How Dontnod Handled Heavy Subjects in Life Is Strange

It’s GDC this week (and we’re there, if you want to say hi), where some of the best and brightest of the gaming industry get together to talk about their work and the state of the art.

Michel Koch and Raoul Barbet held a talk about their game, Life is Strange, and how they–and the community–dealt with its extremely heavy themes. Polygon was there to share insights from that talk.

Content warning: discussion of bullying and suicide ahead, as well as major spoilers for Life is Strange.

The biggest issue was, of course, the ending of episode two, when a friend of the protagonist attempts to take her own life after being the victim of vicious bullying.

After this draining event, the directors felt it necessary to reach out to players beyond the game itself. Koch and Barbet recognized that the topic of suicide could hit close to home. What was most important to them was that the team give the players resources outside of the game for “talking to someone” about the subjects of bullying and suicide. They showed off messages sent from fans thanking them for their commitment to suicide prevention, talking about their personal struggles with depression or bullying.

The game’s willingness to present these issues in a realistic matter, the letters said, helped those who wrote in and were around Max’s age find the strength to address these issues within themselves. These responses made Dontnod feel like their work was more than just a well-crafted game, but an important and affecting one.

 

For a game about time travel, Life Is Strange is grounded in reality–with hard truths to share about loss, grief, abuse, bullying, and suicide. Dontnod could have drawn a lot of criticism if it handled those topics lightly, but instead the team chose to treat them seriously, with respect–and took some responsibility for the emotional fallout.

In doing so, they built a lasting connection with fans who saw their own stories in the game.

[Polygon]