Animal Symbolism In Life Is Strange
This contains major spoilers for all five episodes of Life is Strange!
Video games have evolved from 8-bit pixels to cinematic milestones. Many of these games include immersive storytelling and detailed cinematography that can be analyzed and interpreted. Life is Strange, a game centered around how the story can be changed and altered, falls into this category. There are many minor details in this game that come together to make it even more interesting. In this article I will analyze and interpret the symbolism of different recurring animals throughout the game.
Life is Strange, developed by Square Enix, is about a girl named Max Caulfield, who discovers she can rewind time. With this strange power the player of the game rolls through the story making decisions and using the rewind to change them. The story is centered on unsolved mysteries looming around and a devastating future vision of a tornado Max experiences, all while she is traversing college and reunited with her best friend Chloe.
So remember all of those times you said “man, I wish I could just go back and change that one thing”? This is where you can see that happen.
Max and the Doe
The doe can easily be seen as Max’s spirit animal, when it appears in front of her it shows no sign of fear and doesn’t flee as a normal wild deer would. It would even appear transparent in some circumstances, showing Max the way. The doe is known to symbolize innocence and being in touch with life’s mysteries.
Max’s tie in with innocence can be seen with her change of clothing in the third episode. Up until then, Max is only seen wearing two shirts: a shirt that says “Jane” with a picture of a doe and another one that is just a drawing of a doe. This changes after Max commits her first crime, breaking and entering the school. From here on Max continues to commit more acts that may not be evil but aren’t innocent either and she never wears a doe shirt again.
The symbolization of the doe being in touch with life’s mysteries fits Max perfectly as the game begins with Max discovering a phenomenal ability and spends the rest of the game using it to solve other mysteries. From the first second we are introduced to Max, we see something abnormal, the tornado vision, and from then on Max is mixed up in everything else unexplained. She discovers her powers, Rachel Amber’s disappearance, other omens science can’t explain, what happened to Kate, and the secret Nathan has been keeping. This is all wrapped up in the title Life is Strange.
Chloe and the Butterfly
The butterfly symbolizes Chloe’s life. Besides the likeness of the color of the butterfly and Chloe’s hair, it pops up repeatedly when Chloe’s life is about to alter.
In the third episode Max has the option of drawing a butterfly next to the fire place, right before she affects Chloe’s life drastically by saving William. When Max returns to the present, this butterfly sketch can be viewed again. At this point the butterfly is not just Chloe’s literal life but the course of her life as well.
It appears in the fifth episode when Max can open her journal to find a drawing of Chloe with a butterfly body. This makes sense as at this point it is clear that she has been the main cause for Max’s rewinds, to the point in which a decision about her is the determining factor for the end of the game. This is seen when Max has the option to use the photo of the butterfly she took in the bathroom in episode one to ignore Chloe in danger and alter the ending.
Many people would argue that the butterfly was an emblem for the butterfly effect, as it is seen around significant events and is the icon that appears when choices with outcomes are made, but this can be tied in with the concept that the butterfly represents Chloe. As stated before, she has been the main cause for Max using her power and is the determining factor for the ending of the game, so all the other choices could be seen as another step leading up to Chloe’s fate.
Arcadia Bay and its Wildlife
The state of Arcadia Bay can be reflected by the condition of the wildlife surrounding it. As impending doom draws near, the birds, whales, and fish echo what is happening.
Throughout the game birds appear time and time again acting as omens everywhere. They are lying around dead and act unnatural. In episode five when Max is bouncing around a strange limbo she witnesses a flock of birds diving into the window leaving a mass of blood. At this point of the story the results of her changes to the timeline are showing critical results. Reality is warped and the end is nigh.
Multiple times in the game the player has the chance to talk to town’s people that will discuss the state of Arcadia Bay. Many will say there are no more fish left to harvest and therefore much of the town is withering away as fishing is the main career. In this instance a balance can be drawn between the sea life and the bay, as one dwindles so does the other.
This can be extended to the occurrences with the whales. Right after Max makes her second major time alter, saving William, whales are then seen washed up on the beach. Whales are seen again if the ending where she sacrifices the town is chosen, then a whale can be seen crushing Two Whales diner, ironic isn’t it. This shows that the animal life around the town does not just provide for the town, it is immersed in it as well.
Animals, Animals Everywhere
Like a wonderful story would, Life is Strange sticks with you, answering the burning questions while leaving fans aching for more. What is great and unique to the stories of video games is that the stories themselves can be actively explored by the player. Details can be left like bread crumbs and it is up to the individual to hunt them down along with going through the main quest. In this way the writing and cinematography of Life is Strange envelopes the audience in an in depth search for more game content, including figuring out how so many animals tie into such a rich tale.
There are a plethora of them throughout the game, popping up around the story and hiding in the background, carrying meanings and representations. Much of their symbolism is up to opinion and interpretation, but that makes the game all the more compelling. This is another way Life is Strange invites you to pick apart the adventure and delve into the story behind the story.
