Easter is almost upon us, fellow gamers, and you know what that means. Time to hunt for Easter eggs. This year, we’re doing it in style by celebrating the Easter eggiest game of 2015, Dontnod Entertainment’s episodic interactive coming of age indie film Life is Strange. Arcadia Bay is jam-packed with references both blatant and hidden, ranging from obscure grindhouse films to classic literature, internet culture, classic sci-fi, 90’s cartoons, and everything in between waiting to fill your (sub)consciousness with Donnie Darko homages, funny graffiti, fedora-tipping t-shirts, and TV show titles coded onto license plates.
The list is massive so I’ve narrowed it down some of my personal favorites. Some are here because they were so unexpected, some because they were so clever, some because of artistic relevance, and some just because. Max Caulfield’s journey through time and space, butterflies and hurricanes, love and friendship is a spectacular nerd’s life and dreams personified, and as such it is filled with the things we love. These are ten of the best slices of nerdery hidden in Life is Strange.
A near constant presence on the college campus of blackwell Academy where Max spends most of her time, Samuel the janitor is an odd man who communes with the local wildlife, speaks in a stunted and vaguely incoherent manner, and possibly enjoys keeping photographs of female students. He’s what you might call quirky….or creepy.
At one point during the story, Max enters the boys’ dorm and can find a map that has been heavily defaced by the residents. Among the requisite bragging about penis size and assertions about sexual orientation, you can see somebody wrote “Samuel = Dexter” at the bottom. The reference to America’s favorite serial killer isn’t entirely unfounded (although I’d argue Dex actually appears to be more socially adjusted), making for a funny little homage in an unlikely place that illustrates that to enjoy Life is Strange to the fullest, you must explore every nook and cranny of the game.
The bathrooms of Life is Strange are another unexpected treasure trove of in-game graffiti. One of my personal favorite references is to the canceled but airing eternally in our hearts sci-fi series Firefly, or more specifically, the film Serenity that served as the belated finale.
One of the movie’s more memorable quotes is written on the inside wall of a bathroom stall in Arcadia Bay’s diner in a particularly unexpected bit of nerd-baiting and as with almost everything in this game, it references or at least supports the theme of the story. Oh yes, Max, you do indeed aim to misbehave.
The real ‘Caust
This one is less of an Easter egg and more of a jarring horror geek moment. Early in the story, Max’s wannabe boyfriend, Warren, has loaned her a flash drive filled with various wonders of the nerd world. Prominently mentioned is the original found-footage torture porn fest, Cannibal Holocaust, which famously asks the viewer “who the real cannibals are” in a comical attempt at pretension after subjecting them to what I’d hope are the nastiest, most vile images that will ever grace their eyes and pretty much nothing else of artistic value.
I was a little baffled by this inclusion and probably spent a little too much time trying to find some hidden meaning in subjecting fans of this charming, emotional, feminine coming of age story littered with an appreciation of all things art to one of the most wantonly disturbing and soulless murder and rapefests ever committed to film. Then I wondered if the writers lost sleep at night worrying about the Life is Strange devotees who will undoubtedly seek “The ‘Caust” out due its being referenced in this beloved tale and finding a film full of real animal cruelty. I guess it’ll have to remain a mystery.
A little more along the lines of what most would look for in an exploitation film reference, there’s a nice tribute to the history of awesome heroines in Chloe’s room in the form of a magazine titled The Bad Grrl’s Guide to Gunz written by one Coffy Greer.
This is a pretty unmistakable homage to the queen of blaxpoitation cinema, Pam Grier, whose signature film, Jack Hill’s Coffy, has been publicly lauded by one Quentin Tarantino pretty much every time he’s asked about his favorite films, and for good reason. While Max and Chloe may be far from the woman Pam Grier was and is (sorry, but they just can’t pull off the razor blade afro), it’s still a great homage to a true icon of women in entertainment.
Bradburying the lead
In yet another highly unexpected bit of classic nerd Easter eggery, Max and I took a brief break from saving lives during the hurricane to check out a newspaper article which compares the extreme inclement weather to a “Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms being arguably the definitive American monster movie of the 1950’s, it was a pretty unexpected and awesome little reference to the film that inspired the creation of Godzilla.
