Playing Queerness in Life Is Strange

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In the episodic action-adventure game, Life is Strange, players experience opportunities to embody an 18-year old woman, Max, and help save the lives of her female friends and investigate the disappearance of her small town’s missing girl.  As players practice different types of decisions and ponder the experience of an evil decision, they perceive Max’s cyclical time as an important theme, one that allows her to replay her past in order to play the unlikely hero.  When looking at Max’s motivations to save both her close female friends, Chloe and Kate, from death and help a few loners at her school feel more welcomed, one perceives that the gameplay focuses on exploring her identity and motivations.  They ask themselves, is Max a good friend and what motivations could she have to save her friend from death or ridicule from her peers? Given the intimacy of her closeness with her female friends, her awkward yet caring personality, and the significance of the strange environmental situations in the setting, I examine different meanings of the word “queerness. “ Queerness might mean strange, as used in the title, but also suggests the playful aspect of Max’s fluid sexuality, which may be seen as questioning, bisexual, or simply not one specific category.  Briefly using Merleau-Ponty’s ideas of time and subjectivity and Deleuze’s notion of active past, I dedicate some time to look at her preoccupation of the past as seen in the use of rewinding time and her capturing of events with photography to show her unraveling of her identity through her exploration of her past decisions.  Through my examination of the game and concepts, I pose that Max demonstrates queer time, a notion of cyclical time (as opposed to linear time) used for the sake of intimacy with females and simultaneous resistance of male academic and civil authorities.   I argue that if the player makes the morally conscious decision to use Max’s rewind power and successfully captures all the necessary photos, the player learns how the gameplay lends itself to a reading of Max’s intentions as queered through her motivations, which make her seem different than the typical teenager.   From my perspective, the game offers players different chances to play as a talented and strange young woman, a contrast to what many players are accustomed to.  



Lisa Yamasaki graduated from UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and specialLisa Yamasakiizes in critical video game studies. Her dissertation on the Portal series examined narrative structure in the game but also the themes of gender, queer sexuality, class, and race.  Her research on video games also explores ways that the liminality in the interpretation of the relationships portrayed in certain games.  Also, she enjoys looking at narrative structure in games as it differs and compares in some ways to the written and oral traditions.  In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing and yoga.