Life Is Strange theories
Life Is Strange is the last game I’ve played as of this writing, and I loved it. I can’t remember another game that’s allowed me to become so totally invested in its characters, and that’s saying a lot considering how many of those characters are of the “dumb insecure teenager” type that so often manages to be little more than grating. Even my cold, unfeeling heart was sporadically moved to feel twinges of emotion over the course of the game’s five episodes. That said, there are a number of niggling story details that didn’t add up to me. Are they plot holes left there to slowly drive me mad? I suppose that’s always a possibility, but I still can’t help but believe that a lot of the stuff in the game is purposeful and hinting at the truth behind the events in the game being more complex than it first appears. Oh, and in case it’s not painfully apparent yet, this post will be full of hella spoilers, shaka brah, so stop reading unless you’ve finished the game or just don’t care.
Things we know: powers don’t equal tornado
Warren states outright (and Ms. Grant implies if you bring up time travel in episode 3) that the freak changes in weather, dying animals, and tornado are all the result of Max messing with time. However, the game begins with Max seeing a vision of the tornado that wipes out the town. It’s important to note that she sees this before she has powers, or at least before she becomes aware of their presence or uses them in any way. Moreover, Ms. Grant brings up “A Sound of Thunder” as an example of the butterfly effect, leaving Max with a morbid final thought that the smallest change could have the direst consequences. The characters in “A Sound of Thunder,” however, travel back to the time of the dinosaurs, whereas by that point the only changes Max has stuck with have been those that require rewinding mere minutes. The changes, then, would be almost entirely invisible to Max since she hasn’t experienced enough of the unchanged future to differentiate it from the changed future. Moreover, the constant references characters make to chaos theory miss the point that it mostly deals with unpredictability in the long-term because of small changes, which is why a weatherman or weatherwoman can put together a forecast for the short-term future, but are unable to create an accurate one for the entire year. Serves us all right for trusting a bunch of high school students to correctly deduce the subtleties of the universe. Especially ones who can’t manage better than a B- without our help. This is what bothered me the most about the endings, honestly; if Max’s powers didn’t cause the tornado (despite what she comes to believe, no doubt influenced by all the people who keep telling her point-blank that she caused everything), then going back and sacrificing Chloe to stop it shouldn’t work. That is, unless the cause of the storm is something completely different than expected. Something that would be stopped or become unnecessary because of Chloe’s death.
Theory #1: The Prescotts are indirectly responsible for the tornado
Some of the communications from the Prescotts, as well as their purchases, are very odd. Let’s not forget that the dark room bunker (presciently called the “Stormbreaker bunker”) is stocked with food and water despite seemingly only being used as Jefferson and Nathan’s kidnapped-girl photography studio. Even assuming that’s entirely a coincidence, however, we’re still left with some of the creepy things you can see in Sean Prescott’s email to his son: “I know being a Prescott is a burden and I’ll guide you into this room step by step as did my father. […] This […] town is going to get an enema along with a fresh brand. I want you to be ready to take over when the time is right.” Further cementing the connection between the Prescotts and the sudden animal/weather craziness comes in the form of the whales; when episode 3 ends with a bunch of beached whales, it seems like just another random occurrence demonstrating that nature is out of whack, but soon afterward you infiltrate Nathan Prescott’s room and discover that he listens to whale songs. Add on top of all of this Sean Prescott’s insistence that Nathan only calls him on disposable cell phones, and you’re left with the conclusion that the Prescotts are clearly up to something big. Not only that, but whatever it is, we have reason to believe it’s centered around the Pan Estates project that they’re working on due to Sean asking Nathan to remain calm while it’s being developed (see the picture of the email for the exact line).
Theory #2: Native Americans/nature directly caused the freak occurrences to remove the Prescotts
If messing with time didn’t cause the storm, then it had to be caused by something else. Not only that, but it had to be something that Chloe’s death would stop. In the “sacrifice Chloe” ending, Nathan Prescott killing her results in him getting in trouble with the law and Jefferson getting caught by the police early in the week, which implies that the police found the dark room since that’s the only provable link between the two (note that the police finding the dark room would incriminate the entire family due to there being ample evidence inside proving that Sean Prescott bankrolled it). However, if you choose to sacrifice Arcadia Bay, then the storm has already started by the time David helps the police to find the dark room that was financed by the family, so the Prescotts haven’t yet been caught up in the allegations that would no doubt destroy their Pan Estates project and family reputation. It’s worth noting that the Pan Estates/Prescotts are ruined in both endings, with both either destroyed by the storm or being undermined by Nathan murdering Chloe and their involvement with Jefferson (remember, even Jefferson believed a scandal could ruin them).