- Allen, Eric Van. “Someday, We Will Foresee Obstacles — Life Is Strange Episode 5 “Polarized” Review.” GAMING TREND Someday We Will Foresee Obstacles Life Is Strange Episode 5 Polarized Review Comments. Gaming Trend, Oct. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
- Loomis, Mellssa. “‘Life Is Strange Episode 3’ Review.” Game Rant. Game Rant, 07 June 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
- Harris, Elena. “Deer Spirit Animal.” Spiritanimal.info. Spiritanimal.info, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
- Murica, Alberto. “Decisión E Incertidumbre Análisis Life Is Strange – Capítulo I: Chrysalis.” AntiHype. AntiHype, 24 Feb. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2016..
- Whisky-Words. “Life Is Strange: Symbolism of Shirt Design.” Http://whisky-words.tumblr.com/. N.p., 30 Oct. 2015. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
I love the fist 4 episodes but the ending….. just don’t, just don’t please.
The big part I like about this game was that everything you did would either at least be mentioned in the future, or affect it altogether. It is a relatively slow paced game, but to me, the story more than makes up for it. It was good enough to leave me with tears at the end after I made my last choice.
I am not a gamer but Life is Strange was soo good I am really sad that it’s over. I wish I knew of more games just like it.
If you’d like to play somethink similar, I’d recommend you to try the game called “Gone Home”.
Season two of life is strange is out.
Good work. After watching some videos of gameplay, I was curious about the animal symbolism in this, such as the doe and dead birds. The butterflies made sense, given the choice-based butterfly effect in the game. Life is Strange is similar to Until Dawn in that way.
This game is fowkin Amazing!
This game had me glued in and was very entertaining specially episode 4. Coming into episode five I was just thinking of all the possibilities of how this game could end. Instead it ends on a very kind of predictable path where it’s only two different paths and it seems like many of your choices don’t really matter at all. Maybe just what a character says and or feels about you in dialogue but that’s about it. Because it is definitely a game that I was enjoying until the end.
I am going to play all 5 episodes, one per day, when I get home.Thanks for the great analysis which will due for now.
I just thought this was an artistic commercial, didn’t know it was a game.
Recommend anyone who likes this game to watch the anime Steins;Gate. Lots of similarities( time travel, tough choices, etc.) There is also a Vita game if you seek for in depth experiences after watch the anime.
I loved this game, but the last episode was a major disappointment.But it didn’t ruin the experience for me, just felt like the whole ending solutions/choices should have been written better and no matter which ending you chose I would have liked more questions answered and knowing what happened to the characters afterwards, especially considering that we are likely not gonna see any of them in the future seasons. Either way no other game has made me feel this much since Lost Odyssey.
The ending broke my heart.
This game is beautiful.
This is one of the best games I have played. Not because any of its mechanical parts are particularly new but it’s well made through and through and the story, characters and general narrative, atmosphere and music make this one of the most special experiences I’ve had. It’s a bit of a shame I didn’t play them in succession now that all episodes are out. You do lose the immersion when waiting for new episodes.
So i’m looking for games similar to this in the sense of choice and consequence games. I’ve played through both seasons of Tell Tales the walking dead and played through game of thrones, I just got recommended this game and Until dawn but if anyone has any other recommendations for those kind of games or any feedback on the other tell tale games (I’ve been told the wolf among us is pretty good) that’d be great
The wolf among us is awesome, it’s really creative and your choices actually come together in the end. If you have a ps3 or 4 than beyond: two souls and heavy rain are great too(at least in my opinion)
The FEELS of this game is Out of control
My favorite was always the maintenance man and his symbol, the squirrel. The imagery in general is so beautiful in this game. It was definitely one of my favorite games last year. The animal symbolism in it gave it a nice touch for me, especially with my being Native American animals can mean so much.
The finished article is much better. I liked the points you added in and it is put together very well; the ending statement sums up your article nicely.
Great work! The animal symbolism you found for the characters is pretty spot on, especially in relation to the character’s personalities and the story itself. It really helps to highlight the idea of nature and how it is unchangeable and deeply interconnected with every choice we make in the world.
I have never been so emotionally affected by a game. I’m still not over it or that damn choice at the end of the game. Loved the use of animals in the game, too. Great article!
This was such a cinematic game, I loved how it played at 20 fps on my pc.
I definitely noticed all the animal symbolism during my first play-through. I also thought it was really interesting how, at the end of Episode 5 (I think when Max is walking through the dark halls replaying her moments with Chloe), she is wearing a red shirt with a ram or goat head on it. Maybe I’m going way out on a limb here, but I thought it was kind of a Satanic symbol, which would be appropriate since she was essentially going through hell.
I really enjoyed reading what you had to say! Before this, I was easily grouped up with others who saw the butterfly as a symbol of the butterfly effect. But now seeing the butterfly as a representation of Chloe makes so much more sense and really speaks to the essence of Life is Strange’s story. Great read!
In the Bay end Max wore a golden doe necklage und in the darkroom she got a shirt with a death’s head hawkmoth. A lot more symbolism to interpret.
Couldn’t remember when a game, a film or a book had such an impact on me.