RESTORING INTIMACY: SHARING PASSION, SHARING PROXIMITY

The restoration of friendship is a central theme to both Life is Strange and Night in the Woods. The majority of this chapter has explored the ways that the two video games narratively and ludically express difference and tension between estranged friends. This section now addresses how their affection is successfully reconstructed. In Life is Strange Max and Chloe’s closeness is shared through their investigation into the disappearance of Rachel’s Amber. Night in the Woods also features detective work although their bonding is not established through their shared dedication to justice but rather, as they admit, to the companionship that forms from proximity. The girls’ rebellious occupations of space—sneaking into the gym’s pool in Life is Strange and tampering with the mail’s fountain in Night in the Woods—further expresses a form of playful anti-authoritarianism that bridges the gap between the girls’ differences, helping Max to release her guard around others and enabling Bea to embrace forgotten childish pleasures.

DETECTIVE PLOTS

Max and Chloe initially unite after Max agrees to utilize her rewind abilities to investigate Rachel disappearance. In the second episode players must use the rewind mechanic several times in the diner and again in the junkyard in order to demonstrate its legitimacy and usefulness to Chloe for her investigation. When Chloe discovers that Max has used her rewind powers to save her life her trust in Max builds, as does her willingness to put them both in dangerous situations like breaking into Frank’s RV to investigate the nature of his relationship with Rachel. The player’s success in solving various puzzles with the rewind feature, like lifting Frank’s keys or negotiating with him without anybody getting hurt, is rewarded with Chloe’s trust and warmness towards Max. They may receive supportive text messages from Chloe or additional narrative content. Chloe shows Max her gun, for example, only if Max intervenes in Chloe’s argument with her step-father. So, although their friendship is inevitably restored, players retain a degree of agency in determining the path of its restoration. Significantly they also determine its future, having to choose between saving Chloe’s life or the town of Arcadia Bay in the final episode.5

Examining the role of genre conventions to adolescent identity, Roz Kaveney (2006, 180) posits that horror themes provide an allegory for adolescence as a “nightmare” while detective tropes correspond to painful self-discovery. Life is Strange incorporates these themes to produce similar ends. Max and Chloe commence their own investigation into Rachel’s disappearance, uncovering horrors from Mr. Jefferson and Nathan Prescott’s “dark room” to the corrupt influence asserted over the town by the wealthy Prescott family. Max increasingly adopts Chloe’s anger the further they investigate, culminating in her most expressive diary entry: “FUCK YOU ARCADIA BAY” after uncovering Rachel’s remains. Their shared anger and determination that drives them to achieve justice for Rachel represents the empowering potential of feminine solidarity. Female friends that perform heroic tasks additionally undermine the lone-wolf tradition, promoting a contrary notion that girls work better with the support of other girls (Ross 2004).

The restoration of Mae and Bea’s friendship, however, is driven by proximity over passion. Like Max and Chloe, they also undertake detective work to investigate a ghost that Mae insists is real, although Bea makes it clear that she does not believe in ghosts, asserting at one point that she only accompanied Mae to the cemetery because she was going to visit her mother anyway. Likewise, at the library searching through newspaper records Mae, frustrated, snaps, “If you think it’s so stupid why are you here?” Yet in this instance Bea replies, “Because you’re my friend, you asshole!” Such interactions contrast from the passion that drives Max and Chloe to expose Mr. Jefferson and the Prescotts. Mae and Bea rather fall into a friendship again, based upon their shared sentiment of being anchored to Possum Springs. Mae voices this perception to remind Bea that she is not alone. In a compulsory dialogue sequence Mae assures, “We’re both trapped. But we’re trapped together.”

While confessional dialogue drives Mae and Bea’s relationship forward, the ludic elements of Night in the Woods support and enrich how the player understands their shared troubles. Their affection develops as their knowledge of each other is obtained, which is gained the more the player wanders the town, discovering sites of decay and abandon, experiencing boredom, and eavesdropping on the grievances of other residents. Mae articulates how the town’s fate and her friend’s lives are intertwined in the game’s cutscene epilogue (when Bea’s route is chosen), “None of us asked for any of this [...] You can work as hard as you want but the universe is gonna keep doing what it does and I don’t think any of us deserved all this. This is all stuff that started long before we were born.” The ending of Night in the Woods does not conform to an action-based climax, despite the ghost’s identity belonging to what Mea describes as a “death cult of conservative uncles.” The climactic finale is rather centered on friendship, communication and problem solving, where Mae, Bea, Gregg and his partner Angus must find a safe path out of the mines.

 
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