Updated: Oct 26, 2020
What's going on everyone?
A trope that we come across in many different mediums of literature is the monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey; an archetypal story pattern where a character embarks, often reluctantly, on an adventure. The character overcomes a conflict and eventually returns home with a better understanding of the world they live in. Think of stories like The Hobbit, The Hunger Games, or Harry Potter. I have taught the Hero's Journey using the video game Journey by thatgamecompany which went really well, so I have been eagerly looking for another game that is worth using to teach a similar lesson.
I recently played the game Life is Strange 2 by Dontnod and I think it is the perfect game to teach a different take on The Hero's Journey. You can find the lesson plan for Life is Strange 2 here. While the game is broken up into five chapters this lesson will only cover the first chapter of the game which is about 3-4 hours long. Also a big shout out to the Esports Edu Lab for proving me with a copy of the game.
Life is Strange 2 offers a different take on heroism in the form of a sixteen year old trying to protect his little brother. “After a tragic incident, brothers Sean and Daniel Diaz run away from home. Fearing the police, and dealing with Daniel's new telekinetic power, the boys flee to Mexico for safety. Suddenly, sixteen year-old Sean is responsible for Daniel’s safety, shelter, and teaching him right from wrong. As Sean, your choices shape the fates of the Diaz brothers, and the lives of everyone they meet. The road to Mexico is long and filled with danger. This is the trip that could bond Sean and Daniel forever… or tear their brotherhood apart” (Dontnod Entertainment). Mild Spoilers: After a confrontation with a neighbor, a policeman arrives only to shoot down Sean and Daniel's father out of fear. In this moment Daniel unwillingly uses his newfound telekinetic powers to accidentally harm the police officer.
All of you who have been keeping up with my blogs can probably tell that I am left leaning politically and I want to be up front that this game is political. The two brothers are Mexican Americans and it is made clear that the police officer responded out of fear due to the color of their skin. Throughout the game, the brothers encounter characters who casually make racist comments; one who even brings up how President Trump's border wall is necessary. I love tackling heavy topics like this with my students, but I could potentially see some teachers feeling uncomfortable. But hey, using video games in school is about pushing boundaries so lets push them.
You play as Sean, the older brother. While you do walk around, there is less "playing" than in traditional games. You can interact with your environment, but the gameplay is mostly just triggering dialogue. There are also dialogue choices implemented into every conversation. This gives the players some control over how the story plays out. Your choices can shape Sean as empathetic and considerate, or you can turn him into a boorish ass. It's your choice. I always aim to be as wholesome as possible. Anyway, your relationship with your brother and father is very well established before you are unwillingly and tragically thrust on your adventure. You wander highways, campsites, gas stations, and motels while trying to figure out how to get to Mexico. The people you interact with, while normal, are now a constant threat since you are wanted by the police. This is only heightened by the added effect of racism. Being white, I don't really ever need to deal with racism in my own life and this was the first time it ever became a factor in a video game I was playing. Whether or not you agree with Sean's decision to runaway, it is clear that he is doing everything he can to protect his brother. He is being heroic. And I really want to shout out how much Sean cares about his younger brother Daniel. Even though he bullies and teases him, like all older brothers do, he is still willing to put Daniel's interests before his own.
Life is Strange 2 is definitely a unique take on The Hero's Journey. We aren't playing as a superhero or anyone with special powers and abilities. Daniel, the one with telekinetic powers, is not the hero of this story; at least not in this first chapter. Sean is just a teenager, a kid who doesn't properly think through all of his actions. He acts impulsively, but at the end of the day it is difficult to argue that his actions are not those of a hero.
The Hero's Journey is nothing new, but it is one of the most successful formulas of telling a story. Just take a look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Rarely do we get unique original stories using old tropes. Life is Strange 2 is one of these stories. It's not perfect. The dialogue can be clunky and is often way too on the nose (the developers may not be the best at writing edgy dialogue for teenagers), but it still got me to care about the two protagonists. I didn't care how cliché and cheesy some of the lines were. The overall plot and the amount of choice I had in directing the dialogue really helped me forge a connection with Sean and Daniel. I found myself empathizing with two kids in circumstances very different than my own. And this was all in the first chapter of the game.
This game is worth checking out even if you don't want/need to teach The Hero's Journey. It can easily be taught while studying any number of topics and themes. I'll even be using it to teach different styles of storytelling at some point later this year. Either way, play this game.
Thanks for reading,