You Guys Should Hella Play Life is Strange

 

Life is strange is not a perfect game. It has many flaws. I won’t go into them, I’ll just mention that the actual gameplay is sometimes a slog and the ending is maybe a bit of a bit of a disappointment. Chloe is sometimes grating, the plot doesn’t always make a lot of sense. None of that matters though. In my head, the way I will always remember it, Life is Strange is a perfect game.

Life is Strange does one thing really well, and that is character. It might actually be the only thing it does really well, but it does that one thing so well, by sheer force of will it elevates this game from simply great, to an honest-to-god experience. I hate it whenever someone says “you have to read/watch/listen to/play this thing.” But guys, you HAVE to play this thing.

You play as 18 years old Max, returning to her home town Arcadia Bay after having been gone for five years. It’s mostly scripted, your role as a player is to walk Max from scene to scene, and sometimes choose what she says when she talks to people. There’s also some puzzles that you probably won’t remember (except for the bottles. Grr, the bottles!) and there’s a time travelling dimension element, but that turns out to be surprisingly inconsequential.

So characters. Pretty much every character is a well rounded, psychologically believable person. Sometimes its immediately apparent, at other times it sneaks up on you. You think you know someone and then they surprise you. The person who had for the longest time been a boring stereotype turns out to have a whole new layer to them. Several layers. The strength of these characters is enough to even power through the occasional clunky dialogue. You just accept that this is a world where teenagers unironically say things like “hella awesome” and “go fuck your selfie”.

And then there’s Max. By god there’s Max. Because you play as Max, you develop a special relationship with her. You see everything through her eyes. When you look at stuff, you hear her thoughts on them. Mostly, stupid throwaway comments, but they’re funny, even when they’re corny. Playing Max feels like playing as a person. More than that though, because you make Max’s choices, you are part in the creation of her as a character. Or maybe it happens organically. My Max is insecure, awkward, a little clumsy, loyal to a fault and fiercely mistrustful of authority. Some of that is the developers choices, some of that is my own projection, but it is projection that the game allows me to do, encourages me to do. When Max is faced with a choice, I’m not deciding what I would do, I’m deciding what Max would do. Would she steal money from the disabled fund to save her friend? (No.) Would she kiss her friend on a dare? (No.) Would she date the boy with a crush on her? (No.) With every choice, I have a stronger sense of her character. It’s role-playing in the table-top sense of the word. And it works. It works so well.

And then there’s Chloe. I think Chloe tries a little too hard, her laughs, her attitude, it’s all a little forced. I wouldn’t be friends with Chloe. But I’m not Max. Max adores Chloe, but their relationship is a little rocky, Max didn’t keep in touch when she went away, and it’s strained it, but watching them reconnect, playing them reconnect, is a pure joy. It’s such a rare thing in a game, to see a friendship – especially female friendship – take center stage like that. To see it handled so confidently, that was something I hadn’t seen done. The moments that I cried – and there were a couple – were to do with their friendship being tested the hardest. Max is awkward and weird, Chloe is pose-y and forced, but together, what they have, is beautiful.

There’s some other things I want to say. In many ways, it’s such a confident game. How often does a game allow you to just sit down, watch your surroundings, maybe strum some guitarr, and just contemplate. Life. Old memories. Latest events. And the music. My god the music. If this game had nothing else going for it, just the music would elevate it to something worth playing. The music just fits. Maybe the songs aren’t always the most awesome (though, mostly they are) but they just complement the scenes so well, elevating both.

What Life is Strange shows, reminds us, is that if you get character right, get it goddamn right, then you can get a lot of other things wrong and still make the perfect game. Go play it right now, and then come back and we’ll talk about all the choices we made and all the people we met.

Hear My Nerd Voice Doing Nerd Things

My good friend Danny Robertson is in the middle of making a Podcast about the DnD advdenture he’s having. He made the excellent choice of asking me to join (or finally agreeing to let join, which is the same thing really).

A lot of credit should go to Tom McMinn, who excellently DM’ed the whole thing, and to our co-players Lewis MacLaglan, Ian Horton and Erin Fulton.

So if you want to take a break from reading my nerdy texts and listen to me doing something equally nerdy, but slightly different, definitely tune in!

The Problem With Modern Medicine

So medicine. Obviously, the pharmaceutical industry is evil. I don’t think anyone would dispute that. But how is it evil and why and what are the alternatives? Those are important questions. A lot of people see the pharmaceutical industry as essentially one giant conspiracy, with tentacles controlling scientists, doctors and the government. Like, literal tentacles, I assume. Therefore, anything put out by the pharmaceutical industry is automatically suspect and you should always go for alternative medicine, which is not evil.

