[Editor’s Note: British spellings have been preserved upon request.]
Welcome back to “Leading the Pack,” FemHype crew! Today, I want to look at not one, but two fabulous video game ladies: Max Caulfield and Chloe Price from Life Is Strange. I want to examine these two together because they’re great counterparts of each other as well as fantastic characters in their own right. For example, while Max is shy and Chloe is outspoken, both help the other to come out of their shell, and they deal with some of their own insecurities through the continual care and support they show each other.
Chloe and Max grew up together in Arcadia Bay, a fictional city in Oregon, before Max left and the two lost contact. However, at the beginning of the game, Max has returned to attend Blackwell Academy’s prestigious photography course. Max loves photography—from artistic metaphorical shots to the simple selfie (although, as we learn, the selfie has a long history beginning with the Daguerreian process). Max herself decries the idea that these selfies are something to be made fun of. As she says, she’s in great company, and they seem to help her self-confidence, which she sometimes struggles with.
Chloe also struggles with self-image, and many fans celebrate her character as a realistic and positive portrayal of borderline personality disorder, along with other mental illnesses such as depression. Despite these struggles, she remains an extremely supportive and loyal person. One of the first things we learn about her is that she is the only one who made an effort to look for the missing Rachel Amber, and she continually supports Max in believing in herself and her dreams of becoming a professional, award-winning photographer.
She learns even greater selflessness throughout, and by the end of the game, she is willing to sacrifice herself to save Arcadia Bay, despite originally saying she wished it would be destroyed. Chloe’s character development throughout the game is especially great because, unlike Max, she has to fix her mistakes without the help of time travel. This helps her learn to take responsibility for her mistakes as well as face the extremely unfair bad luck that she has experienced.
We also learn that Chloe loved Rachel, and through the course of the game, she also rekindles her friendship with Max, and the two equally form a romantic attachment. Whilst I have some qualms about how DONTNOD handled the relationship in the end, the existence of these two queer women is to be celebrated (particularly now, during Femslash February!). And, bonus: Chloe’s voice actress, Ashly Burch, sees Chloe as genderfluid.
Max’s firm platonic relationships with other women are great, too. She can support Kate through a dark period of her life and turn around the antagonism she initially faces from Victoria. Chloe, sadly, has less friends in general, but her relationship with her mother Joyce is fascinating. While they often squabble, it’s clear that Joyce cares about Chloe and that Chloe also cares about Joyce, in her own way. Her anger is actually mostly directed at her abusive stepfather David, and she will regularly visit the diner where Joyce works to see her (though the free breakfast probably helps, too).
Chloe and Max not only speak out against David, they also tackle other major issues such as bullying, income disparity and, of course, the abuse, kidnapping, and murder carried out by the seemingly charming and charismatic teacher Mark Jefferson. That these two characters unfailingly speak up about the unfairness they see is so important for the young women who play this game.
With each other’s help, Chloe and Max go through so much in the space of a single week, and face each new challenge with bravery and strength. They are allowed to feel grief, like when Chloe discovers that Rachel was murdered. They are allowed to be anxious, like how Max feels about entering the Everyday Heroes photography contest. But they are also allowed moments of joy, like when they break into the school pool at night, and moments of calm like when they wake up the morning after having shared a bed like they did as kids. This variety of emotions are what makes Chloe and Max feel so real.
Whatever your preferred ending (personally, I’m Bae over Bay, always) these two heroines bring the story to life, and DONTNOD’s realistic representation of marginalised women has made Life Is Strange so important to a huge group of gamers.