A little backstory: the original Life is Strange graphic adventure, released back in 2015, centered around the relationship between a young girl named Max – who’s able to reverse time and therefore change the outcome of events around her – and Chloe, a troubled girl desperately in need of a friend. As the story progressed, Max realized her decision to save Chloe affected the world around her, leading her to make careful decisions throughout – and even questioning them. A prequel series, Before the Storm, dived into Chloe’s backstory even further.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit continues the franchise as a free-to-play chapter that takes place three years after the events of the original series and is designed to bridge the gap between the first and upcoming second season. Events take place in Beaver Creek, Oregon, which is only a hop and a skip away from Arcadia Bay, the setting of Life is Strange. Chris Eriksen is a nine year-old boy with an entire Saturday afternoon ahead of him, and he’s more than ready to save the world as his alter ego Captain Spirit!
Like most boys his age, Chris has an active imagination, one he imposes upon the world to help him cope with the harsh realities of his actual life. He lives with his father, Charles Eriksen, a recent widower dealing with the loss of his job and the responsibility of being a single parent. Charles’s big plans for the day are watching the big game while drinking an unhealthy amount of alcohol to escape reality. I guess we can’t all pretend to be superheroes, can we?
So getting back to that Saturday afternoon… what’s a superhero to do? Well, for starters: finding buried treasure, defeating the Water Eater and facing off against his arch nemesis. Chris’s – pardon me, Captain Spirit’s – carefree attitude is wholesome and innocent in the face of the real life struggles he has to endure. Whether he’s conducting an on-the-spot interview to his adoring fans in the mirror or nuking Mac & Cheese in the microwave, mundane tasks become major events of the day. Doing chores is teaching the villains like Laundry Day to stay clean once and for all! The bandages he finds in his father’s gym bag become armor to cover up the bruises on his arm.
It’s never explicitly stated, but there’s a hint there’s more going on beneath the surface of his father’s alcoholism that results in violence. Chris comments on a dent in his father’s bedroom door that Charles made in a fit of anger and being scared of his father in that moment. Whether that dent was made under the influence of alcohol or not is left up to speculation, but it’s not a stretch of the imagination to imagine how the scenario played out.
The power of Chris’s imagination knows no bounds as he uses it to defeat his other enemies like the diabolical snowman known as the Snowmancer or the mysterious Mantroid. Throwing away a beer can is akin to it being crushed – with a little help from dad doing the majority of the crushing, of course. Not every aspect of Chris’s Saturday afternoon is carefree, however, as reality begins to intrude into his wild fantasies and poke holes through his adventures. The death of his mother created a void in Chris and Charles’ lives that they’re trying to fill by blocking out reality. Chris copes with her passing by being a superhero while his father chooses to revel in his past glories as a basketball player. There are moments of warmth and love between the two intermingled with flashes of mild violence and anger that can be difficult to watch.
The underlying context throughout The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is heartbreaking to discover and grounding in a sense that’s hard to convey into words. Chris’s form of escapism helps him deal with the situation he’s in, from the death of a parent to seeing another slowly being eaten alive by his own demons. There are moments of joy throughout the day, like listening to old records his mom left behind or coming across one of the funny comics she drew. It’s small moments like these that help to remind us that, yes, life is strange sometimes; but with a sprinkle of imagination and a positive attitude things might just turn out okay. I hope.