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Life Is Strange with Katy Bentz (Safe Space Podcast Season 2, Episode 3)

In this episode of Safe Space, Rosie and Mikayla chat with Katy Bentz, aka Steph Gingrich from the Life Is Strange series!

Rosie, Katy and Mikayla are in the foreground on a backdrop of Haven Springs; there are trees, mountains, and a record store

Katy talks about her experiences as a voice actor, touching on the distinction between the games industry and the film industry, and how to handle audition rejection.

We discuss the impact of characters like Steph for the LGBTQIA+ community, and Katy’s experiences playing a character that is so adored within the LIS fandom. Katy recalls some of her favourite moments from recording True Colors, as well as her favourite interactions with the LIS community.

Links

Katy’s Twitter / Katy’s Twitch

Life Is Strange True Colors

Skills utilised:
News

Life Is Strange True Colors

The award-winning Life is Strange is back with Life Is Strange: True Colors. Players take on the role of Alex Chen who has long suppressed her “Curse”: the ability to experience, absorb and manipulate the strong emotions of others, which she sees as blazing, colored auras.

After Alex’s brother dies in a mysterious accident, she must embrace her explosive power to find the truth and finally uncover the dark secrets buried by a small town. Players will also experience Alex descending into the orbit of violent Anger, world-altering Sadness, and irrepressible Fear. As she probes the mysteries of Haven Springs, revealing its secrets, Alex will discover moments of quiet transcendence – but also be drawn into moments of sudden, bloody violence – with lasting consequences.

The game also features strong language, drug references, some suggestive themes, and the use of alcohol.

The Life is Strange franchise has been a haven (no pun intended) for a number of gamers, especially those from the LGBTQIA+ community, and True Colors is no exception. Characters like Alex and Steph have inspired many to embrace their identity and who they are, and we’re consistently in awe of the impact this series has had on people’s mental health.

Features:

  • A heartfelt story about uncovering what happened to Alex’s brother.
  • Actions have consequences, the story will evolve with your choices.
  • Explore the town of Haven Springs and find out what deep dark secrets lie within.

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Life Is Strange Through The Lens by Georgie Peru

Playing as Max, an 18-year-old photography student, Life is Strange was primarily developed to deal with the struggles teenagers face. The game covers difficult subjects including cyber-bullying, mental illness, and suicide.

When Max was a young girl, she was given a Polaroid camera by her parents. This major gameplay element accepted her into Blackwell Academy and allows the player to complete optional photograph objectives throughout Arcadia Bay.

During her photography class, Max experiences a strange vision of a tornado destroying the local lighthouse. In the midst of a panic attack, Max knocks her camera off her desk and rushes to the school bathrooms, and quickly hides in a cubicle when two students storm in fighting, resulting in the death of a girl. Desperate to save the girl, which is quickly revealed to be Max’s childhood best friend, Chloe Price, Max witnesses discovers her unique powers – the ability to rewind time and change the past to help her and others around her.

As the story evolves, players can decide whether to use Max’s powers to alter the past or not. When a school bully is forced to get a taste of her own medicine, do you choose to show her compassion or humiliate her further? Life is Strange doesn’t shy awry from dealing with tough issues – using a combination of virtual photography and Max’s rewind ability, players are compelled to make decisions, for better or worse.


Bullying

Life is Strange is full of psychiatric themes, either explicitly or implicitly. The game aims to explore these through Max’s investigative nature, wielding her Polaroid camera, and gathering the materials needed to make potentially life-changing decisions through her rewind ability.

One of the more challenging stories focuses on Kate, a student who is relentlessly bullied by her peers and online. As Max explores Kate’s dormitory, it’s soon clear that Kate has a very judgmental family. Following an incident where Kate is drugged at a party, leading to a compromising video of herself, she falls into severe depression.

Discovering more evidence using her camera, Max discovers that Kate covers up her mirrors so she doesn’t have to see herself. Her room is filthy, her beloved Violin hasn’t been played in weeks, and it’s soon clear that Kate feels utterly helpless and hopeless.

