Monday, October 23, 2017

Communal Life

I realized that I've mentioned in passing a couple of times about how much I appreciate the Life Is Strange community, but haven't gone into any particular detail on it. So, just a little post about the corners of the internet that are most meaningful to me.

My main hub is probably the /r/lifeisstrange subreddit. I haven't really talked much about Reddit on this blog... as a whole, it is a mass of swirling hate and villainy that has caused incalculable harm to many peoples' lives, and the internet would be a far better place tomorrow if it disappeared today. But, paradoxically, it's also home to some of the best game communities I've ever found, largely avoiding the toxicity that poisons lots of other forums. The Life Is Strange subreddit in particular is fantastically moderated, with wonderful spirit and discussion and support and fan creations. As a commentator recently observed, "When people finish Life Is Strange, they come here to say 'I need to talk about my feelings!', rather than every other game where people come to say 'I need to talk about my opinions!'". It's sort of a combination group therapy and geeky celebration of this thing we all love.

Shout-out as well to /r/Pricefield, which focuses more on fuzzy feelings.

I'm not on tumblr or instagram, but those are fantastic repositories of original content; I usually find my way to particular content there via Reddit or Twitter. Some of the best tumblr artists for the original LiS have moved on to other fandoms and aren't making new content for Before The Storm, but their original images are still there and wonderful. And I'm sure that, over time, fans fresh to BtS will come and produce as well. Instagram is a great venue for short content directly from the various creatives involved in the project, especially the voice actors.

I have a kind of haphazard twitter list. I generally prefer to follow people who don't tweet very often, so this is kind of a function of quality and reticence.
@LifeIsStrange: Official account, I believe it's run by Square Enix. Great for details about releases, but also periodically highlights fan content, as well as general good social-media stuff like occasional polls, discussion threads, etc. Mostly focused on BtS at the moment, but keeps the flame of LiS alive as well.
@HannahTelle: Max's voice actress from the original series, she's still very plugged into the LiS community and also involved in some great solo music projects.
@rdornotfloral: Rhianna DeVires, the voice actress of young Chloe in Before The Storm. She occasionally shares some fun behind-the-scenes looks at mocap, voice acting, and other production thingies.
@Kylie_Anne14: Kylie Brown, the voice actress for Rachel Amber. She's really into the fandom! Great engagement, I love how she proactively ships amberprice.
@DeckNine_Cara: Cara Bernard, an artist at Deck Nine Games. Really great art, both her own and highlighting good LiS fanart.
@DONTNOD_ENT:  The developers of the original LiS, who have been sweet and supportive of BtS. No real chatter from them yet on Season 2, but I'm sure it's coming! In the meantime, they continue to periodically highlight fan works related to the first season.

All of the above are good at avoiding spoilers, but keep in mind that Twitter will sometimes insert liked tweets into the feed (STOP DOING THAT TWITTER), so I unfollow and refollow around the time of each release until I have a chance to play.

A lot of the above have Facebook presences as well, but they seem to be a subset of the Twitter content so it doesn't make much sense to follow in both places. One exception is Priceless Cosplay, who are probably my favorite LiS cosplayers. Priceless just covers their specific LiS cosplays, although both are individually active in other projects as well; Facebook seems to get the most attention from them, with some content later appearing on YouTube as an afterthought.

I've never been a Let's Play person - my attitude has generally been, "Why would I want to watch someone play a game when I could just play it myself?" I saw the appeal for competitive multiplayer games, where you could maybe see talented players' techniques and strategies, but not so much single-player games. Well, Life Is Strange has semi-converted me. For this series in particular, it's so much fun to watch players' reactions to the major events in the game, so the player is at least at much a part of the show.

Furthermore, it's cool to see all the different ways the game can change when players make different choices from myself. I'm finding that to be even more true for Before The Storm - the game feels a lot more reactive, in a lot of small ways, and also more complex overall. The first season tended to have fairly straightforward "A causes B" interactions, which you couldn't really anticipate but are obvious in retrospect. BtS seems to be using something closer to a point system, where the cumulative actions you take can lead to a different outcome, with no one decision being necessary but each of them being important.

All that being said, here are the streams I've most enjoyed for Before The Storm, listed in the order in which I watched them.

Eurogamer: This is true of all of the following, but these people are fans of the franchise and very invested in these characters' lives and happiness. They're a bit quicker at playing than the others and don't stop to read all the journal entries or explore every nook and cranny, but it also isn't a speedrun, and they do poke around a bit. I really like their running commentary; they generally avoid talking over the game, their observations tend to be funny and/or poignant, and they have great responses to the big moments of the game.

Strange Rebel Gaming: She's probably the quietest player on this list, with the least commentary, but she's still super-invested in the game. Once she gets to a good point, she'll usually stop and share her thinking about what's going on and her reasoning behind the choices she's making, and she's very thoughtful about what she's doing. She was especially interested in Rachel's theater work in Episode 1, and related that to her own experiences as an actress (in high school and beyond), so I am really looking forward to her take on Episode 2!

Pandorya. This one is kind of unusual: she's a German-language commentator, and I don't speak German! But I love these videos, they're some of my favorites. The game audio is still in English (with German subtitles), and there are enough cognates and proper nouns that I can vaguely track her commentary. It's really cool to see how various things are translated; a lot of swears turn into Schei├če, but there are also some aspects that seem to be adapting American idioms into other forms. One of my favorite bits was seeing the translation of Chloe's sabotaging of Victoria's homework: the original joke doesn't work in German, and I don't completely follow the one that replaces it, but judging from her delighted laughter it really works. Pandorya is the most careful and methodical player I've seen yet. She gets how these games work, and diligently explores every square inch (or, in her case, centimeter) of the map before advancing to the next scene. And, again this is true of everyone, but she clearly loves these characters and has genuine reactions to what happens to them. When she says "Oh, Chloe!" she means it.

There are a few other Let's Plays that I've seen and enjoyed. Geek Remix has a ton of discussion and commentary, both in the main playthrough and supplemental theory videos; unfortunately, they had to cut out the music for those, which really diminishes the impact of some scenes like the junkyard.

I didn't watch many Let's Plays for the original series, but I absolutely loved BirdyBoots'.  She had a fantastic presence and was completely engrossed in the story. As a nice bonus, she ended up picking almost all the opposite decisions from me, and it was great to see what a tragic playthrough looks like without directly incurring the guilt myself.

A few relevant YouTube channels I subscribe to:
Hannah Telle. She rarely uploads, but the stuff she shares is wonderful, mainly solo musical performances.
HAWP. Not directly related to Life Is Strange, but features Ashly Burch, the original voice of Chloe Price, and are some of the funniest videos I've ever seen.
Katy Bentz. The voice actress for Steph Gingrich. Like Kylie Brown, she is also really plugged into the fan community and has some great short videos, both about LiS and her own experiences in LA.

I'm not on Twitch much, but I need to shout out dayebraham_lincoln for having the best channel name ever. This is Dayeanne Hutton, who voiced Kate Marsh in the original series. She streams a variety of games, and has also done great cosplays of her own.

Hm, I think those are the highlights! Lots of good people and lots of love in this community. I think a big part of that is a result of the game itself, which is so focused on empathy, so it tends to attract fans who think about who's on the other side of the keyboard and the impact (positive and negative) words can have. Things are especially busy right now while we're in the middle of BtS, but given what I've seen in the year leading up to it, good vibes will continue for quite a while.

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