The wildest thing I have ever done in my young life was shouting “hurry up, dumbass!” at a police car. Me and a couple of friends were returning to our homes late at night after celebrating Spring Day. And yes, I admit I had more than a few glasses of liquor.
Suddenly, a car with the lights off showed up, slowly. After several seconds waiting for the car to pass by -enough time for my impatience to rise- I shouted without remorse. “What’s their deal? Why are they taking so long?” I thought.
“That was a police car” a friend of mine told me, blasting in laughter.
I always hung out with older people, and that’s fine really. When I started highschool I constantly felt out of place. Things only improved in the last couple of years, and my mind was telling me how much I needed to be around different circles of friends. Two or three grades higher than me – not more than that.
Despite my shy nature, I looked older than I actually was. I usually had my foot in the door of every reunion or conversation going on in the school corridors. Thankfully, my height wasn’t the only attribute hiding my age. I had long hair, listened to a lot of rock, and growed a beard much earlier than most.
Even going back a few years prior highschool, my first experience around online communities was thanks to a forum from a local video game magazine. There were only a handful of kids in that time – I was only 9 back then- and the major part of the young users were at least in their 20s.
Being around people way more mature than me was an experience that I, looking back, will go through over again given the chance. But there are things I missed out during all those years. The goofy, stupid things that teenagers often say and do. I’ve done a few of those myself, but on games that I had the chance to play recently which portrait young characters, I realized how far away I am from all of them by many reasons.
Although there are several differences between my life and games, I like to think I’ve learned a lot from them, which helped me to resonate with more than a few characters.
Night in the Woods is the first game that comes to mind. It’s a story about returning home after a long break, and finding out that most of the things you loved from your town have changed. It’s a game about sucking at playing bass, expecting a near death and committing vandalism, as well.
I’m a nostalgic person. I like to get lost in thought remembering friendships, places and songs from the past. Mae, Night in the Woods’ main character, also enjoys this. That’s why she’s so surprised after finding out how much was lost forever.
I know what you are going to say. Life goes on, let the past die and all that nonsense. While it hurts, and while I’m sure those memories won’t go away anytime soon, I’m starting to understand it. By delving too much in the past, you lose sense of your current surroundings. And, as Mae, you’ll probably get disappointed if you put too much effort on it.
But, as she also realizes during her return, there is always something to save. Despite what her friends and family tell her, not everything is lost.
Max from Life is Strange is a teenager with enough problems on her head, until we arrive and suddenly things start to get even worse. She begins to have visions about a watchtower, the sea and a massive storm that is slowly approaching to wipe out the entire city. And with that, all of her memories.
She’s probably handling a lot more than she should, and in that regard, Max starts to evolve throughout her episodic story. Going back to my way less interesting life, it’s something I have always experienced. Carrying a weight on your shoulders that should have not been there in the first place, but you are forced to embrace it. Why? Because of the things you care about the most.
Her room. Her camera. Her best friend. That’s all that matters to her. The storm is coming, and yet, she manages to embrace it. Look, Max even has the ability to go back time and select a different path, change whatever happened or express another thought from her mind. But, she’s still a teenager after all.
I will never forget Life is Strange‘s first scenes. After a ringbell that indicated the end of the class, Max headed towards the school hallways, only to find the same unknown faces around her. In that moment, she just took her earphones, pressed play and walked. And I cannot express how much I relate with that brief, yet familiar moment.
In 2016, I went on holidays with a couple of friends, and I could not help but remember my time with them while playing Oxenfree. We also made jokes about sex and drank alcohol almost every day. We could not start a campfire at the beach, but we did chat and enjoy the view regardless. Thing is, returning to Mae for a moment, those vacations lacked the element of nostalgia I always tend to enjoy. The place was entirely new to me, just like Oxenfree’s island is to Jonas, the main character’s step brother.
I fell in love with Oxenfree’s cast of characters. The dialogue and voice acting made me feel like I’ve known them from a very long time, and part of the game’s charm comes from its conversation system. Being able to interrupt your friends in real time is beautifully achieved, and as a friend of mine pointed out to me, the game even acknowledges this sometimes, leading to “yeah, that’s great, but you didn’t answer my question” kind of moments.
But it’s the way the group of friends talk to each other that stood up with me. Anecdotes from the past, tough conversations and uncovering deep secrets of the people you care the most. It’s not always nice to find out how someone kissed the only two women you liked during your last highschool years, but you just open another beer and keep the conversation going. We go on holidays with friends to have fun after all, right?
This conversation system also resonates with me for a different reason: dialogue possibilities while I talk. I have always been someone who just goes and says whatever it comes to mind, but after playing so many games that let me choose between a variety of options, I started to stop to think more often than ever. If this is something well executed in some games, Oxenfree just takes them to another level.
The shyness of Life is Strange, the nostalgia of Night in the Woods and the variety of relationships and dialogue of Oxenfree, all become one in the end. These games surprised me for many reasons, and I can’t help but feel jealous about some of their dork attitudes sometimes. I can only try to learn from them, and resonate with the small things that feel the most familiar to me.
I have never traveled to an island on boat. I have never left my hometown, only neighbourhoods. But I like to torture myself with the past, constantly going back and forth in my mind for hours. I enjoy listening to music everyday. And, as I like to think, perhaps all these three games resonated with a person I aspire to be someday.
I couldn’t be more grateful with the opportunities that video games provide. Being a teenager is not easy, and I’m sure as hell that my time during those years weren’t as bad as I sometimes think. And while I can not turn back time, I can still try to salvage the best moments from some of the worst situations.
Oh, almost forgot: unlike Oxenfree, there weren’t any ghosts involved during that holiday. Sorry to disappoint you.