This Action Will Have Consequences
Time manipulation is a powerful tool in storytelling and 2015's video game release of "Life is Strange" uses this power to drive the narrative. You Play as high-schooler Max Caulfield (Slide 2) who has the ability to rewind time. Whilst playing the game, you interact with Kate Marsh (Slide 3).
The game is almost immediate in sowing the seed of concern towards Kate Marsh, an apparent victim of bullying. Your player character: Max, has written the following journal extract:
"But she's been extra quiet and introverted the past couple weeks. She looks like she's in zombie mode. I wish I could help her, but I can barely help myself. I wonder if all that bullying has worn her down... I can see how it would. I have to make an effort to talk to her more often, maybe invite her to tea or a movie"
This is a firm indication to the player that Kate is in a depressive state; a clear cause for concern.
“Everybody Pretends to Care Until They Don't
With the discovery and usage of your powers, you are able to take up a "defender" role, (Salmivalli, Christina & Voeten, Rinus 2004), intervening in situations where Kate Marsh is being bullied. Collected Statistics from the PC, PS4 and XBOX ONE versions of the game, show that during these key events, the majority of players chose to be a 'defender' of Kate and to intervene in an attempt to help her throughout her plight. (Slides 4,5) The shift in power in your character has given the player a sense of responsibility; a power that can be used for the greater good. This power quickly becomes a normality and the player is able to interact with peer groups in an attempt to minimise the bullying against Kate.
A flaw in this balance of power lies in the early-game choice for the player to remove a "will bang 4 JESUS" (sic) slogan written on Kate's whiteboard (outside her dorm room). The collective player-base is almost perfectly divided (slide 6) in their choice. The game is now bearing witness to the secondary type of person in this scenario: "the outsider" (Salmivalli, Christina & Voeten, Rinus 2004). With your powerful ability to rewind time, it seems that the majority of players choose to intervene in situations where their victim is present.
It is rare that people will get see the full extent of a victim's suffering and the power to rewind time seemingly becomes less-meaningful when you cannot see the fruit of your labours.
"No wonder they call it a "web" - nothing can ever get out."
In amongst the depiction of bullying emanating from social cliques (slide 7). Life is Strange has attempted to incorporate the impact of the virtual age' of bullying: cyber bullying. This form of bullying is effective in its relentless targeting; when a digital artefact is made at your expense, a faceless evil emerges with no restraint and no remorse.
These forms of bullying have sadly become commonplace in today's society with people creating and sharing content that grows into a malevolent campaign of targeted hatred. This nameless entity is a master of the bloodletting process; draining every ounce of the victim’s life force until they have no will to fight, no heroic victory over the monster. The victim becomes withdrawn, lifeless and starts to look for a 'way out' (Kowalski, Robin & Limber, Susan & Agatston, Patricia 2012).
This withdrawal is reinforced in the journal entry where even though Kate has been observed as "Taking a lot of shit" for her participation in religious groups, her recent demeanour has suggested a dramatic change in the method of bullying. This cyber bullying artefact is revealed to be a video of Kate “kissing boys” at a party. Kate has no recollection of these events and even when it is discovered that she was drugged (and therefore not in control of her actions). She faces ostracisation from her peers and scorn from members of her strict, religious family. She has now reached her tipping point.
Out of Time
It is only when, in chapter 2, after a number of interactions with Kate. The player approaches the school and witnesses Kate's suicide (slide 8) that the true impact of the relentless bullying becomes apparent. You are compelled to use everything in your power to manipulate time to save her life, but the exertion of stopping time (in order to make it to the roof before Kate jumps) renders Max unable to rewind time. You are essentially powerless.
Or are you?
The removal of your ability to manipulate time has created an imbalance of power: every word that you say from this moment cannot be rewound and every erroneous response just pushes Kate closer to the edge. The game has suddenly made you human; a powerful tool for realising that actions have consequences and once your own power has been taken away, you are vulnerable: you feel just as vulnerable as the person on the ledge and there is no safety net if you fail (slide9). Your actions as a “defender”, or “outsider”, have led the player to this moment and the full extent of the victim’s suffering is apparent. The actions of the “outsider” (41% of the player-base, slide 9) demonstrate an impression of insouciance towards Kate’s bullying and this casual indifference will result in her death.
If, however, you have shown concern and been a “defender” of Kate, you will have had your power removed but you are far from powerless. You can appeal to the person that you have gotten to know throughout the game and you have the ability to save her life (slide 11).
Life is Strange
'Fitting in' and peer acceptance is a social norm in itself. Young teenagers will go to great lengths in order to conform with the injunctive social norms of their peers. What if the perceived social normality of bullying can be reversed? In reality, nobody can turn back time but through the use of time manipulation in “Life is Strange”, we can consider the consequences of our actions, and the construction of positive social norms can be reinforced.
Kowalski, Robin & Limber, Susan & Agatston, Patricia. (2012). Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age. American Journal of Psychiatry - AMER J PSYCHIAT. 165. doi:10.1002/9780470694176.
Life is Strange Wiki. Character Notes. Available at: https://life-is-strange.fandom.com/wiki/Max%27s_Character_Notes#Kate. Accessed 01/05/20
Life is Strange Wiki. Game Statistics. Available at https://life-is-strange.fandom.com/wiki/Game_Statistics_(Season_1) Accessed 01/05/20
Salmivalli, Christina & Voeten, Rinus. (2004). Connections between attitudes, group norms, and behaviour in bullying situations. International Journal of Behavioral Development. 28. 246-258. doi:10.1080/01650250344000488.
Schultz, Nolan; Cialdini, Goldstein; Griskevicius (2007) "The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms" 429–434. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01917.
Interesting that rewinding a game narrative and not having the ability to rewind it both build in-game empathy when implemented in smart/clever/timely ways. This game has been on my to-be-played list for some time. Your essay made me move it back to the top.
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