Despite the game offering multiple opportunities where the player can support Kate, she ends up on the roof of a building, intending to commit suicide. If the player has paid enough attention up until this point, through the features of virtual photography, there’s a strong chance you can convince her to come down.

Life is Strange makes a huge effort not to trivialize the issues surrounding mental health. If the player hasn’t attempted to build a relationship with Kate or is insensitive toward the issue, the implied suicide attempt shows things can go horribly wrong. Although Max’s power is a major gameplay factor, the developers made a point to remove her abilities from this scene, dealing with depression and suicide on an entirely human level.


Our World

Despite Life is Strange being a game, what makes it really poignant is that it takes place in our world as we know it. The characters aren’t unlike people we would meet in our everyday lives. This makes the underlying themes of mental health even more prominent, allowing players to get closer to the details through Max’s camera and her abilities.

Tackling issues like suicide, depression, and bullying are confronted head-on in Life is Strange. But more than just presenting us with issues and scenarios that involve or could lead to mental health issues, the game offers openings to players to further delve into key and trigger moments, being in the right place at the right time.

It’s clear from the story that Blackwell Academy left Kate feeling alone and desperate. Turning to her photography teacher, players will catch the last part of Kate and Mr. Jefferson’s conversation, but if you choose to rewind time, Max will hear Mr. Jefferson accusing Kate of being an attention seeker, with Kate walking away saying “Nobody cares about me, nobody”.


Through the Lens

Equipping players with the ability to rewind time and Max’s pivotal Polaroid camera, Life is Strange puts matters into the hands of the beholder and challenges a wealth of psychological issues.

The game finds its footing and establishes a deep connection with players through taxing themes like ADHD, sexual orientation, abuse, neglect, and more. By allowing individuals to “hide” behind a camera, Life is Strange explores the effects of morality, as well as the outcomes of ignoring obvious signs of characters’ struggles and the events that play out from the choices made.

Skills utilised:
News

Game Changer: How embracing the new in videogames can help us adapt to real-world changes by Ian Collen

We’re often told that change is a good thing, whether that’s in videogames or in real life.

New is fresh and exciting, and any kind of break from the same-old should be embraced with enthusiasm. However, change can also be intimidating and stressful, with many of us finding comfort or a sense of control in sticking to those old routines; happier with repetition and familiarity rather than having to adapt to something new and often beyond our control.

In gaming it’s why people will demand new and improved features for a sequel, but then complain when the new game isn’t quite the same as the original. Admittedly, shooting zombies or aliens or whatever your videogame of choice might be doesn’t necessarily compare directly with those issues happening in your everyday life, but there are many similarities that can echo the fact that while change can be difficult, a little patience and perseverance can go a long way.

In some ways, even booting up a new game for the first time is a rather daunting change. Having spent days, weeks or even months learning every last subtle nuance of one title, you’ll now find yourself sitting in a tutorial for a whole new experience. That reassurance of knowing all the right moves, all the tricks, having the best equipment and never really having to worry about doing the wrong thing through anything other than an honest mistake is gone – and in just about any walk of life, that can be a cause for some trepidation or anxiety.

Sure, many of the parameters might be familiar and you hardly need a reminder of where the jump or crouch buttons might be, but there’s still a wealth of information to figure out, such as how your special abilities work, how to combine those magic potions or one of a hundred other little things. Of course, you would have been in a similar position when you started that last game, and that turned out pretty well – so you can at least take comfort in the process and appreciate that the new will soon become the norm.

Of course, life doesn’t always give you a great deal of choice in the matter (or a handy tutorial for that matter) and enforcing change is also a trick videogame developers can employ to keep you on your toes. Many RPGs or action titles will use it early on, letting you start the game fully maxed out with a raft of awesome abilities, only to then strip them away completely and leave you faced with levelling up from scratch – but having caught a glimpse into what you’ll ultimately become over the next 10-20 hours. Conversely this can also happen mid-game, with the likes of The Last of Us delivering an unforgettable (and un-put-downable) twist by suddenly shifting gameplay from the tough gun-toting hero to the preyed upon girl he was protecting.

