Spoiler warning: I’m going to do my very best not to spoil Life Is Strange in anything but the vaguest way, but if you’re at all into games I’d recommend playing it before reading this or anything else on the subject. I’m also going to spoil the Terminator films, but most of them have been out for decades and the other one isn’t worth worrying too much about.
I just finished watching Terminator: Genisys. I also recently finished playing Life is Strange. One of these used time travel to make a salient, meaningful point about real life that I will carry with me. The other used it as an excuse to blow things up and trade on nostalgia for a 1980s robot movie. Can you guess which was which?
As far as silly, modern, glossy action movies go, Genisys was a watchable enough affair. Unfortunately, it claimed to be a sequel to 1984’s Terminator, one of the all-time classics of science fiction. That was a film made from a very real, very emotional place. The action had gravity and consequence and the story had a point. A point which Genisys missed.
The problem with Terminator: Genisys is the same as most other time travel movies. It’s the same problem it has become all too easy to point to in all films and games and fiction these days; it wasn’t about anything. When Terminator came out, the rise of computers and machines was a subject worth exploring and warning us about. In 2013’s Iron Man 3, the main character wins by having an army of robots. As real life’s heroes and villains have melted into shades of grey, our movies have stopped trying to be about anything.
Genisys was less about the rise of the machines and more about the other side of the Terminator coin, time travel. What lesson did it use this tired old trope to teach us? As far as I could tell, the lesson was “don’t worry about consequences, eventually 30 years later you can go back in time and get a perfect happy ending where everyone lives as a family.”
Time travel has always been a difficult one to write for; used thoughtlessly, the ability to change the past can remove any sense of tension. Overthinking on the other hand can lead to stories so bogged down in the hows and whys of timey wimey nonsense the human drama is lost to technobabble.
What Life is Strange does so well, as I’ve hinted at throughout the long rambling prose you skipped over to get to this bit where I finally make a point, is try to teach you the folly of wishing you could “do over” your life. Nobody alive hasn’t thought about how great it would be to go back into a memory and say or do something slightly different, and how much that could change our lives.
The genius of Life is Strange was in giving you this power, letting you enjoy a little of that wish fulfilment, then comprehensively showing you why that was a stupid idea and teaching you to be grateful for what you have and how it has made you into the person you are. We can’t change the past, but if we did, we wouldn’t be us any more.
That’s a useful lesson to remember, and I can only urge anyone who hasn’t to play through Life is Strange and learn it for themselves. If you want a dumb action movie where the heroes go back in time to change the sad ending to a love story from the 80s, watch Genisys I guess. Next year, Kate Winslet travels back to the Titanic and shows Jack how they can both fit onto that piece of wood, all while exploring a CGI boat that inexplicably looks worse than the one from the 90s. Enjoy!