Video games can vividly render the memories you can't get back.
Memories such as how it felt when you were in high school, and your best friend's parents got divorced, and when her dad got to take her out to dinner at the weekend, you got to come. And on the way home he was letting you listen to your alt-rock radio, and you just sat there quietly, consumed by feelings you were too young to understand.
Or how it is when you and her are friends and then you're not friends, and then one day you might kind of be friends again, and you return to her house, where you used to play, except this time you're older and everyone's older, and things are achingly familiar and alien at the same time. Or when your friend needs something from you and life is huge and confusing, and you don't quite know what to say. Seriously, there are some video games that can give you that.
The latest of these is Life is Strange, from French team Dontnod Entertainment. A simple, dialogue and environment-driven character study, it follows photography student Max through her transition into a new school. As she navigates cliques, the threadwork of long-dropped relationships, and the pressure of authority figures, she also accidentally stumbles on the unexplained ability to rewind time and to re-do decisions.
If you've ever played any kind of story-driven choice game — for example, Telltale Games' The Walking Dead series, which is available on basically every platform — you're familiar with the unique pang that comes with making a decision, realizing it'll haunt you, wondering how you would have felt about a different choice. Life Is Strange, which shares The Walking Dead's episodic format, uses its unique rewind mechanic to answer the sort of nagging what-ifs that pursue any player of story games — and, fittingly, any person who thinks back to their teen years.
It feels like being able to press your finger into the binding of a Choose Your Own Adventure, in case you want to go back. It's like those half-remembered moments of your own youth, when every word out of your mouth felt crucial, pivotal: Would you re-do, if you could?
The currently-available first episode of Life is Strange is profoundly touching, populated with characters who feel like real kids, dorm rooms and family homes and wistful backyards that feel like real places. Do you remember the first time you, grown a bit bigger, returned to someplace you used to play? You and her, in her room with the posters, letting the music play? You still remember, don't you, what it feels like to make your way through an endless corridor of lockers, bodies and souls, chatter and friction? This game uses memories like these to craft its sentimental high points, even as the time-rewind mechanic promises to make each player's experience as Max feel carefully-chosen and meaningful.
Life is Strange is simple and lovely and anyone can play it. It has a beautiful, handmade-feel diary full of art and stickers for you to read if you get lost or you forget what's going on. If you have a PC, a PS3, a PS4, an Xbox 360 or an Xbox One, you can try the first episode for just $4.99.