Life is Strange has at all times been a online game sequence that not solely sees one of the best in individuals however, additionally, in its personal medium. More than any installment earlier than it, although, True Colors is a mature, nuanced exploration of embodied empathy, each as an IRL phenomenon and a staple of online game narratives.
Released on Sept. 10, the third recreation within the sequence ditches the episodic launch format, permitting you to play all of the chapters of 21-year-old Alex Chen’s story directly. After surviving years within the foster care system, she arrives in idyllic Haven Springs, Colorado to reunite with the older brother she misplaced contact with after he was despatched to juvie. Soon after arriving, although, her brother Gabe dies, and Alex finds herself thrown into an Erin Brockovich-type scenario the place she should uncover the company corruption that is been plaguing the small city for many years.
Like each Life is Strange recreation, Alex additionally possesses a superpower, however it’s not of the MCU selection, This one, like others we have seen all through the sequence, serves extra as a storytelling gadget or prolonged metaphor for the character’s lived experiences.
In the primary Life if Strange, the retro-obsessed Max can rewind time, including attention-grabbing new layers to the standard mechanics of narrative video games the place your ethical decisions influence the story. (Does selecting the best factor even matter if you happen to can simply rewind and erase dangerous selections?) Life is Strange 2 featured telekinesis, probably the most run-of-the-mill superhero capability within the sequence. But not like each different recreation the place the participant will get all of the strongest powers, right here it is your little brother who can transfer objects together with his thoughts. It’s your job as an alternative to assist him navigate the ethical questions of methods to wield that energy ethically as the 2 Mexican-American immigrant siblings face xenophobic persecution close to the U.S. border.
In True Colors, Alex’s superpower is empathy — like a hypersensitive vibe examine detector permitting her to faucet into the robust emotional states emanating from individuals’s colourful auras. She can glean extra about what’s behind their anger, disappointment, concern, guilt, and many others. by objects that give us glimpses of their inside ideas. In an early scene, you employ the superpower to turn out to be everybody’s favourite waitress on the native tavern, intuiting precisely which track a stressed-out pupil desires somebody to play from the jukebox.
In True Colors, Alex’s superpower is empathy — like a hypersensitive vibe examine detector.
It’s a superb narrative gadget for a medium that struggles a lot with discovering natural methods to discover characters’ interiority, and it is rather more partaking than the diary or journals that always attempt to fill this identical function in different video games. As Alex learns to regulate her energy, her capability evolves into actually seeing what the opposite particular person sees. She enters their thoughts’s eye to assist them confront no matter private demons or psychological struggles they’re dealing with, just like the comedian book-style imaginary monster terrorizing a little bit boy or the terrifyingly foggy, deteriorating reminiscence palace of somebody affected by Alzheimer’s.
I’ll be sincere: I rolled my eyes once I first heard that empathy was your superpower in Life is Strange: True Colors. I really like the sequence, however it’s at all times had a predisposition to cloying, corny sentimentality that is not essentially earned.
I nervous Alex is perhaps diminished to the stereotype of Troubled Young Girl character, unable to regulate her feelings cuz homosexual, or daddy points, or no matter. This concern was exacerbated by the truth that True Colors was closely marketed to be as LGBTQ-friendly as Target’s annual Pride section. (By the way in which you can play Alex as hetero as an alternative of bi or lesbian — a story possibility that appears like a hate crime in opposition to her very clearly homosexual undercut and vogue aesthetic).
I nervous the sport would play to the worst of Life is Strange‘s lineage, as a sequence that launched in 2015 through the peak of buzzy discourse around so-called “empathy games.” At the time, waves of narrative video games, from That Dragon, Cancer to Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest, have been attempting to capitalize on gaming’s distinctive capability to immerse gamers in another person’s perspective. The design principle noticed video games as literal empathy machines, capable of teach players some sort of lesson in compassion by having them just about inhabit painful, othered, or marginalized lived experiences.
But queer critics rebuffed the concept of empathy simulators, seeing as neither empathy nor video video games actually work like that. The empathy you may instill by a recreation is restricted by mainstream gaming viewers’s want or capability to empathize with the struggles of parents who’re completely different from them. And anyway, it misses the purpose of why illustration even issues, since video games with marginalized protagonists designed to assist straight cis white males empathize with them are, nicely, nonetheless video games made for straight cis white males.
Luckily, True Colors avoids all that noise to ship a real evolution in what you would possibly name an “empathy game.” Because in the beginning: this is not a recreation about inspiring empathy in gamers in any respect. Rather, it is an exploration of how one younger lady learns to deal with being an empath, not solely by harnessing its energy but additionally by setting boundaries for its limitations.
