Me, Myself and Life Is Strange: True ColorsPosted: 20 Jan 2023
Alex Chen is a bisexual Chinese-Vietnamese American, starting a new life in fictional Colorado town Haven Springs with her brother Gabe after a troubling experience with the foster system.
Michelle Ridge is a non-binary Filipino American, born and raised in Southern California to a young single mother who immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. Michelle has been waiting for Alex to show up for a long time, even though they will never meet.
Alex is empathy on overdrive; she has the ability to see the emotional auras of others and of objects. The issue is in being able to decide when that happens and the extent it permeates through Alex herself. As someone who had no boundaries and went through one too many abusive friendships and relationships, I know this feeling all too well. When Alex would interact with someone sad, she would be sad; the same applied to anger, fear, and joy.
I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) seven years ago. I have a desperate need to avoid real or perceived abandonment as well as an unstable sense of self. In my past, I got rid of anything about myself that was a perceived burden or a stressor, as long as whoever I wanted in my life would not leave me. I didn’t always think of my ability to practice this level of empathy and concern as a tool but when you cannot use it in a healthy way you can lose yourself, turning it into a curse.
Mental illness can often worsen due to things that happen around you outside of your control and can impact how you approach your life. Alex’s mother on her last breaths told her not to cry, and in reference to her brother and father told Alex “They’re going to need you. You have to be strong.” There is such an emphasis on the family as the most important unit in many Asian cultures, so much so that one is discouraged from focusing on themselves as individuals.
Basic needs can be a huge stressor for a struggling family and I remember how isolating and frustrating it felt to be denied what I needed. Whether it was through government assistance programs or extreme couponing, my mother worked to build a stable home. We were often threatened in jest to be sent back to family in the Philippines if we complained, which was effective albeit cruel.
In Alex’s world it all became too much for her father and when he lost his job he lost all hope, eventually deciding to abandon them. We realize exactly how much of an anchor her mother was in their home. My own mother was the main provider in our family, and her strength or energy levels after work would determine the outlook of the evening.
As much as my own journey through therapy is to re-parent and heal my inner child, I am still grateful to have had my mother around through my toughest years. In contrast, Alex’s experience of constant rejection in the foster care system did not help with any of the negative self-talk. It may have exacerbated the need to anticipate the feelings or concerns of others. When you are constantly wrapped up in other people it can create an incredibly lonely inner world. The echoes of adults saying “there’s just something off… broken… wrong… with her” are loud and can drown out hope.
There is also a deep guilt that comes from being a first generation Asian American as a result of the many hardships borne by our parents. This guilt can drive extreme effort and overachievement while leaving us unprepared for failures. In spite of this, the hospitality and kindness in Filipino culture resonates with me. It’s likely that if you interact with healthcare, that nurse or caregiver you will meet is from the Philippines. They have been the unsung heroes of this pandemic and their selflessness deserves more recognition. You’ll never leave a Filipino home hungry or weary, our hosting capabilities are legendary and we know how to rock the at-home karaoke system.
You may be wondering “Why does representation matter?”, and I respond with: hope, education, and advocacy. More diversity in games fosters hope for a more compassionate future, education to challenge one’s assumptions and biases, and advocacy to stop the cycle of generational trauma. Being quiet about our inner world for appearance’s sake can be so damaging, and the importance of mental health advocacy and education spans beyond the Western world.
I have mental illness and implore the games industry to stop assuming we are abusers, murderers or serial killers. We live among you and are someone’s friend, partner, or colleague. Asians are also not by default the embodiment of a martial arts montage and there is more to us than some fearsome member of a crime syndicate. These tropes are tired and overused. We are artists, storytellers, and more.
It’s been a little over a year since Alex Chen. Let’s not wait another ten years before we can see more examples of the capabilities from the Asian communities of our world and cultures therein. We’ve been here, we’ll continue to be here, and we should have the space and resources to tell our vibrant stories.
Michelle Ridge is a Filipino-American writer based out of California. They have written a variety of articles such as board game reviews for Board Game Quest and indie game coverage on their personal Ko-Fi blog. As a Take This Streaming Ambassador, she believes in the intersection of mental health advocacy, hope in game narratives, and the communities that surround them.