What would trigger this rather strange train of thought, you ask? Well, by way of answer, let me introduce you to the person who precipitated it.
Her name is Chloe Price, and unfortunately, her story is far from unique.
Chloe is sixteen years old and, despite the fact she’s a little rough around the edges --- well, okay, a lot rough around the edges, complete with a finely developed sense of angry, angsty rebelliousness some teenagers seem to excel at --- I really like her. Besides, unlike many of her compatriots, she actually has a good reason for the drama: you see, two years ago, the entire edifice of her world was destroyed when her father died in a car accident. That’s a tough blow even for a mature adult whose parent passes away, but for a kid, I think it’s especially devastating. Since then, her mother, Joyce, has done her level best to raise Chloe, but it’s been a difficult road for them both, especially since parents and teenagers frequently find it hard to communicate openly, honestly and compassionately with each other at the best of times. And this ain’t the best of times for either Chloe or Joyce. Not at all. And now Joyce has started dating a man whom Chloe loathes… well, let’s just say that doesn’t help matters.
She’s a real person, then? you ask. Well, yes and no. Chloe is the protagonist of an Xbox game entitled Life is Strange: Before the Storm, a sequel that’s actually a prequel to an earlier game called simply Life is Strange. And in case you’re wondering: no, she doesn’t have an easy life in the first game, either. In fact, playing that one as her friend Max (female), you literally have the power of life and death over Chloe… in fact, you have to make a pretty unenviable choice regarding Chloe: either you can save her from a monster storm… and the entire community of Arcadia Bay, where you both live, will be destroyed… or you can save the community… and Chloe dies. This after the entire game has been spent cementing and reinforcing the relationship between you and Chloe, at times in a fairly harrowing manner. Man, don’t you just hate it when life hands you a no-win scenario? (I wrote about this Life is Strange dilemma in an earlier post, which you can find here if you’re interested.)
In Before the Storm, Chloe develops what looks like, at first glance, an unlikely friendship with a girl named Rachel Amber. I say ‘unlikely’ because Rachel is, in many ways, the anti-Chloe: she’s popular, gets high grades, is the school’s drama production’s star actress, and most importantly, is unencumbered by the emotional baggage Chloe carries. But the two bond, in the way opposites sometimes do, and form a close connection. And it is this which led me to reflect on the undesirability of knowing our futures.
There are a number of touching moments in the story as the relationship between Chloe and Rachel deepens. One in particular occurs the night of the school play. Rachel is cast as a female Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Chloe has come to watch. But when, just prior to curtain, the show finds itself temporarily and unexpectedly without its Ariel --- a pretty important part --- guess whom Rachel gently strongarms into playing the role? Yep, Chloe --- who’s horrified at the prospect, but relents because she wants to support Rachel. Chloe’s not the type who desires to be onstage at all, and there’s a fair amount of adlibbing that goes on due to her unfamiliarity with the role… although it leads to an unscripted but heartfelt declaration of deep friendship from Rachel’s Prospero to Chloe’s Ariel that’s quite obviously meant to reflect what’s happening in their real-life relationship. It’s a lovely moment in the narrative. And very, very sad…
…because, you see, having played the original Life is Strange game last year… I already knew what happens to Rachel following Before the Storm. She dies. Worse, in fact: she’s murdered.
The entire, tender, burgeoning relationship between Chloe and Rachel is doomed, destined to be swept away in a searing wave of senseless violence before it’s barely even had a chance to take root. I played the entirety of Before the Storm knowing this, and knowing I was powerless to do anything to stop it. And I watched each moment, knowing it was all futile. It certainly gave a probably unintended sense of poignancy to the tale, but… you know, on reflection, I think I might have been happier without that knowledge. I guess it’s like some of the DNA tests that are available to us today: you can be tested for various ailments, some of them deadly… but we don’t have cures for those ailments just yet. Would you want to know? Or is it better to live in ignorant bliss of the possibility of impending doom?
I’ve never believed that ‘ignorance is bliss.’ But Before the Storm did give me cause to wonder if there are times when knowledge is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.