It is by far probably the most refined and wealthy iteration of Life is Strange’s superpower-as-metaphor conceit, exactly due to the way it speaks to the darker realities of being an empath IRL. Because regardless of common misconceptions of empathy as an unequivocal good or constructive present, a really profitable empathy recreation stays conscious of the challenges the style has confronted and digs into how excessive sensitivity to others’ emotions too usually causes painful lifelong struggles too.
From the start, Alex’s extraordinary capability for empathy is pathologized by a therapist as quite a lot of psychological diseases, a reality many actual empaths face that media not often depicts. The extra I realized about Alex’s upbringing and the origins of her energy, the extra I additionally considered how real-world empaths are often born out of the wounds of a difficult childhood. High sensitivity to others’ feelings is usually a trauma response from rising up in unsafe environments, the place being hypervigilant to the sentiments of adults is a vital survival technique for avoiding additional abuse.
True Colors by no means shrinks away from portraying the prices of extreme empathy, which might mutate into self-harm, self-sabotage, and even manipulation of others if left unchecked. Unlike the empathy video games of previous, it understands that empathy would not mechanically remodel individuals into paragons of selfless kindness, both.
Alex should first study to beat a bent to lose her personal sense of self when she takes on an excessive amount of of different individuals’s feelings, like when her energy escalates a battle between her brother and a jealous boyfriend. She is variety and means nicely, sure. But she’s additionally delicate to the purpose of explosiveness and resentful of a world that does not shield her from embodying the worst components of humanity. She wrestles with a historical past of performing out, depriving herself of feeling, and slicing herself off from individuals all collectively simply to manage.
When the tragic lack of Gabe reverberates by Haven Springs, although, she lastly learns methods to break from this sample of avoidance. Instead of receding, Alex seeks to proceed Gabe’s journey of therapeutic from their shared childhood traumas by assembly the problem of grief’s messy, conflicting feelings — not solely in herself however the individuals who cherished him most.
The narrative decisions in True Colors aren’t the standard moralizing right-or-wrong, black-or-white binaries that too usually flatten the style of empathy video games. Like grief itself, there is no such thing as a guidebook for methods to really feel, no easy solutions for what one ought to do with the indignant disappointment, or loving guilt, or joyous hopelessness of getting cherished, then misplaced. The finest Alex can do in her makes an attempt to assist others is dare to achieve out a hand, and inevitably fail typically.
Similar to its extra nuanced portrayal of empathy, True Colors is emotionally sincere in a approach few video video games are, permitting its characters to really feel the ugliest components of grief that we’re usually too ashamed to confess to. Rarer nonetheless for a bit of common fiction, it provides a mom character permission to precise a few of the most taboo feelings about her baby possible, and it would not demonize her for being human.
Home, you study alongside Alex, is wherever chosen household lies.
Aside from utilizing embodied empathy to discover characters’ inside worlds, True Colors faucets into the opposite distinctive energy of video video games to floor us in a way of place. Haven Springs is an attractive small-town setting that is visually tactile and sonically vibrant. I imply, you may virtually scent that high-grade Colorado weed whereas visiting the native dispensary.
It’s this grounded sense of place that helps drive house the opposite main theme of the sport: Home, you study alongside Alex, is wherever chosen household lies. Home isn’t the partitions of a home, nor the place you come from. Home is one thing you construct with different individuals, by relationships and reminiscences that help you take root like one in every of Haven Springs’ tall, historic fir bushes. By the top of the sport, I felt myself really feeling nostalgic for the quiet moments I’d shared with townsfolk by the dock, or on the report retailer, or within the condo above the native tavern, which was the primary area Alex ever actually bought to name her personal.
As touchy-feely as True Colors’ premise sounds, this is not a really “safe” story. It takes dangers, dares to be morally ambiguous, wades into debated points round illustration in video games, and raises provocative questions that (relying in your narrative path) may not at all times land completely.
But swinging massive and lacking typically is precisely what has turned Life is Strange into such a significant power in video games. The sequence is clearly devoted to bringing extra humanity and emotional complexity to a medium that too usually squanders its distinctive storytelling powers on superficial bullshit with no relevance to the actual world. To the credit score of the sequence’ creators, Dontnod Entertainment and True Colors lead developer, Deck Nine, they maintain getting higher and higher at pulling it off with each new title.
I’m simply joyful a recreation like Life is Strange: True Colors exists. As we proceed to wrestle with the continuing, collective grief of a world pandemic, we’d like artwork that displays the brutal actuality of not solely loss however of feeling approach an excessive amount of on a regular basis. Maybe, simply perhaps, we are able to even study a factor or two from Alex about the way it actually does take a village to get better from shared traumas.