This was not an isolated reference, either. More than once, Stephen King prototype Ray Bradbury was brought up in the story, with Max offering praise for his novel October Country and Brabury’s prose style in general. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was based on a Bradbury short story titled The Fog Horn in which a giant sea creature destroys a light house; a lot like the one that serves as a focal point of Arcadia Bay, in fact. Hmmmm….
Ah, the fabled room 217; real life supernatural hotbed found in Colorado’s Stanley Hotel, where Stephen King spent the night in 1973 and dreamed up the nightmare fuel that became his third novel, The Shining. Not coincidentally, Max happens across a room 217 in her dorm with the personalized dry erase board that accompanies’ each student’s domicile reading “REDRUM”. She wisely decides that she’s not going to go into there.
Interestingly, Room 217 correlates not with the iconic Kubrick film (which changes the number to 237 because Illuminati) but with the real life inspiration and original novel. I’m guessing the reference found its way in due to the story’s theme of a young person with special abilities about to face some horrible shit.
A splash of the titans
This is possibly the nerdiest, groaniest moment in the entire game, and it references one of the defining moments of my childhood so I’ve got to bring it up. While searching for a way to break into the principal’s office in the dead of night, Max grabs a can of soda out of the vending machine and commands the sugar dispensary to “release the cra-can!” in tribute to the old-school mythological fantasy masterpiece Clash of the Titans in which the command “Unleash the Kraken” precipitates the unleashing of a city-destroying monster. Yes, this is a theme.
Okay, so Max reads Bradbury, enjoys grindhouse cinema and alternative folk, AND she’s a a Harryhausen fanatic clever enough to pull off the most unlikely of puns. Yeah, this girl is alright in my book. It takes a special kind of nerdy to say something that awesome and weird when you’re all by yourself. With pun skills like that, I wish she could hang out with Ellie from The Last of Us.
Nobody else online seems to have noticed this one, but during the hurricane sequence in the streets of Arcadia Bay you can potentially find a reference to one of the greatest comics of all time, Watchmen, on the window of Frank’s RV.
At one point in the first chapter, you have the option to draw in the dust of a dirty RV, which ends up belonging to the town’s resident drug dealer. Max chooses her trademark minimalist straight face with the observation “I’m so dirty”, her own twist on the classic “wash me”.
The vehicle remains unwashed throughout the story and in the last chapter, as carnage sweeps across the town and the dead and injured litter the streets, you find the RV blown across the street, complete with the non-smiley face, now sporting a smear of blood bearing a strong resemblance to the iconic image of the Comedian’s bloody happy face button as found after his murder in the opening scene of Watchmen.
Madness takes its toll
One of the small joys afforded gamers in Life is Strange is exploring Max’ journal. It was not only a fantastic way for players who bought every chapter when they came out to catch up on the story after the several week wait between releases, but it’s also really cute, funny, and illustrated while offering even more insight into the protagonist’s thoughts.
In another clever moment of geek-tier pop culture savvy, Max’s first journal entry after returning from what one might call “the darkest timeline” -where she saw the present result of her changing the distant past- was “Let’s never do the Time Warp again.” Rocky Horror Picture Show, much?
Chloe may not pass the sniff test for a legit punk rocker (I’ve seen what plays on your stereo, girl), but she’d make one hell of a hipster if the way she takes ironic t-shirts to the next level at the end of the game is any indication. Game ruining spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t played the game yet but plan to, thanks for reading and have a nice day. Only readers here out of idle curiosity and Blackwell veterans beyond this point, please.
Rather than a pop culture reference, this one is for the mythological history and art geeks. Chloe’s end-game shirt depicts a stylized version of the ouroboros, the mythological snake that eats its own tail. The potential symbolic applications of this are legion, but in Life is Strange it takes on a special significance given the theme of time travel and in particular this moment where Max has the option to go back to the very beginning and allow her best friend to perish after her repeated multiverse time travel escapades across Arcadia Bay it took to save her manifest themselves as a massive hurricane-sized tornado set to level the town in a literal portrayal of the fabled butterfly effect.
The final heart-rending decision was a rare occasion where I was left clueless as to what to do. I consider the life of each individual as philosophically equivalent to EVERY individual put together, but that doesn’t help me when pitting the weight of one character against the weight of an entire town that serves as a character unto itself. The ouroboros on Chloe’s shirt signifies an endless loop; a conundrum that devours itself to regenerate itself; going forward to the past to end at the beginning. And thus, I knew what I had to do.