 

Obviously, I disagree, I mean, I don’t think the pharmaceutical industry consists of literal octopus people with literal tentacles literally controlling doctors with their telepathic bursts of energy. That would be silly.

 

By BenduKiwi (authorupload) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
OR WOULD IT? Yes. Yes it would.

But it’s interesting for me to think about why people think this way about the pharmaceutical industry. So why do people think this way? Well, it’s because big pharmas makes medicine that sometimes doesn’t work, sometimes drastically so. They charge more for medicine than they should, especially life-saving medicine. And a bunch of other stuff, but mostly those two. Obviously, this is evil stuff, but it’s important to remember where that evilness comes from.  Now you could make the argument that it’s evil just for the sake of it, but that’s not really a very convincing argument, is it? I mean, people are never just evil for the sake of being evil. I’m not even going to source that. It’s easier to just assume that it’s because of profits. So let’s go with, big pharma is evil because they love profits.

 

But look. I’m being a bit harsh. Everyone loves profits. Loving profits doesn’t make you evil.  I love profits. I’m pretty sure I’m not evil. The problem is the structure of how we create and sell medicines, which messes the incentives way up. TThe source of the problem is that the people producing the medicines – remember, evil corporations – are also the people selling the medicines and they are also, a lot of the time, the people who are funding the scientists in charge of testing the medicines.

 

This is what leads to all that shady stuff has happening. Ben Goldacre has written a lot about this. This structure gives the drug making companies an incentive to fudge the details, to sell stuff that’s not ready for consumption and to just cut corners as much as possible. One of the easiest way to do this is to simply not report any findings that don’t go the way companies want them to go. Another is to exaggerate the finding that do go their way. All in all, yes, it’s not the greatest system. As we’ve established, shit gets messed up.

 

By BenduKiwi (authorupload) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I mean, are we completely sure this guy isn’t a literal octopus person in disguise? LIke 100% sure? I’m just asking questions!

Here’s the thing though. This is something that’s really important, but it can easily be forgotten. The problems, dramatic as they may be are still happening kind of on the margins. Highly publicized reports of wrongdoing are highly publicized because they are unusual. Most of the time, medicine works. Reasonable people can disagree on how big the problems are, how systemic they are (I would probably lean towards pretty big and pretty systemic) but the thing is, the basic framework of medicines work. Or kind of works anyway. Near enough. Cancer treatment is a thing. Antibiototics are a thing. They do what the labels say they do, most of the time, at least. And the thing is, people are getting healthier. For example, child mortality is at historic lows and decreasing , and life expectancy is at historic highs and increasing. Obviously these are just two pieces of information, but fewer children are dying and people are living longer. Seems like we are doing something right. But sure, you could argue that any rate of mismanagement is unacceptable, and this would be a pretty persuasive argument.

 

But what does this mean, in practical terms? Well, for one, it means that if the system is broken, it’s broken because there aren’t enough checks on it, aren’t enough balances to make sure it doesn’t kill people. If the problem is that the people making medicines are also the people in charge of testing whether they work then the solution is to change the system. A lot of people suggest alternative medicine, but I don’t see how that doesn’t also have the same problems. It is also made by people who stand to make money and those people also are in charge of making sure it doesn’t kill you. Only, instead of having to go through a rigorous, if biased, testing procedure, they have to go through nothing.

 

Opting for something outside of the modern medicinal framework not only does not fix the main problem, the incentives – making money – are the same for alternative medicine companies. Actually, it’s worse, because it actively removes the system we have put in place to stop companies from gaming the system. What makes companies evil – any profit making company – is that though they are driven by people who can be nice or mean or whatever, but the logic of their structure requires them to put profit over any other consideration, unless constrained by some exterior force. Companies selling alternative medicine are just as evil, and if they are any less evil, it is only because they are smaller than big pharma, about a tenth of the size, in the US, but growing fast.

 

Obviously, there’s the massive conspiracy hypothesis that I mentioned earlier. That is, that the whole system, companies, scientists, governments, are all bought and paid for by big pharma, and everything we read in “reputable” journals is just humbug. In this telling, all medicine is a lie, to further the capitalist machine. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a socialist at heart, and I bleed as red as anyone, but this is quite an extraordinary claim. For me, and hopefully you, to change your mind, would require pretty extraordinary evidence. I haven’t seen this evidence. My claim is much simpler. It is simply that drug companies are evil, and they do everything they can to make money, but they are constrained by a system that forces them to occasionally make good life-saving drugs and they make these in a very grudging sort of way and try to game this system as much as they can. This doesn’t mean the state of medicine is great, or even fine, but it certainly means it’s better than any other alternative available to us right now.