Two games stand out from the past couple of years for their emphasis on the experience of being a teenager, and having been labelled as “nostalgic.” A hint towards which games these are: blue hair. Okay, so I’m neither female nor American, and I haven’t experienced the same degree of loss at such a crucial point of my life, but that’s not to say they can’t speak to me. The thing is, they don’t speak to me in the obvious manner.
Let’s pick a moment from Life Is Strange; the morning when Max wakes up at Chloe’s after having had a sleepover. This scene is full of nostalgic elements due to objects lying around, the music playing on the stereo, posters, the golden sunshine beaming through the window. One of the actions you can take is to simply lie on the bed and soak up the atmosphere for as long as you like. I can’t honestly say much of this relates to me. Messy bedrooms are cluttered and dirty, few of my friends would play music, posters were non-existent or awkward, and Scotland rarely has golden morning sunshine! I wouldn’t wake up feeling refreshed because I’d have stayed up way into the night playing video games and end up sleeping on the floor. So why did I get such a warm feeling from this moment?
I don’t think it’s because of the memories Life Is Strange conjured for me, but because it is a moment in which two friends are simply comfortable in each other’s company. I don’t have many friends – the person I am never will – but there are some people in my life with whom I can share a space and feel relaxed, myself, and safe to be unguarded. This isn’t something one can experience through other media; no matter how well directed, shot, or acted, neither in TV nor cinema can the participant – you or I – simply linger in an environment. In a novel, unless you keep reading and pushing time forwards, a scene is utterly static. Life Is Strange allows you to exist and explore, and relax … the room isn’t static or still, simply calm.
Oxenfree starts off (near enough) with teenagers engaging in intoxicating social activities at a beach. I won’t pretend I’ve never had those, but no-one ever made such a grand fire, and beaches where I grew up were never – are never – that tidy. Whatever, it fits with the art style. The group of teenagers then play a variant of truth or dare, then marry, screw, kill (i.e. that’s the name of the game in the game – they don’t actually do any of those things). I remember games like those at parties I went to as a teenager. I don’t know if they’re supposed to serve some sort of social development function for people, but my main reaction was always “I do not want to be here.” Even playing through this scene in Oxenfree I felt a familiar tightening in my chest that didn’t return throughout the rest of the story, despite the horrors to follow. As with my teenhood, in this scene I couldn’t escape – I couldn’t just not answer. It was utterly, deeply uncomfortable to have my agency challenged, to not have control over whether I wanted people to know what I was thinking. Admittedly, Oxenfree didn’t push me that close to my limit, but the emotion it sparked existed.
There is no real point to this piece. I don’t intend to review games or any other medium. They just made me think about me. I have some friends I feel safe with, and Life Is Strange pointed out how important that is to me. Oxenfree confronted me with a situation that mirrored one that gives me anxiety. I reflected, and eventually wrote something.