Life Is Strange: Video Games and Moral Imagination (Spoilers!)

I’ve spent a little too much time, in the past week or so, playing a game on my computer.

The game in question, with the deceptively trite title Life Is Strange, is an example of what may be an emerging genre in video games: a graphic adventure game that amounts to an especially rich and engaging interactive story, with a particular game-play mechanic, some mild puzzle solving, some free exploration of the setting of each scene, an overarching mystery to investigate, and a series of tough choices that affect future (and past!) parts of the story.

In this case, the narrative device and game-play mechanic is the ability to rewind. The main character is Maxine “Max” Caulfield, an 18-year-old photography student at a high school for the arts, who suddenly finds herself able to manipulate time by undoing some decisions and trying other options. Important elements of the plot and a number of the puzzles that need to be solved depend on this ability.

SPOILER ALERT! I will not reveal any particular details of the plot, especially from the later chapters, but I will be discussing the general outlines of the game and the general outlines of its ending. If you have an interest in video games that might lead you to play¬†Life Is Strange, and if you really don’t like to know too much about the trajectory of a story before you start it, you might not want to read on.
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From the Archive: Value Compression

As I’m busy getting the new semester underway, I’ve turned once more to the archives of my other blog, The Ethics of Metropolitan Growth, for an older post of what I hope is enduring interest.

The following was first posted on September 26, 2013.

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Value Compression

I have been reading an account of a research project in urban planning, an effort to develop a more adequate model of human travel behavior in response to particular urban forms.

As part of the pilot test for the project, which ultimately involved a survey administered to a rigorously stratified sample distributed across a major world city, the researcher conducted interviews with a number of city residents selected from the same sample. The idea was to refine the survey instrument to capture more subtle gradations in travel behavior.

As the researcher described it, the interview subjects seemed eager to tell their own stories of living in and moving through the city and, according to the researcher’s account, some became quite animated in the telling.

But the researcher had taken a particular attitude toward the subjects, and the theory to which the researcher appealed made very specific, very stringent demands as to the kind of data that would be acceptable. Continue reading