Now let’s talk about the Native Americans. The first time we hear about them, it’s talking to Ms. Grant in the first episode when she’s trying to get Max to sign a petition, and she clearly states that there were Native Americans living in the area before settlers showed up. She goes on to state that “there’s a lot of power in this region,” going on to surmise that it “helps the creative juices flow around here.” Putting aside how weird this is to hear from a science teacher, there’s also the presence of the mysterious Tobanga totem, which no one knows the origins of. Additionally, Nathan tried to steal it at some point, though no reason is ever given and it’s perfectly reasonable to assume this is him acting out rather than part of a calculated family plan (the Prescotts have more than enough influence to acquire the totem legitimately if they so desired, after all). More evidence that something strange and vaguely Native American-y is going on beneath the plot’s surface comes in the form of the doe Max continually sees both in her tornado vision and reality; Samuel explains to her that this is her spirit animal, mentioning that it “could be a sign about [Max’s] destiny” (more on the importance of fate/destiny later). Not only is the doe clearly a non-physical thing, demonstrated when Max takes its picture and it doesn’t show up, but it also has knowledge that no one but Nathan and Jefferson has at that point. Consider the fact that when you first encounter it in the junkyard, it’s standing in the exact place where Rachel Amber is buried. It could be speculated that the doe is, in fact, some kind of spirit guide version of William given his ties to the doe and the usage of creatures to reflect characters (like the blue butterfly reflecting Chloe and her blue hair), but that particular theory doesn’t change anything about the plot so much as being a fun thing to think about.
There’s no further information about the Native Americans or their modern presence that I found of interest, though you don’t have to look far for reasons they’d be mad or otherwise involved. The destruction modern civilization has on the environment causing Native Americans sadness has been one of those rare enduring themes burned into our culture’s collective consciousness ever since the famous commercial of one shedding a tear was released in the 1970s. Focusing on things actually in the game, the fisherman mentions that “fish used to jump onto [his] boat,” but follows up by stating that this stopped when the Prescotts obtained harbor rights, implying either overfishing (it’s established in this conversation that fish are “one of Arcadia Bay’s main exports,” so doing so would likely be quite profitable) or some kind of pollution. Whatever the case, it’s made clear that fishing, as with so many other things, has gone far downhill since the Prescotts became involved. Even the homeless woman behind the diner agrees, stating that the Prescotts once did good things for the town, but that “those days are dead […] like anything in their way.” It’s important to note that both endings feature nature rebounding, with the “sacrifice Chloe” ending showing seagulls flying rather than bunching up into a crazed flock like is shown on several previous occasions. If you instead elect to sacrifice Arcadia Bay, you’ll notice that not only are there birds flying in that ending, as well, but deer that appear similar to Max’s spirit animal are also frolicking among the wreckage. That would make no sense if time had been broken by saving Chloe, however, because the changes become more and more pronounced over time rather than fizzling (“A Sound of Thunder” more than establishes that), further backing up the theory that the tornado and strange weather effects were caused by something else. My theory, then, is that the tornado and everything that precedes it is nature—aided by the “power” in the area that has something to do with Native Americans, either directly or indirectly—reasserting itself and reclaiming the area after the damage done to it by the Prescotts (presumably during the construction of the Pan Estates). Both endings involve wildlife returning to normal and the Prescotts’ plans being foiled, so warning Max about what was coming and following through if she didn’t herself bring down the Prescotts seems like the perfect win/win for whoever or whatever was responsible. Nature and those who look out for it seem the sole beneficiaries. Granted, Rachel also has a vested interest in bringing them down (Chloe even mentions that the storm could be Rachel’s revenge) and both Max and Chloe mention over the course of the game that it seems like she’s guiding them, but all of this struck me as more symbolic than literal.
Theory #3: Max’s fate/destiny is to bring down the Prescotts
Much is made throughout the game of fate and destiny, from the talk about Max and Chloe’s reunion in episode 1 being destiny to the DJ at the Vortex Club party wearing a “fate” shirt to many of the things Max writes down in her diary. She even muses on the possibility that she has multiple fates when visiting Kate in the hospital (if she’s still alive, obviously) and argues with herself in the nightmare about how saving Chloe must be her destiny. At one point she can ask Samuel if he believes that people have a destiny, to which he replies that he does, “In many different lifetimes.” That could reasonably be interpreted to mean either that people have one destiny that they work toward through many different lives, or that they have a different destiny in each life. Accepting that this is reaching a bit, I’m inclined to believe that he intends the first because no matter what she does in the game or how many different times she rewinds (which are like different lives), the Prescotts are ruined and nature rebounds in the end. Of course, that doesn’t make sense if you take her destiny to be that of simply stopping the tornado, but after the tornado hits (if you let it) the weirdness of animals stops entirely as mentioned earlier, so it’d make no sense for things to randomly work out if she hasn’t somehow fulfilled her destiny in the process. Also notice that while it’s easy to assume that Max received her powers because of Chloe’s presence, she wasn’t aware at that time that the girl was Chloe because of her drastically different appearance. The only person in that bathroom she knew the identity of when she got her powers was Nathan, and when you look at it like that, it makes sense to assume that she received (or unlocked) her rewind powers trying to stop a Prescott, the family she ends up ruining one way or another by the end of the game.
We’re left with two possibilities: either the most obvious interpretation of the game’s events is correct and the game has some pretty sizable plot holes in addition to a number of random red herrings thrown in for no discernible reason, or something bigger is happening beneath the surface layer and the extra information you can find by exhausting conversations and noticing little details (or in my case, making thousands of screenshots) allows the player to get a glimpse into those bigger happenings that drive the story. Given the quality of the writing, I’m inclined to believe the latter is the case; it just makes no sense to include some of these things without them serving a purpose, and they all tie together too well to be meaningless factoids or simple plot misdirection.