This article contains heavy spoilers from episode 3 up to the end of Life is Strange. You’ve been warned!
The analysis that follows refers to my own perspective as a disabled woman. In my opinion, there are no wrong ways of experiencing your own disability. Some people with disabilities might not agree with what I have to say, but each experience can differ depending on your type of disability, the support of family and friends, and the society you live in. We have bad days, and we have good days, just like everyone else. But our bad days sometimes can override everything else and take us to a Dark Room of our own.
I believe Life is Strange was such a successful game because it didn’t shy away from complicated topics like mental illness, anxiety, depression, bullying and, what concerns me most, physical disability. We can argue for ages whether the game actually represented these topics or not, but to me, it’s enough that its directors cared and tried to show something real. It is clear that they did their research and offered an innovative game with a deep narrative that depends on the player’s decision. This narrative makes the player consider their choices and how they make them feel. Sometimes, there’s no right choice.
The ending of Episode 3: Chaos Theory showed Max the consequences of playing God: she created an alternate reality where Chloe was a quadriplegic and ended up asking Max to help her take her own life. As I’m a paraplegic woman, this twist gave me a wave of mixed feelings. I remember I screamed and cried when Chloe first wheeled in. I spent the two-month wait between episodes thinking of quadriplegic Chloe: I pictured her with her punk attitude putting everyone in their place because an elevator didn’t work or something; just our crazy Chloe dealing with the usual little things disabled people have to deal with. When Episode 4: Dark Room came out, the reality was quite different.
Euthanasia as an answer to disability
I was shocked: our punk Chloe was just a sweet and quiet girl like any other. Alternate Chloe cared for her parents, she struggled with her disability, she was in pain and wanted to die instead of slowly suffering. At first, I was hurt. “How dare they?!” I screamed at the directors. The first time I played the episode, I refused to kill Chloe. Not coincidentally, I couldn’t sacrifice her at the very end of the game either. Over a year later, I replayed the game and realized how selfish I had been, and decided to let Chloe die twice: in the alternate reality and at the end. It was “hella” awful and I cried like crazy. Euthanasia is not a topic you think often, unless something very specific happens in your life. The directors treated the topic in a very respectful way. They didn’t say it was right or wrong, they just created the space to consider it and take a stand. What would you do if your best friend was slowly dying? Would you honour their wish? Even if you feel like you cannot possibly choose, you still have to make a choice to keep the game going.
The cost of being disabled
One of the things Max noticed in the alternate reality is that Chloe’s parents were drowning in debt. That was scarily realistic. Unless you’re rich, having a disabled child means the family is going to struggle financially. That’s a fact in almost every corner of this world. Having a disability like paraplegia or quadriplegia entails long years of physical therapy, sometimes in private clinics because you want the best for your child. It doesn’t matter if you can’t afford it, you will find the way. By the time you realize that your child is not going to get better, you have to fix your house. No one is prepared to have a wheelchair around. You need ramps, wide doors, a huge accessible bathroom, and if you’re as lucky as I am, your dad might build you an elevator so you don’t have to keep sleeping in the living room. Chloe’s parents fixed her house so she was comfortable, and that came at a great cost. There is no way Chloe wouldn’t feel terribly guilty about this, even when she knew it was not her fault. I truly love the level of detail the directors put into Chloe’s new room.
And what about when your disabled daughter wants to get out of the house and actually live her life? That means being her personal driver to school or trips to the mall. If you don’t take her, there is no way she can go anywhere: public transport is a mess, some buses and trains are accessible, some are not, and most of the time she will need to go to that place where nobody even bothered to put a ramp on. She can barely be alone outside, and she can’t find people who are willing to take her to places. This is when loneliness plays its part: Chloe was so lonely. She couldn’t keep her friends, she was rejected by Blackwell Academy because it wasn’t an accessible place (insert the biggest insult you can think of here), and she only had her parents and nurses by her side. This feeling of loneliness struck a chord: it’s how I’ve felt my entire life.
The shape of disability
In my opinion, now comes the most interesting part: What happened to Chloe’s personality? Many times in my life, I’ve wondered who I would be if I wasn’t a disabled woman. Seeing a different Chloe only sparked more thoughts on this matter. Who is the real Chloe? The punker or the sweetheart? Probably, the event that made Chloe “go wrong” was losing her father, but I can’t help wondering about the way our disabilities shape us. Would I be the same person if I wasn’t a paraplegic? Would I be the same bookworm if I hadn’t had to spend countless, boring hours in hospitals? Maybe my self in an alternate reality knows the answer.
“I want to make my own choice”
In the end, it’s all about being true to yourself. People just want to make their own choices. This is what Chloe told Max at the beach: “When you want to make a decision, you just do it. I’m at the mercy of everybody. I want to make my own choice.” Chloe lost that terribly human characteristic of doing what you want when you want it. Chloe’s pain, the pain that made her want to end her life, wasn’t because of her disability. That was all society’s fault. If she had access to the education she deserved, maybe, just maybe she wouldn’t have felt so lonely, she would have made friends. If society provided her family the financial help they needed so desperately, Chloe wouldn’t have felt so guilty about the medical bills, about how her parents’ lives revolved around her. This is a terrible burden for a young person to bear.
Some might argue that disabled people should always see the bright side of life. Talking about how difficult our lives can be is uncomfortable for them. They don’t know what to say, and they want us to only focus on topics they can relate to. Some might think that we are doing okay because we hardly ever complain after being shut up so many times. The hard truth is that we are tired of fighting. We are tired of fighting a battle where no one is in our corner. Having Chloe in my corner for a brief while evoked powerful feelings in me. She put into words how I’ve felt so many times in my life. Growing up, I read every book, watched every movie and played every game searching for a character like me, trapped in a wheelchair, but adventurous nonetheless. It took me over 20 years to find a representation that made me smile between the tears. So, thank you, Life is Strange, for giving me the understanding that no one else did. Now I hope that soon someone will give us the chance to play with a fabulous character who goes on an adventure and just happens to use a wheelchair.
Daniela Tiranti is a professional translator (English-Spanish) who loves stories more than life itself. You can find her at @DanielaTiranti.