Late last year, a number of Young Adult authors were swooning over the video game Life is Strange, an episodic story-driven game about a teen girl that suddenly discovers she has the power to rewind time. Odd things are happening in her small town, and with her premonitions of a deadly storm set to destroy her home, she goes on a quest to use her powers to save the people she loves, and the place where she lives.
I’m pretty sure it was E.C. Myers (author of The Silence of Six), who said the reason it was striking such a chord with him was because it played like a YA novel. And he’s right. The game has a perfect blend of magical realism blended with contemporary storytelling, set at a prestigious art academy that runs rampant with drugs and drama.
And it is packed with bookishness.
The game’s protagonist, Max, is constantly surrounded by, and talking about, books. After discovering her time travel ability, she has time travel books and movies scattered all over her room. She borrows books from fellow students, and has an obvious Catcher in the Rye-esque poster in her bedroom.
Her last name is even Caulfield.
I couldn’t resist writing down all the literary references scattered through the game as I eagerly played through it, though I’m sure I missed a few. After-all, this is a decision based game, and the choices you make alter what you see through playing it. So if I missed something, give a shout in the comments!
I’ll keep this as spoiler-free as possible, because this game is fantastic, and I want you to play it and find all these books.
The October Country by Ray Bradbury: One of the girls on Max’s dorm room floor lets her borrow this book of Bradbury’s short stories, and it comes back in the story a handful of times. The short story A Sound of Thunder is also referenced kinda, what with the butterfly that plays a major part in the story VERY early on. Not a spoiler. It’s like, the first thing that happens.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger: While this book isn’t specifically mentioned in Life is Strange, there is a “Winger & the Cow” poster in Max’s dorm room that bears a clear resemblance to the classic book cover. And you know, that last name.
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer: There’s a moment when one of the teens in Max’s circle references the book.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells: In the second “episode” of the game, there’s a copy of this on the floor in Max’s room. It’s not really clear whether or not it’s the movie (there are also a bundle of DVDs) or the book, but hey, the movie is based on the book. So there you go.
Time After Time by Karl Alexander: What would have happened if The Time Machine by H.G. Wells inspired Wells to build an actual time machine? Alexander’s novel, but like the last reference this one references the movie, is brought up by a friend of Max’s.
Bid Time Return by Richard Matterson: So the book doesn’t get mentioned specifically, but the movie, Somewhere in Time, does.
1984 by George Orwell: One of the teachers at Max’s school jokes about the academy “going back to 1984” in regards to some of the security measures being pushed into place.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: One of Max’s friends jokes “Igor, bring me the brain.”
The Tiger by William Blake: One of the college students goes to the trouble of writing a hefty portion of Blake’s poem on one of their small whiteboards outside a dorm room.
The Shining by Steven King: One of the girl’s rooms has “REDRUM” written on a whiteboard.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: The whiteboard references just won’t stop. “Time is bunk” is written on one of the whiteboards in the dorm around the middle of the game.
Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Burglar by Maurice Leblanc: At one point, while doing a bit of investigating, one of the characters refers to Max as “Lupin.” This is in reference to the French author Maurice Leblanc’s famous detective. It could also be a reference to Lupin III from the popular manga though.
La Planète des Singes by Pierre Boulle: Or you know, Planet of the Apes. Someone in Max’s circle talks about Planet of the Apes a lot.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick: No surprise that there’s a lot of sci-fi references through this book. Max talks about having a Blade Runner movie night at one point in the game.
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle: Maybe not that book specifically, but at one point during her investigating, Max says “even Holmes and Watson didn’t use just any piece of information.”
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll: Not mentioned by name, but there is an adorable white pet bunny in the game named Alice.
Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene: No books in particular in the series are mentioned, but while she’s busy looking for clues, one character refers to Max as Nancy Drew.
The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon: And surprise! The Hardy Boys get brought up too, when someone refers to Max and one of her friends as The Hardy Boys.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost: One character quotes a really long passage from the classic Frost poem, closer to the end of the game. Hint, it’s near the pool. Make sure you get that, those of you who haven’t played the game yet.
Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, & The Hulk: Comics get referenced throughout the game, particularly in regards to Max. She gets called Spider-Max, Super-Max, Bat-Max, etc. again and again.
Now, a handful of authors get quoted in the game as well, without any solid reference to any of their books.
Jack Kerouac: In “Episode 3” of the game, there’s a moment near a line of train tracks when Max says something along the lines of “Kerouac really knew trains.” It could be a reference to The Dharma Bums though.
Neil Gaiman, K. LeGuine, Robin Hobb, Piers Anthony, Terry Brooks, Marion Zimmer Bradley: Why are these all bunched together? There’s a flyer for the Geek Grrls Book Club that you can find on one of the walls in the dorms, advertising that they are reading books by these fantasy authors.
Did I miss one? Two? A dozen? I’m sure I did. Sound off in the replies with what’s missing, as, like I said, it’s a choice based game. I might have missed a decision that led to revealing a bit of dialogue and a reference.