’ve become obsessed as of late, but that multi-part treatise has already been written. I’d like to invite you to read Polar Opposites and Binary Choices: A Critical Reading of Life Is Strange – Part 1 at Dubious Ideas which discusses many of Life Is Strange’s most fascinating elements in no fewer than 47,000 words divided into six sections.

At its core, Life Is Strange is an episodic narrative which Dontnod, the game’s developers, intentionally leave open-ended so that you, the player, are the one who decides the precise nature of the things that go on around you. It’s also stress-free and slow-paced: there is no sense of impending danger and no rush to do anything. It is predicated on rewarding you for the simple act of stopping to smell the roses. Click on everything you can find. Sit down on a bench, a couch, a bed, and watch the world around you from Coppola-esque camera angles as Max pontificates. Announcing what your characters are thinking is presumably one of the cardinal sins of authorship – Life Is Strange utilizes this to great effect in a flawed masterpiece whose conclusion and lingering resonance have left me in a state of emotional vulnerability that I have not felt in a long, long time.

Life Is Strange is a story about 12th grade senior and aspiring photographer Maxine Caulfield who has been accepted into Blackwell Academy in Arcadia Bay, Oregon. Here, she reconnects with her childhood best friend Chloe Price, whom she had not seen since she moved with her parents to Seattle shortly after Chloe’s father, William, died in a car accident five years prior. Through a series of strange events, Max discovers that she has the power to rewind time, first using it unintentionally to save Chloe from being shot dead by drug-dealing rich kid Nathan Prescott in the girls’ restroom. Chloe is trying to extort money from him for the purpose of repaying the debt she owes to Frank Bowers, a local drug dealer.

Max’s powers become central to Chloe and Max’s efforts in trying to locate Chloe’s missing “angel” Rachel Amber, a magnetic personality and social butterfly who served as Chloe’s anchor – and crush – during Max’s absence. In the process, Max and Chloe’s rekindled relationship redevelops over the course of five days and, based on player choice, may blossom into romantic love. Max continues to have visions of a tornado that will destroy Arcadia Bay at the end of the week; it is discovered throughout the course of the game that Max’s use of her powers are thought to be the cause of this. Plot twists abound and culminate a final, heart-wrenching decision for anyone who has become attached to the protagonists: sacrifice Chloe by letting her die and thereby saving Arcadia Bay from the time-tornado (which now never happens because Max did not use her powers to save Chloe) or sacrifice Arcadia Bay and spare her girlfriend.

When I first started playing back in January of this year I was far less patient when it came to “fluff” in games and so thought nothing of the characters beyond Maxine or the introductory episode’s pacing and environs. The dormitory setting houses a mountain of interactive exposition which is mostly Chloe-free. Instead, we learn about Max’s life, her interests, and the people she has come to know at Blackwell Academy. Later on, when we first meet Chloe (after five years apart), our first impression of her may be somewhat negative: she is loud, profane, obnoxious, self-centered, petulant, and arrogant, so of course she’s going to nearly hit us in the parking lot driving the rusted out beater truck we saw earlier double-parked across two handicapped spaces.

Ten months later, I shook off my Secret World habit long enough to start playing through Episode 2 in which we get to know Chloe a little bit better. And by getting to know, I mean going along with her as she tests the validity of our powers and then convinces us to use them for her personal amusement by shooting bottles at an improvised target range in the junkyard she and Rachel Amber used to hang out in. The shooting attracts the attention of Frank Bowers, the drug dealer to whom Chloe owes money. Turns out she borrowed from Frank so she and Amber could leave Arcadia Bay for Los Angeles; that dream died when Rachel Amber went missing. The player is left to determine how the encounter plays out. The episode ends with Max using her powers to save Chloe from an oncoming train – the second instance in which she rewinds time to save Chloe’s life.

Max also deals with the attempted suicide of her friend Kate Marsh, a devout and kind-hearted student who was drugged at a party and videotaped kissing several boys; the video goes viral and sends her into a deep and dark depression. You have the option of talking her down from the roof of the dormitories but without the aid of your rewind powers as you’ve used them to stop time so that you can get up to the roof before she jumps.

To this point I had been able to play for an hour or so before becoming restless and stopping. Episode 3, the game’s midpoint, was where I began to fall for the relationship between Max and Chloe and by extension, everything surrounding them. Chloe texts Max close to midnight and the two meet for a moonlit rendezvous in the main building of Blackwell Academy. Chloe managed to snag the entrance keys from her step-father (also known as “step-douche”), an overbearing war veteran suffering from paranoia who serves as the head of Blackwell security. I’m a sucker for night-time settings; skulking about the halls of Blackwell when all the lights are off to the background hum of deliciously intoxicating dark music rubs me in all the right places. I absolutely love the fact that Max’s “flashlight” is an app on her smartphone. Circle the camera in front of her, and she moves her arm to accommodate it. (I cannot adequately describe how cute this is.)

