Hurray! I’ll take you up on your offer. Be careful what you wish for though ^^.
Honestly though it might be too late, as it’s almost been a month and I feel about as reconciled with the ending as I can hope to be. I didn’t play the episodes as they were released but in one big chunk, so i don’t have the months of speculation and fandom of theories, hopes and dreams, only to be twisted at the end. I’ve run over the many facets of the game in my mind many times, trying to work the emotions evoked by the game out of my system, watched some of the more literate Let’s Plays, ect. In some ways this will just be talking to talk.
[spoiler] I think that the end of the game and the nightmare sequence seem to show that there are three possible interpretations as to what the game was actually about. In one way it’s possible to see Max’s journey as being about giving her more time to have a relationship with and say goodbye to Chloe. So it’s possible that the paranormal event in the game are actually reflections of Max’s psychological state, which well might be true as on the last beach sequence Max tells Chloe her worry that the storm and the nightmare both might be caused by her subconscious. On this interpretation the game is simply giving Max more time but while the ending and the lesson is preordained, the tension (the storm) is her subconscious is unwilling or unable to let go of Chloe. This also resolves the contradiction when the first time Max discovers her time rewinding powers she pops back into the classroom from the bathroom even though it is later established that when she rewinds she stays in place.
Another possibility is that Max’s powers derived from Chloe’s spirit unwilling to pass from this world because of her premature death and unhappiness stemming from her abusive teenage years and the disappearance of her best friend Rachel Amber, and Chloe’s spirit animal the butterfly wants to help Chloe find peace and thus be able to pass from this work to the next. In this interpretation Chloe’s behavior exhibits a certain amount of selfishness by indirectly drafting Max into traveling multiple timelines in order to resolve her old friend’s problems. The game seems to make some reference to this in the nightmare sequence when in the diner Max confronts herself and the alternate version of Max accuses Chloe of manipulating Max, and everyone else in the diner is begging Max not to kill them. Fans on Reddit discovered unused audio clips from the sequence revealing that Chloe at one point was a character in that sequence and that she question Max’s apparent decision to sacrifice the town on behalf of her and complained that Max is only doing this out of a sense of guilt for her not being there over the past five years. Of course this isn’t canon but it’s interesting I think as an explanation that’s one reason why the nightmare sequence seems tonally incoherent. Fans also discovered text intended as a prompt for the voice actresses but apparently not used where at the end of the game Chloe begs Max to sacrifice to town and not her. Clearly that would have changed the moral parity of the endings and made Chloe a much less sympathetic character, but it is interesting that at one point they intended the game to go that way. The so-called Pricefield museum that shows Max walking through memories she shared with Chloe does also seem to indicate that it is resolving the death of Rachael Amber that gives Chloe’s spirit the resolution it needs to depart since discovering Rachel Amber together is the last memory of the sequence before reaching the lighthouse.
The third possibility is of course the one we have in which Max’s powers are not intended to be explained and the storm and supernatural disasters are unintended consequences of gaining this power. This might be the most likely explanation considering that DONTNOD left many plot threads from the Twin Peaks inspired subtext of the game hanging and unresolved, and by the end of the game more or less forgotten, and so other alternate interpretations which may have been intended earlier on were left uncompleted and and so the third possibility wins by default. It is possible this is because of budgetary problems, and it could also be that a mere adventure game would have far less emotional impact if there was a stereotypically comic book resolution that left players feeling satisfied and not feeling the pain of loss and death, which they achieved with the ending as it stands now. In this explanation it is the journey not the ending of the game that matters, or at least so they publicly say. But there’s no doubt that the symbolism of the game had always pointed to sacrificing Chloe as being the true ending the developers intended. That is, there is a great deal of symbolism and hidden messages pointing to having to sacrifice Chloe, but there’s almost none except for apocalyptic omens pointing to sacrificing the town. And arguably the true moral impact of the game, that we have to be better today to the people, friends and family around us and not tomorrow is lost if saving Chloe were the true intent. But I don’t think they had it in them to condemn players for saving Chloe and so tried to make both endings as open ended (and therefore unsatisfying) as they were, since they needed a second choice since the true impact of that final choice would be lost if it were simply an accumulation of decisions that were mathematically added and subtracted and then provided to the player as a result of choices that had made throughout the game, and making one ending clearly better than the other would’ve been an obviously bad idea.
I don’t mind the fact that the game intentionally plays with players’ emotions, sometimes flagrantly, because of the emotional immaturity of both gamers and the games they play, and because of the seriousness of the topics being addressed. Although there are some examples in the indie world of games that have a deep emotional core there’re a few games as well written and not based around combat as Life is Strange that also have a significant budget for voice dialog, an excellent soundtrack and artistically inspired graphics and scenes. I think I am gratified to see so many YouTubers having such deep emotional connection with the game. In many ways I think this game has a healthy impact on the people who play it (aside from perhaps the crippling ennui, pathos, dejection, depression, and never ending feeling of sadness!) since it inspires them reevaluate their own lives.
All that being said I do feel that sacrificing Chloe relies too heavily on a noble lie. The reason the game posits Chloe’s death is acceptable is because the world is providentially ordered and at the best possible outcome for everyone has already been baked into reality. Max’s unexpected powers throw a wrench into the metaphysical works and she is forced to discover this truth on her own. When you sacrifice Chloe everyone else gets the best possible outcome (aside from Max) and all the hard work that Max did is discovered to be unnecessary. But the problem is this isn’t the way reality actually is. If simply maximizing outcomes was the standard then it’s plausible we could change the ending into something terrible but instructive. Max could sacrifice Chloe and then wake up in the darkroom only to discover too late that this alternate timeline still ended in her death as well as the deaths of Chloe, Victoria, Kate and Rachel, and the justice for these crimes lost. But hey at least the tornado didn’t happen and Arcadia Bay is still safe, right? I think everyone playing the game would absolutely reject that outcome and would sacrifice the town instead of Chloe. Terrible experience however shows us in the real world providentially ordained justice doesn’t seem to happen and the murder of innocents often goes unpunished and their loss not leading to a reckoning for their society.
Of course it’s true that anyone choosing to save Chloe will try to rationalize or justify doing this, and I am no exception. I also rejected games apparent condemnation of Max’s supposed selfishness since I genuinely felt she was trying to do the best thing possible in almost every circumstance. I sort of imagine the save Chloe ending as a kind of Romeo and Juliet revisionism where they’re standing on the shores of the Adriatic watching Venice burn. Frankly I’m unwilling to let all of Max’s hard work be wasted and Chloe’s unfulfilled life end right when she’s discovered the person who can fulfill it, and I put my faith in that rare but real possibility of that the rare high school couple mature and selfless enough that they can have a relationship which stands the test of time. I also object to the unintentional message it seems to give girls that doing nothing is the best thing; I’d rather teach girls to burn Arcadia Bay down to defend the ones they love then cry in a corner while the one they love dies.