Red Dead Redemption ‘Life is Strange 2’ and the reality of gun violence in games

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Red Dead Redemption

Dontnod developers didn’t make it a point to infuse Life is Strange 2 with a message about gun violence. Instead, the ever-present threat is a result of their research. The team traveled for two weeks across the United States talking to drifters, hitchhikers and everyday folks, and then rolled those stories into the game. Guns are simply a part of the real world, so they’re also in the game’s reality.

“After just talking with them, hearing some of their stories, we knew that it was important for us to talk about some of the things they told us just because it felt real,” Koch said. “It was important for us to somehow talk about those people that were maybe not represented enough in video games.”

Guns are a staple of the video game industry. Shooting is by far the most popular mechanic around, especially when it comes to multi-million-dollar AAA games. Best-selling franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Counter-Strike, Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption are built around the idea of shooting enemies and customizing an arsenal of high-powered firearms. In any given year, it’s far easier to list the games that don’t feature guns than the ones that do.

“We also don’t want to be the French guy who gives lessons to everyone.”

– Cano

Life is Strange is a narrative-driven series, offering players decisions and dialogue options as the story plays out. The first game focuses on Max and Chloe, two high school girls navigating a complicated friendship while supernatural forces invade their seaside town. This isn’t a pew-pew kind of franchise, but guns are a factor in both games.

“When a gun was involved or even, for example, the death of someone in Life is Strange 1, it’s rare compared to Life is Strange 2,” Koch said. “This is a lot of discussion we had, to not trivialize the presence of guns and violence links to them. And yeah, to show that it has some consequences.”

In Life is Strange 2, guns are a shortcut to high-stakes drama. They’re a known factor, something that developers can add to the story and instantly create tension or force a gut decision out of players.

“It’s about making a game and telling good stories,” Cano said. “But this difficult stuff happened to people in real life, so we really took care to talk about this subject very consciously. We have done a lot of research to be as accurate as possible. We also don’t want to be the French guy who gives lessons to everyone.”

The fifth and final episode of Life is Strange 2 landed in December, and no matter which ending players receive, it tells a sensational, heartbreaking story. Part of its power stems from its foundation in real-world crises, tackling subjects like family separation, police brutality and violent racism. Though the franchise may rely on guns to manufacture tension like other titles, it tells stories often overlooked by the video game industry. Stories about young women coming of age and discovering their power, or that of two young brothers traversing the US on their own, relying only on each other to survive.

Cano, Koch and series co-director Raoul Barbet don’t have any concrete plans for the next installment of Life is Strange, but they’re brainstorming new game ideas now. Whatever they choose, it’ll likely be character-driven, highly emotional and tied to the real world in a tangible way. It might also include guns — but that could apply to basically any game.

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