Fictional companions and goth concerns.
Welcome to This Mortal Coyle, where I write about fictional characters I want to befriend. As a kid, I spent a lot of mental energy imagining adventures with Athena and Artemis, Princess Cimorene, Ozma of Oz and other wayward magical girls. I still imagine adventures with nonexistent people; adulthood just pollutes these daydreams with introspection and angst.
To understand my taste in imaginary friends, it’s important to know some basic things about me: I’m a current goth and former fashion librarian who grew up obsessed with first wave punk; my preferred confidante is my roommate’s cat, who is also goth. I don’t always want to befriend characters to whom I relate on a personal level, but I’m often drawn to those with similar taste in music and questionable taste in people.
Last week, after playing through episode one of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, I ran to bed and lay flat on my face, marinating in despair, and spent the next several days trying to figure out what made me so upset.
The protagonist of 2015’s time-travelling high-school murder mystery adventure game Life is Strange has a punk rock sidekick, Chloe Price. Chloe has good taste in music, questionable taste in people and talks a lot of shit. Her style is impeccable: blue hair under a beanie, white skull-printed tank tops, black jackets and boots (I also went for blue hair, white tank tops and boots as a teenager). Before the Storm, a prequel to Life is Strange, stars Chloe two years earlier and opens with Chloe attending a punk show at an old mill; the first puzzle has you sneaking past the bouncer after he rejects your fake ID. Instead of time travel, the game’s signature mechanic is “Backtalk,” wherein you insult your way to what you want.
I’ll never again get kicked out of anywhere for not being old enough – and this shouldn’t make me feel nostalgic, but it did. What the hell, right?
The whole scene was uncomfortably familiar. I’ve never argued my way past a bouncer, but I’ve gotten kicked out of venues for being underage (when I’d already paid the cover). I thought, “What if this game is just about being a teenage dirtbag?”
Playing as Chloe, watching her listen to music through a shitty wall while desperate to be on the other side, I deeply missed being that kind of teenage dirtbag. I’ll never again get kicked out of anywhere for not being old enough – and this shouldn’t make me feel nostalgic, but it did. What the hell, right? I can just legally do what I want now?
Chloe’s hot-blooded dialogues – and inner monologues – are full of extreme impressions: she hates her mom’s boyfriend. She hates this bitch Victoria. She loves the band Firewalk. The episode’s main plotline revolves around her burgeoning friendship with a beautiful, popular, punk rock girl named Rachel Amber. Chloe’s inner monologues about Rachel Amber are anxious and reverent: she wants Rachel to like her; she’s intimidated; she doesn’t want to fuck up this new friendship. In Life is Strange, she refers to Rachel as her “angel.” She’s awestruck.
My post-playthrough despair circled around that rawness of new emotion. I’ll never again feel the way Chloe feels about Rachel Amber, not because I’m incapable of love or lust or romantic anxiety, but because those feelings will never be new again. I couldn’t feel about any band the way Chloe feels about Firewalk. I couldn’t even feel the way Chloe feels about weed (the opening scene contains a conversation with her drug dealer). I miss the way I intensely liked things as a teenager, even bad things.
Not that I’d actually want to be a teenager again – obviously. Even taking into account that I lied to my mom about where I was going and what I was smoking and with whom (hi, Mom!), I had little independence, even less money and had to attend high school, with high schoolers. The absolute worst.
So why did a few hours of playing as a teenage girl who dressed like me fuck me up so much? I don’t want to fight my way into shows or not have a driver’s license or rely on my parents for food (I might want the blue hair back). It’s not the trespassing or the moshing I miss, but the revelatory way those things felt: untested desire bristling out of my skin, my identity externalizing.