[Trigger Warning: Mentions of anxiety, depression, drugs, self-harm, & suicide.]
Like many of the staff here at FemHype, I am a big fan of Life Is Strange. I jumped on the bandwagon quite late—just before Episode 4 was released in July—but better later than never. Life Is Strange has been praised for its character development and narrative. Articles (including many on this site) have talked about LGBTQIA+ and feminist perspectives within the game, too. It’s safe to suggest Life Is Strange has affected many people on a deeply personal level for multiple reasons. But whereas gamers have praised the depiction of Max, Chloe, their relationship, and others, one character stood out to me: Kate Marsh.
Kate Marsh is a sweet young girl described as modest and a “goody-two shoes.” She is also the victim of bullying. Ultimately, the player discovers that Kate was drugged at a party, and that a viral video of her in a compromising position is making the rounds at school. The player spends most of Episode 2 making choices on how to interact with Kate—from deciding to erase the link to the video off a bathroom wall, whether to contact the police, and to answer a phone call from her (much to Chloe’s chagrin). Regardless of your choices, however, Kate is still left upset, and is last seen crying after talking with Mr. Jefferson. This eventually leads to what was the most disturbing scene in the game for me: Kate’s suicide attempt from the top of the girl’s dorm.
In Life Is Strange, the player is able to stop time long enough to make it to the roof to try and persuade Kate. Based on the choices you make, Kate either steps down (thus saving her) or she jumps to her death. Since you used so much of your power to stop time, you are unable to rewind in order to save her.
The first time I played, I did not save Kate. I incorrectly argued that her mother would miss her (which she firmly denied), and picked the wrong Bible verse. She thanked me for being a good friend, but still jumped anyway. I attempted to rewind time, forgetting that it would not be possible. I was horrified and crushed, and finished Episode 2 more upset than when I started.
I never knew a scene could affect me so strongly. I went to bed absolutely disturbed with a single thought running through my head: I couldn’t save Kate. I couldn’t take it anymore. I looked up online to see how to save her in the game, deleted my playthrough up to that point, and went through the whole scenario again. I said the right things, Kate came down, and I could go to bed knowing that Kate was all right.
Many gamers may say that I “chickened out” by rectifying my attempt to save Kate. Others might say that I am naïve for not understanding the important lesson of the scenario: that you might make all the wrong choices and fail (a statement that I highly resent). For a long time, I thought about why it was so important for me to save Kate. Why did the death of a fictional character affect me so profoundly? After all, I have made the wrong decisions before with similar games and failed. Many of those decisions affected my gameplay and I just kept on playing. Why couldn’t I just leave Kate dead?
That was until I realized that I couldn’t let Kate die … because I was letting myself die. I was Kate Marsh.
Let me explain: I identify with Kate Marsh. I have been told that I have a kind nature. I am an optimist, the one who comforts those in need. I also tend to be identified as naïve and modest, just like Kate. Though not deeply religious, I am a Christian, and read my Bible when I need guidance. But behind my smile was a darkness that was building.
In March 2009, I was diagnosed with Depression and General Anxiety Disorder. There were a lot of events leading up to that diagnosis, but in summary, I was a very destructive person who was surrounded by very destructive people. I contemplated suicide and engaged in self-mutilation. It took me a long time to function properly on an emotional level. So when I saw Kate, I saw 2009 me all over again. She was this sad little girl who wanted help, but was surrounded by destructive people. I felt her pain—the feeling that there was no way out. We both had felt so alone, and so unworthy of any love. When she jumped, I felt like I had failed her, and ultimately, that I had failed myself.
As stated before, people might say that I am naïve because I changed my choices to save Kate. I beg to differ. I am very aware of the consequences of making the wrong choices, even if they are done with the best of intentions. I think about my own choices that I have made in life that led me up to this point. I could have just as easily been Kate, standing up on top of a roof about to jump. Would anybody have come to stop me? Fortunately, I never had to experience that scenario, and I feel it’s pointless to dwell on what could have been.
So for me, saving Kate was more than just making the right choices. It was an opportunity to tell my younger self that everything is going to be okay. I could save myself from the years of bitterness and pain. And though in reality I still experienced this pain, it gave me a sense of catharsis to help someone who was similar to me—even if that person was a fictional video game character.
Kate Marsh holds a very special place in my heart despite the fact that Life Is Strange focuses on Max and Chloe. Her scenario in Episode 2 reminded me of the powerful effect games can have, and rather than mock it for not being real, I now feel more than ever that we need to harness it in order to improve on our own very real lives. More importantly, it shows the true depth of the game, and sets a precedent for complex, supporting characters. In this case, a supporting character helped me to heal old wounds.
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any mental illness, please know that you do not have to suffer in silence. FemHype has compiled a list of resources that can allow you to get in touch with individuals who can help and support you. Please visit this page for more information.