I’m not sure that anything could have prepared me for Life is Strange 2. Not the first game, not it’s prelude chapter (The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit), nor anybody I knew who playing the game. Nothing. I am emotionally broken and it’s a much different feeling from playing the first Life is Strange, because this time it felt personal. So much so, that it completely caught me off guard, making every chapter harder than the last.
A Tale of Two Brothers
Life is Strange 2 borrows a lot from its predecessor, including the excellent writing of its characters and the dramatic weight of its narrative. In an effort to make the story even more intense, it deviates from the small-town drama of Arcadia Bay and focuses on xenophobia spread throughout America. Players take the role of Sean Diaz, who through an unfortunate incident discovers his younger brother, Daniel, has powers and the two of them are forced to run away from the police.
These opening moments of Life is Strange 2 perfectly illustrates today’s America. A place where racism is hidden under the guise of patriotism. Where immigrants aren’t given the benefit of the doubt because it’s automatically assumed they are dangerous. Where a cop sees a situation, pulls out his gun on unarmed civilians and someone ends up getting shot. It’s unfortunately timely, all too familiar, and very, very real. And for many people of color, we see stories like this every day and every day we are forced to ask ourselves…“Will this be me?”
Here’s the thing about the game. It’s not just the relevance of illegal immigration and rampant racism in America that hits the hardest. It’s the tale of these two Mexican-American brothers just trying to survive in a world that actively hates them. I am the oldest of two younger brothers and two younger sisters – all of us Black. Being born first, I can tell you that there are certain frustrations and responsibilities that come with that role. You’re asked to be patient with your siblings, set an example, teach them, and most of all, protect them in the absence of your parents.
There’s so much about this game that felt real, that felt familiar. The relationship between Sean and Daniel mimics so much of my own with my brothers and sisters. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be playing Life is Strange 2 and have it take a deep dive into some of my greatest fears as an older brother, which is failing to keep them safe. Watching these boys go through the nightmarish hell that the game presents is something I never want to truly experience, but the truth of the matter is that it’s all entirely possible.
Playing as Sean, I stepped right into that time where I actively looked after my siblings as they were growing up. I remember getting into arguments with my mother because it always felt like my younger siblings were given more slack than I ever was. I remember walking my brothers to school every morning, making sure they got there safely. I remember always having to be an extension of my parent’s lessons, reminding them what’s right and wrong, especially when they wouldn’t listen.
The scariest part of playing Life is Strange 2 is that I have thought about a world where my parents just weren’t there anymore. In a world where immigrants and Black people are being murdered in the streets by ignorant people and even the very systems that are meant to protect us, the harsh reality that my mother, father, or stepfather just might not be there one day was all too possible. Sean’s new reality is my worst fear and as the game goes on, his mission to protect Daniel became harder and harder.
As the player, Life is Strange 2 ask you to make Sean’s mission your mission, which was something I couldn’t help but approach from my own experience as an older brother. I empathized with Sean not being able to reconcile his own feelings with his father’s death. The need to hold it together and take care of Daniel was too great. There is also that delicate balance between trying to keep Daniel in check and giving him the freedom he needs to grow. It’s a frustrating experience because growing up with a younger sibling means that while they look up to you, they rebel against you at the same time. This is especially true when you are trying to teach them.
Even when you’re presented with the choice of having Daniel use or hide his powers, it’s hard to know what kind of person to teach him to be. You want to hold the moral high ground and make Daniel a better person. That’s a mission that, even though my sister is 25 with a kid and my brother just turned 20, I try to strive to achieve. Being the right example for all of them. However, there is so much that gets in the way of doing right by your siblings.
I think a lot about Sean running away after Daniel’s powers manifest and every decision he makes after that. It’s an impossible situation, and I can’t blame him for running away with Daniel. I can’t even blame other players for the choices throughout the game that I didn’t even make. I scoffed towards the end of the last episode where Sean is asked why he didn’t just stay and tell the police they were innocent. There is nothing he could’ve done differently where the system would have given him the benefit of the doubt or let him and his brother stay together.
I have to commend the team at Dontnod for mirroring the ugliest parts of American society and making a game that I could connect to in a way I never thought possible. There is a lot they get right about that responsibility of being an older brother. A lot of games create drama to engage the player. Life is Strange 2 felt like it was meant as a reflection of many people’s experiences, especially many in the Latinx community facing discrimination because of today’s political climate. Life is Strange 2 struck me deep and made me a mess. It felt personal and reminded me of how much I care for my family. I just hope that I did my part in helping them learn, survive, and be good people in a cruel world.