Life is Strange is a series unafraid to dive into sensitive subjects, from teen suicide to substance abuse. Life is Strange 2, which touches on issues ranging from race to police brutality, follows suit — but even so, I wasn’t prepared for the way the sequel handled an intimate moment.
In the first Life is Strange, there are definitely hints of romance if you pursue them, but protagonists Max and Chloe never truly explore a relationship. Before the Storm, the prequel, can be more of a love story if you choose, but even then, much of the sparks are relegated to subtext where dialogue has double meaning.
Life is Strange 2, a follow-up that chronicles the adventures of Sean and Daniel as they run away to Mexico, is way more explicit than anything that comes before it. By episode three, you have the choice to pursue two potential romance options, a boy and a girl. Sean, the protagonist, is a teen who has never slept with anyone before — and it shows. Advances from other characters are met with hesitation and uncertainty, because Sean doesn’t really know how this stuff is supposed to work. Happily, however, Sean does check in as things progress to make sure everyone is comfortable with what’s unfolding.
And then, when he has sex, it’s over as almost as soon as it begins. The implication is that Sean comes early, as it’s his first time. Cassidy, who I romanced in my game, doesn’t really seem bothered by this experience. Sean obviously feels a little embarrassed, but Cassidy is gentle with him, and reminds him that there will be more chances to have a good time later on. This is the first and only time I’ve watched a sex scene in a video game that even remotely reflected my actual experiences in real life.
Sex scenes are becoming increasingly common in video games, especially as the medium adopts more mature themes. Most of the time, however, you’re playing as an adult who probably isn’t a virgin. Dialogue choices often let you be suave and seductive, and if a scene is played for laughs, it’s not usually at the expense of the player. From The Witcher 3 to Mass Effect 3, most of the time, sex scenes are written to make the player feel empowered in their choices — or at least, they don’t try to make you feel embarrassed for your performance.
But that approach isn’t always realistic. Sex can be messy, confusing, awkward. It doesn’t always go the way you think you will. Getting off can be a minefield onto itself, and it’s not one that games typically care to wade into. According to Dontnod’s lead writer Jean-Luc Cano, the goal in his work in Life is Strange 2 is to “not to be too cliche.” Even as the characters are cast into outlandish situations, the point is to try to help players “relate” to what’s happening, which in this case means being honest about what sex can be like.
“For every teenager, the first time is a very important moment, and we wanted it to be for Sean as well,” Cano said. “But we also wanted it to be realistic and believable. Like the majority of teenagers, Sean doesn’t know what he’s doing. Maybe he tried to reproduce what he saw in movies, or on the internet, and of course, it didn’t go as well as expected.
“That’s why he’s a little bit embarrassed and disappointed. He just realized that — again — real life is not like in the movies or in stories. But, as Cassidy pointed out to him, you don’t have to be the best.”
What Cano wanted players to walk away with is the knowledge that sex is a process that sometimes takes time and patience. While media and gossip often make intimate moments sound like the most amazing thing ever, the reality for most of us is much more complicated than that.
“Sex is not a solo performance,” Cano said. “Making love is something that takes two people and they will have time to practice ... By letting players experience the scene from this point of view, we wanted the player to feel like Sean does, but also be comforted by Cassidy and have a real bonding moment with her.”
Episode three, of course, ends in a huge cliffhanger where Cassidy can end up getting hurt — which means that her future with Sean and Daniel is unclear. While Cano couldn’t share details about where the game is going next, he did say that Dontnod writes episodes with popular player choices in mind. “You can take player feedback from one episode to another,” he remarked. Likely, players who chose to sleep with Cassidy will have a lot more to deal with in episode four than a case of premature ejaculation.