After obtaining information about Rachel Amber from the principal’s files, the two head off to the swimming pool for a midnight dip. They have a playful, intimate heart-to-heart conversation – and it should be mentioned that Life Is Strange treats its protagonists as human beings first and foremost. They then return to Chloe’s house where they crash for the night.

The following morning, the two muse on how they used to hang around all day. Max’s clothes are covered in chemicals from the previous night’s swim, so Chloe invites her to try on some of Rachel’s clothes that have been left in her closet. When Max expresses hesitation (“they’re not my style” – “Max, you don’t have a style”), Chloe dares Max to kiss her in the name of being more adventurous. Prior to this, I had read somewhere that Chloe dies in one of the game’s endings and thought nothing of it. At this point, the relationship between Max and Chloe became central to my play through and I started engaging in marathon play sessions. I wanted to see exactly where the story would lead them and how things would play out. Yes, romance was the hook that lured me in.

At the end of the third episode, Max discovers that she can travel back in time by focusing on photographs. She does so with a photo of herself and Chloe in their teens when Chloe’s father William was still alive. Seeking to make a better life for Chloe, she travels through the photograph back to Chloe’s house and prevents her father from taking his car to pick up Chloe’s mother from the supermarket and thus never dies in a car accident. In exchange, Chloe receives a car for her seventeenth birthday and is permanently paralyzed from the neck down when she is thrown from her vehicle after being cut off on the highway. When Max returns to the “present day” of the reality she has created, she is horrified to see Chloe strapped into a wheelchair with a respirator attached, completely dependent on her parents.

Episode 4 is where my love for the character of Chloe and her relationship with Max were cemented. The “better” world inhabited by a bed-ridden Chloe in which her father is alive is offset by a strange, howling wind that blows outside the house and flocks of birds that flutter about in bizarre formations. It’s intended to give one the sense that the world is a bit “off.” It’s here, when Chloe is most vulnerable, that Max and Chloe’s love for each other is allowed to exist in its purest form, free from the pretensions of everyday, artificially complicated life. Chloe is helpless, Max has come back into her life to help her. This episode highlights the role that Max plays in Chloe’s life as an anchor, someone who gives her space in which she can be interpersonally secure and thrive. Max is Chloe’s rock. Alternate reality Chloe floored me, so when she asked me to obviate her eventual respiratory failure by giving her a fatal overdose of morphine, I did so and sat for a while in the room as she drifted away. Her final memory was of us together, looking at photos taken when we were both children and the world was not cold and cruel.

Max then returns to teenage Chloe’s house and refrains from hiding William’s keys so that he takes the car to pick up his wife and is killed in a car accident. Max is overjoyed to see Chloe again in the primary timeline and they go off to investigate Rachel Amber’s disappearance. They discover that she is dead and buried in a shallow grave in the junkyard which leads to the game’s most emotionally heart-wrenching scene. It turns out that Mark Jefferson, Max’s stylishly hip photography professor, is behind it. He lures them to the grave again at night, allowing him to dose Max and kill Chloe.

The final episode is where things gets real. Max wakes up in an underground bunker which Jefferson uses to photograph his victims at the point where their “innocence turns into corruption.” (He’s a psychopath, it turns out.) Via a series of time-bending photograph leaps, Max is eventually able to right all the wrongs, save Chloe, stop Jefferson, and make the game’s final, most difficult choice: sacrifice Chloe or sacrifice Arcadia Bay.

From reading /r/Games, which appears to be dominated by people more likely to play logically and provide excellent mechanical analyses of the game’s strengths and weaknesses, sacrificing Chloe has been christened the “good” ending due to the fact that the ending cutscene is longer, more powerful, and wraps up this coming of age friendship story by acceding to Chloe’s final, selfless request: let her die so that others may live. Doing so, they say, means that you have grown up and moved on from your childhood. You got to say goodbye to an old friend, something that some people never get the chance to do.

The subreddit I have been visiting lately, /r/LifeIsStrange, is dominated by people more likely to play with their hearts on their sleeves. I fit right in. We decided that we had fallen in love with Chloe despite her massive shortcomings and if the world has to burn for our honeybun, then so be it. Shipping (supporting) a relationship between Max Caulfield and Chloe Price, dubbed team “Pricefield,” forms the basis of thousands of fan fiction pieces, some of which I rather enjoyed in a sentimental sort of way. (I’m obnoxiously picky when it comes to fiction.)

And you’re allowed to be sentimental in video games because it’s the realm of the imagination. You’re also allowed to be sentimental in art because it makes really good fucking art. Life Is Strange, from its music to its images to the fluidity of its animations, the scene-setting, heck, even the awkward dialogue (Max is awkward, by the way) have shown me in a way that has touched me unlike anything else that there is beauty to be found in creating and sharing. I’ve even joined DeviantArt and Tumblr to explore my creative side with more enthusiasm. This entails spending less time playing games, which is just fine with me.

It makes me want to create and share so that perhaps some day, something that I have contributed to will make someone feel the same way I do about Life Is Strange.