“There’s always sadness in our lives. It’s that sad feeling that keeps us going.”

— Tsukino Usagi


The Selfless Protagonist: Max Caulfield

Monday, October 26, 2015

Dontnod's Life is Strange, an interactive drama game published by Square Enix, features a story stirred with time travel, an impending vicious storm, a chilling missing persons mystery, and most importantly, Max Caulfield. She is the epitome of the selfless hero, the kind we admire so dearly. Max wants to set everything straight, and with her newly discovered time traveling powers, she can do that. She screws things up quite a bit, but she cares about everyone's well-being. She's compassionate, loving, and forgiving in a place that doesn't hold up much to those values. This is why she reverses time, time and time again.


But why does her character feel empty? It's because she's selfless. 


The supporting cast to the narrative includes Chloe Price, her childhood friend troubled with the disappearance of Rachel Amber and the abusive step-father she lives with. There's Kate Marsh, the bullied church girl who spirals into depression after a controversial video of her goes viral (she was drugged at a party). There's Warren, Victoria and her groupies, Nathan, Chloe's mom...the list goes on, and these characters are memorable and have direct impact.


But what is it about Max that makes her so lovable? Why are we focused on her as a character, instead of Chloe or Kate or any of the others? We don't know much about Max. We don't meet her parents except through the text messages they send her throughout the story. She casually plays guitar. She has a moderate interest in movies, which is further triggered by her friend and not-so-secret admirer Warren. 


We also know she's a budding, reluctant photographer who's afraid to submit any photos to the "Everyday Hero" contest as suggested by her teacher. This is where the answer is first unveiled.

She's afraid to reveal herself. She's afraid to show all that she is. And all that she is is comprised of her supporting cast. A selfless protagonist must protect themselves and all that they are for the sake of survival. And not just their own survival, but for the survival of those they care for, the ones they love, and even sometimes the ones they hate. Because a true heroine believes that she is given a talent in order to help them protect everyone else. 


Max Caulfield can rewind time. What does she do with this? She saves Chloe's life more than once. She keeps Kate from committing suicide. She warns her rival Victoria Chase that she might be the next victim of a serial killer. She stops a maleficent storm from destroying all of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. 

What doesn't she do? She does not rewind time to meet the photo contest deadline. She does not go back in time to keep a promise with Warren about a movie date. She owns her mistakes, and allows them to make her stronger, despite the scrutiny she may take. She sees the bigger picture better than everyone else. 


 She takes risks to keep the people in her world happy, or at least alive. She seeks out the good in them, even if it is deeply buried in flawed antagonists. She comes to understand them. She takes these opportunities to grow as a person, as a woman, and as a friend. She knows that she is flawed, too, having virtually disappeared from Chloe's life for a long time. But she doesn't go back in time to fix that. Instead, she finds a way to go back and help bring Chloe's dad back to life. 


This emptiness we may feel about our main protagonists is not accurate. What we are sensing is a selflessness that allows room for us to enter them, to be warmed by them, and to feel safe in their arms. We are our main protagonists' supporting cast. We collectively breathe life into them because they allow us to. They accept our breaths, taking them long and deep into their chests with dimpled smiles and wistful eyes. When they let go, they tell us, everything is going to be okay, and we believe them. We see it in the steady expression, and we feel it as they stare into us. 


Max Caulfield is the example of a great, selfless protagonists. Her needs are the needs of others. She's a classic tragic heroine, and she deserves every frame of attention that the narrative of Life is Strange awards her. 




Life is Strange  is available to play on PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360. 

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Kyle V. Hiller is a freelance editor, published author. To inquire about his editing services, visit the services page. To read his work, check out The Recital and Project Anjou If you're just hanging out, subscribe to his newsletter below, where you'll get posts like this delivered straight to your inbox! Stalk Kyle on Twitter and Instagram, too.

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