The creators of Life is Strange aren’t scared to touch on topics often taboo in games. While some developers have denied making political statements of any kind, French studio Dontnod has placed those questions front and center in its current project, Life is Strange 2.
Life is Strange 2 follows two brothers, Sean and Daniel, on the run after a tragic event. On top of juggling grief and newfound responsibilities, the pair also find themselves dealing with bigotry and worse. During a recent interview with The Verge, co-creator and co-game director Raoul Barbet and lead producer Luc Bagadhoust explained how their series took a turn from teen problems to a more politically charged stage.
“It’s very hard now not to do something that’s not political, I feel,” Bagadhoust says, regardless of whether you’re making games or tweeting. “People that express themselves are now more politicized than ever. It was very important and we have a responsibility to address the topics in a very careful way. But the idea is to deliver this message, not be too judgmental, but not hide the topics we want to.”
With Max and Chloe, stars of the first Life is Strange, Dontnod wanted to tackle topics like online harassment, depression, and other problems teenagers face. The sequel continues this trend. Sean and Daniel, two boys of Mexican descent, are confronted with problems related to family, immigration, and race. Despite taking place in the US, Barbet says that many of its more serious themes are, unfortunately, universal. “It’s a general society subject,” he says. “That’s why I think it works with a lot of players. They can think about their own experience and country or history.”
It was important to Dontnod to find organic ways to tell these stories, rather than throwing them into a game just for the sake of it. Barbet points to the first game, when players confront a suicidal friend. It’s an example of a tough topic that evolved naturally over the course of the story rather than feeling like a dramatic scene that was tacked on with little thought. It’s the sum of the player’s actions leading up to that moment, and not a series of quick-time events or spur-of-the-moment dialogue choices, that impact how it plays out. “We don’t want to gamify a difficult subject,” Barbet says. It’s different from film, he says, where viewers have a passive role. “You’re responsible for what happened because you’re playing.”
Life is Strange 2’s third episode launches May 9th. Although Dontnod has two more episodes to go after that, the developers say their main message is still about learning how to take care of someone and be a role model. So far, they’ve been pleasantly surprised by how kind and nurturing players are to Daniel. Along with the game’s supernatural elements, the core of Life is Strange, Barbet says, is still about exploring realistic topics in a relatable universe. “Talking about our society, actual world problems, this kind of stuff,” he says. “I think games are really great as a medium to talk about all that.”