Second-hand Embarrassment, High School, and Life is Strange's Max Caulfield

In my junior year high school yearbook, I scribbled over the faces of a few people with whom I was in a feud. So few people have seen this yearbook because I was so embarrassed about my behavior that I threw it out halfway through senior year.

High school was embarrassing for most of us -- if not all of us. Even people who seemed to "have it all" in high school -- the stereotype of being on a sports team, being in a relationship, having good grades, etc. -- probably look back on their four years of high school with some level of shame. Or at least I hope those people, some of whom I knew to have harmful views of students from poorer areas, will one day be hands-over-the-face "I can't believe I said those things" level of embarrassment.

Even today I put my foot in my mouth. I frequently wish I could rewind a couple seconds and take back something I said. In the game Life is Strange, you can do just that.

Max Caulfield (possibly named with Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield in mind) is a 12th grade student attending a school away from home to focus on her photography. Max makes lame jokes, worries about giving the wrong answer in class, and is trying to navigate a space where the right decision is unclear. I was -- and am -- a lot like her.

Max gains the power to rewind time, and as the player you can use it in mundane ways. Embarrass yourself in front of your favorite (and possibly even cute) teacher? Rewind time and give the right answer. Max even uses her power in a convoluted manner to spill paint on a girl who refuses to move, blocking Max's entrance to the dormitory.

I don't want to actually go back in time to change big things I did. I'm embarrassed that my friend and I didn't speak to each other for two years because of some disagreement we don't even remember anymore. I still remember in vivid detail a Sociology class assignment where we had to describe what our ideal date would be, and mine had a ton of unintended sexual puns. Our teacher read each date aloud with no indication of who wrote them, but the laughter over mine made me more flushed than usual.

But as you find out in Life is Strange, sometimes there isn't actually a correct choice. Because the game limits how much you can rewind, you can only amend your decision shortly after the choice is presented and you see the immediate consequences. You have no way of knowing how your choices will affect things in the long-term. Sometimes both options suck. For example, when you're presented the opportunity to tell the principal of the school a student brought a gun to school, informing the principal means drawing undue attention to yourself as the principal doesn't believe you. But if you don't tell the principal what happened, he may suspect you of causing trouble. Either way, it sucks. The real point of rewinding time and considering your options before sticking with one is the act of deciding.

Even with special powers, there's not much Max can do. Being in high school tends to be a mix of feeling like you're untouchable and feeling like you lack control of your life. Max can go back in time to change a decision she made, but she only has so much of an influence. I did not feel powerful hiding in a closet when the stepfather of Max's friend hit his stepdaughter.

It was the little things that made me happy I could go make things better. After watching a classmate get hit in the back of a head with a stray football, you can go back in time and warn her to move.

If there's anything I want after playing the first chapter of Life is Strange it's reconciliation between Max and Victoria, the girl who tries to embarrass Max in class and refuses to move from in front of the dorm's entrance. Their squabbling is so annoying to watch, but it's also so typical of the dumb fights I had in school. The game tries to present Victoria as the "mean girl" at Blackwell Academy, but both she and Max fall into the same girl-hate trap of trying to be better than the other. There's healthy competition for a photography contest and then there's blatant rudeness. I encountered my share of rude classmates in school who didn't like me for reasons I still don't know, but most of the time fights are blown out of misconceptions, miscommunication, and hurt feelings. I had hope when I tried to comfort Victoria after rewinding time to set up a convoluted plan to spill paint on her. Victoria softened, and she and Max got along for a moment. And yet when the scene was over, Max wondered whether Victoria was just trying to humiliate her further. Max wanted me to go back in time and say something mean to her instead. In the heat of the moment I've misinterpreted something a person has said into an insult, and Max just doesn't understand how embarrassing her fight with Victoria is.

I don't want to go back and totally change the things that led to fights with my friends because reflecting on it helped me mature and learn how to apologize. But I would have appreciated a greater sense of reasoning out my actions and thinking about the consequences. Rewinding time isn't a mighty power in Life is Strange; it's hard to see in the moment how your decisions will affect other people.

Chapter 2 of Life is Strange is out later this month.