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SPATIAL REBELLIONS

Both Life is Strange and Night in the Woods present pivotal moments of affection when their characters appropriate off-limit spaces. In doing so, they represent a “tough girl” branding, yet the texts do not mark them as vulnerable and responsible for their own problems as Aapola et al. (2005) have observed in other visual mediums. Max, Chloe, Mae, and Bea are rather coded as “resilient,” expressed through their anti-authoritarian occupations of space. In episode three of Life is Strange, Max and Chloe sneak into Blackwell Academy’s swimming pool after hours. During a cutscene, they strip to their underwear and playfully splash each other before the player is tasked to stealthily avoid security on the way out. Max recounts in her journal: “I love that Chloe brings out the ‘just don’t give a fuck’ side of me” emanating the pleasures of rebellion and its empowering potential for teenage girls. Their playful rebellion evokes their former shared childhood memories, bridging the gap forged between them from their five years apart. Max reflects this sentiment in her diary: “Chloe smiled at me like we were in the most secret club in the world.” Their time in the pool is hence a crucial moment in forwarding their friendship and affection as they promise in the cutscene to never leave each other’s side.

Mae, meanwhile, upholds the anti-authoritarian influence in her friendship to Bea who does not have the luxury of time or energy to be playful or break the rules. When the two of them visit Possum Springs’ derelict mall, Bea is saddened when the mall reminds her of joyful early memories. The player’s objective is to then cheer her up by applying their knowledge of climbing the town’s structures to reach the top of the mail’s art installation. In doing so, Mae gains access to a control panel stationed above the artwork that is connected to the mall’s water feature. Players must then aim and spray water at unsuspecting passersby and are rewarded by each successful hit with Bea’s laughter in the corner of the screen.

Discussions regarding representations of girls and women’s friendships frequently evaluate the feminist potential of inhabiting public space. Winch (2012) argues that portrayals of female friends from private to public spaces are still polarizing because most often those public spaces— shopping malls and beauty salons—are still separate from male spaces. Aapola, et al. (2005, 129) meanwhile identify two common tropes; nonthreatening “sweet and fashionable” friendship groups that comply to normative feminine behavior, and unfeminine “tough girls,” who “take over” public space “aiming to please themselves first and foremost, even if by ridiculing or aggravating others.” Theorizing beyond the politics of their actions, Sarah Projansky (2014, 119) writes, “for girls to inhabit and take pleasure in social space, I would argue, is feminist.” Each of these perspectives may be applied to these sequences in Life is Strange and Night in the Woods, although the girls’ rebellious actions do not foreshadow their downfall as Aapola et al. (2005) suggest but rather meaningfully strengthen their unions via their shared appropriation of these spaces.

The pairing of friendship and female spatial occupation additionally evokes the non-violent exploration and emotional friendship narratives of the girls’ games era in the 1990s. While these games failed to endure after losing the support of major developers they continued to appear in unnoticeable forms; obscured amongst the flood of Playstation 2 games or relegated to the casual mobile games industry, culturally disregarded by hardcore gamers and gaming journalists despite their profits (Chess and Paul 2018).6 While Life is Strange and Night in the Woods would not traditionally be perceived as mainstream games, their critical and commercial success signifies a restored and significantly popular valuation of this forgotten form of affection between female friends.

 
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