Talking About Race and Racism Through Video Games: A Review of Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 Promotional Art by Dontnod Studios

This article contains spoilers for Life is Strange 2.


I’m by no means a gamer, but of the couple games that I have played, only one has actually made me cry: Life is Strange. Specifically, Life is Strange 2. To me, it’s less of a game and more of an intricate piece of art, something that’s so completely and simply a story with the player’s only purpose being to move it along.


It’s a 5 episode long narrative game, and it took me about two weeks to finish. The game follows seventeen-year-old Sean Diaz and his nine-year-old brother Daniel, who live in Seattle with their father. At the beginning of the game, Sean gets into a fight with his neighbour, who was picking on Daniel, and someone calls the cops. Their father, after running outside to protect his kids, is shot by a police officer, who is later found dead. Convinced they would be blamed for the officer’s death, the brothers decide to make their way to Puerto Lobos, the small town in Mexico their father grew up in. Along the way, Sean discovers that Daniel has telekinesis — a power he doesn’t know how to control just yet. Now they’re on the run from the police, considered armed and dangerous, and Sean has a superhero for a little brother he has to raise as they make their way to Mexico.


The player has little control over what happens in the story; only the end of the game is impacted by the choices they’ve made. The only thing you can fully control is Sean and Daniel’s relationship. How close their bond is, how Daniel uses his power, and a huge part of how Daniel will come of age is influenced by the players' decisions as Sean. There are 4 possible endings, making even the simplest of decisions affect the endgame.


As you can probably tell, I love this game. Set in 2017, it touches on Trump’s presidency, police brutality, racism, classism, and the events at the U.S border in an artful manner, making the player think about it whether they want to or not. Life is Strange 2 is about a little boy with superpowers, but more than that, it’s about a little boy with incredible abilities being treated as something less than human, and a seventeen-year-old who quickly has to become an adult, a father figure, a mentor, and most importantly, someone who knows what he’s doing.


The game follows the brothers down the coast, with a few detours in the middle. They get held hostage in a gas station by an angry Trump supporter, they visit their long-lost grandparents for Christmas, Daniel gets kidnapped by a cult, they finally meet their mother, who left when Daniel was a baby, they work at a pot farm in Northern California and befriend some wandering hippies, they travel through Washington, Oregon, Northern California, Nevada, and Arizona, and by episode five, Sean and Daniel have made it to the border.


In as much of a spoiler-free explanation as I can give, there are no good endings. The way Life is Strange 2 portrays immigration, police violence, racism, homelessness, and everything else the brothers had to go through on their journey is jarringly close to reality, and something that hits a little closer to home, as by the end of the game the player has become deeply attached to Sean and Daniel, and can’t imagine being responsible for what happens to them in the future.


Throughout the game, the player, as Sean, has opportunities to teach Daniel how to be in the world. He’s his mentor and coach, teaching him how to control his powers, when to use them, when to hide them from others, and who to trust. Even the smallest decisions Sean makes, like whether to take a small chocolate bar for Daniel from the dashboard of an abandoned car or not, is something Daniel will remember and take with him into the real world.


Sean’s character can be influenced too; whether he prioritizes keeping Daniel’s powers hidden or teaches Daniel to do whatever's necessary to keep people from getting hurt, even if that means risking getting caught. Sean can be a stickler for the rules or the “cool brother” who lets Daniel eat chocolate for dinner. He and Daniel can have a tough-love relationship or a deeply caring one. He can choose whether or not to romance a charming train-hopper with purple hair. The player’s abilities to shape the game and the characters in it to their liking are incredible.


I should also express how much I enjoyed the first game in the series, Life is Strange, which follows seventeen-year-old art student Max Caulfield as she reunites with her childhood best friend, discovers she can turn back time, and tries to save her small town from impending doom in the form of an approaching tornado without accidentally destroying the fabric of time. However, in comparison to Life is Strange 2, the first Life is Strange game feels weaker. The story is powerful, but maybe not as well done as Sean and Daniel’s – and the writing, voice acting, and graphics are substantially worse. Life is Strange, while a powerful game in itself, feels like an incredible concept, while the second game is a finished project with very few loose ends.


I’ve played through Life is Strange 2 twice, and both times have left me emotionally drained and exhausted. It’s the kind of story that lingers in your mind for days, weeks, and months after you finish it, it’s well-rounded, interesting, and powerful, and I would recommend it to anyone who has the means and the time to play.


Life is Strange 2 is thirty-two dollars and is available on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox One.


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