‘Life is Strange’: Creanalysis of a Videogame, a talk by Luis de Miranda

Life is strange is an episodic videogame launched in 2015 and developed by Dontnod, a French studio based in Paris. Critically and internationally acclaimed, this film-like, melancholic, and esthetical game focuses on female protagonist Max Caulfield, an American high-school student who discovers that she has the ability to rewind her existence for a few minutes when she (we) so decides.

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Creative director Jean-Maxime Moris explained: ‘For each one of your choices there’s no definite answer. Something good in the short-term might turn out worse later.’1 On Life is strange, he added, ‘there are supernatural things, but they’re only there to be a metaphor of what is going on inside the characters, their inner conflict. It’s universal, it’s realistic, everyone can relate to those themes, to those high school years, these type of choices that you make, every day life choices.’2

Playing Life is Strange is a meditation on adolescence and the universality of high-school years. The contemporary adult is often described by French essayists as an eternal adolescent (what the French call adulescence),3 ruled by the double bind of maturation and fun, precocious nostalgia and infinite desire. Teenage can be seen as a suspended time, a Lacanian Möbius strip, a time-loop of contradictions, where binary oppositions continuously shift polarities (insider-outsider, guilt-innocence, action-passivity, friendship-betrayal, ecstasy- anxiety, destiny-freedom, creation-standardization) — the conclusive episode of the game, due by the end of 2015 or early 2016, is entitled ‘Polarized’. Finally, one of the game’s recurrent symbols is a blue butterfly. It is not only a reference on quantum physics and time travel, but also the Nabokovian image of a post-nymphal stage — the first episode of the game is called ‘Chrysalis’. The butterfly can manifest irresolution, impermanence, and sublime loneliness (the feeling of being strange and misunderstood), but it is also a metaphor of our need (or obligation?) to create and sublimate ourselves.
This talk will be an applied attempt to approach a genetic method in the interpretation of human creative processes, a method I propose to call creanalysis. An analysis of (human) creative processes, on one hand, and a creative analysis of a given phenomenon on the other hand, a creanalysis, if it is possible, should be based, I argue, on at least five axioms:

1 – Inexhaustibility: Creation does not only designate a fixed object, a result (a creature), but also a continuum which is primum mobile, a radical process that constantly overflows and overfills our attempts to saturate the real with an analytical coherent interpretation. I have proposed to call Creal the primal inexhaustible and immanent process that is antecedent to any editing or systematization of life. No explanans can ever be complete. We should postulate a principle of incompleteness for every analytical system (extension of the Gödel principle to the social sciences). This epistemic incompleteness is the effect of the strange becoming of life. Etymologically, strange means external, coming from outside a system. Life is strange because it is a pervasive creating-of-the-new process (cf. Nietszche, Bergson, and Deleuze), where the new can be understood as what invades a system from its outside.

2 – Relationality: No system can be isolated from its users or conceptors. For example, a videogame cannot be separated from its player, who introduces the element of uncertainty and relational consciousness, as studied in phenomenology (cf. Merleau-Ponty). Even though the game is coded and therefore deterministic, the emotional consciousness and practical behaviour of the player creates unlimited possibilities of experience. This is precisely what the creators of Life is strange have attempted to focus on: this game is a mise en abyme of the strangeness of life, a metaphor of the relational inexhaustibility and diversity of experiences: ‘There are supernatural things, but they’re only there to be a metaphor of what is going on inside the characters, their inner conflict.’
3 – Plural Perspectivism: Every explanandum deserves a plural explanation. The emphasis on one explanans over another is a matter of choice and decision. For example, we could say that Life is Strange is a meditation on our authorial desire to edit a personal narrative: What if we could edit our lives? But Life is strange is not only that, and its interpretations are virtually infinite according to the principle of inexhaustibility. Every analytic system is an interpretation (Nietzsche), yet we should try to provide a plural one when possible, or at least leave the door open to otherness.

4 – Performativity: The interpretative desire is ethically, socially and existentially more important that the interpretation itself. This is one meaning of Kafka’s quote: ‘That is the essence of magic, which does not create but summons.’ Here creanalysis becomes a pedagogical tool, and an educational statement: the capacity to interpret one’s life, as well as to analyse a collective social given, in a personal, coherent and successful manner, is what needs to be taught, along with examples of previous successful (contagious) systems of explanation. When a personal interpretation is strong, it can become magic, viz. performative (cf. Austin) and socially contagious.
5 – Discursivity: Creanalysis is not an artistic performance, because it is governed by an analytical need to understand and explain. Therefore, it is not arbitrary but argumentative. It follows a certain logical consistence. A creanalysis is a dialectical process, both rational and creative, between the need to be elegant, in a scientific sense (coherent, economical), and the fidelity to life’s strangeness (complexity, fluidity, inexhaustibility).
The videogame Life is strange exemplifies, among other interpretations, the following contention: human existence is a constant attempt to edit the irrepressible.

https://research.ncl.ac.uk/fmrg/fmrg24videogames/
FMRG24 Videogames will take place on Friday 23 October 2015, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The Conference will be hosted in the Literary & Philosophical Society building, immediately adjacent to Newcastle Central Railway Station.

1 Robert Purchese ‘Life is Strange: It takes time to be different’ (2014) [accessed 6 April 2015]
2 Bengt Lemne, ‘Life is Strange: Supernatural things merely metaphors’ (2015) [accessed 6 April 2015]
3 Tony Anatrella, Interminables adolescences (Paris: Cerf, 1988).

Posted in Ideas and Papers, Pop culture.

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