This could also apply to origins stories, such as the Tomb Raider reboot, where you know the super-heroine she’ll become, and so getting to oversee that transition from powerless to powerful can be rewarding because you have that awareness and anticipation of how things will end up. It’s not always that clear-cut in real life, of course, but focusing on the end game and accepting that there is a certain amount of ‘levelling up’ to be done to get there, one small upgrade at a time, can help.

Videogames also use change as an optional accessory to further broaden their appeal or, more often, their lifespan. Titles such as Borderlands and Destiny will offer multiple characters, each with different abilities and skill trees to explore that effectively require rebuilding from scratch – albeit in a very familiar environment from your previous playthroughs. Again, these changes come with a sense of anticipation because you’ve done it already with a previous character, even if there’s no way of knowing if this new character is going to better or worse than before. However, there is some comfort to be found in the repeatable format – and ideally plenty of fun to be had in seeing how the new hero or heroine compares. And if it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to your original character and appreciate their super-bad-ass prowess even more.

There are some games that could be seen as more direct ways of embracing and appreciating change. The excellent original season of Life is Strange not only deals with a young girl coming to terms with things that have changed in her home town as she returns after several years away, but the core gameplay mechanic also gives you the power to rewind time and make definitive decisions based on how you see events play out in differing ways. Gone Home is another great example that offers more of a ‘hands-off’ storyline as you simply explore your childhood home and piece together various events that have affected the lives of your parents and younger sister since you moved out.

It’s not necessarily that there are vital life lessons on display that we can all learn from, more of an appreciation that change can affect people in many different ways – and there’s not always a right or a wrong way to deal with it. It’s also worth bearing in mind how some of these situations can seem incredibly burdensome at the time but yet eventually become just another acceptable piece of the bigger picture. Some of those decisions in Life is Strange, for example, can be incredibly difficult to make, but ultimately their impact on the final narrative can be far more arbitrary than many of us had twisted ourselves into knots over.

In some ways it could be compared to moving house – one of life’s most demanding changes. Much like getting used to a certain character or style in a videogame, you get comfortable and feel confident in your old home because you know where everything is and how it works; where the fuse box is, how to fix the leaky sink, the best local takeaway and so on. Having to find a new home and learn all-new answers to those same questions can seem like a lot to take in, but eventually you will get there; you’ll track down the fuse box, acquaint yourself with the pipes under the sink and find a new and maybe even better local takeaway!

Change isn’t always a good thing in the same way that sequels aren’t always better than the original, but there will always be a demand for something ‘new and improved’ and sometimes we have to break out of our comfort zones to find out if that plan succeeds. Embracing change isn’t always easy, but being able to move forwards while accepting that there may be a few nervy steps as new skills are learned and old habits brushed aside, can go a long way. After all, every game you’ve ever played was new once, and we don’t doubt that you’ve gotten pretty good at more than a few over the years…


 

Ian Collen is a writer and editor with more than 20 years experience – with well over half of that spent working in videogames. He’s worked on the likes of XBM, 360 Gamer (later known as One Gamer), and the innovative digital publication, Gamer Interactive. He also learned more about drones than he thought possible as editor of the self-explanatory Drone Magazine and is currently working as a freelancer.

 

Skills utilised:
Covid 19, News

Life is Strange

Life is Strange is an award-winning and critically acclaimed episodic adventure game that allows the player to rewind time and affect the past, present and future.

Follow the story of Max Caulfield, a photography senior who discovers she can rewind time while saving her best friend Chloe Price.
The pair soon find themselves investigating the mysterious disappearance of fellow student Rachel Amber, uncovering a dark side to life in Arcadia Bay. Meanwhile, Max must quickly learn that changing the past can sometimes lead to a devastating future.

Key Features:

  • A beautifully written modern adventure game.
  • Rewind time to change the course of events.
  • Multiple endings depending on the choices you make.
  • Striking, hand-painted visuals.
  • Distinct, licensed indie soundtrack.

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

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