What ‘Until Dawn’ teaches about mental health, and why it is important.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR UNTIL DAWN (2014).

Until Dawn is a psychological horror game, with emphasis on the psychological part. This article will discuss what this game teaches its audience about mental health illnesses, and why this is important. Mental illness is shown primarily through the character of Josh Washington, the elder brother of twins Hannah and Beth Washington, who go missing at the beginning of the game. This game is broken up by therapy sessions, although it is not immediately apparent who the player is playing as during these sessions. Josh, also known as The Psycho, is the only character who is not able to be rescued at the end of the night; either dying or turning into a Wendigo.

The first appearance of Josh in Until Dawn was when he was unconscious, presumably from drinking too much alcohol. He is at the lodge with the others and is downstairs in the kitchen when the player first gets to move around as Beth. The second appearance is when the player starts noticing that something isn’t right.  In a cutscene, you see Josh in a video on Sam’s phone. It’s like a welcome back video, as the group is returning to the lodge one year after Hannah and Beth go missing. Josh is very clearly excited about this, but it is easy to get a gut feeling that something isn’t right with Josh, right from the beginning. He’s trying too hard. It’s almost like he is working too hard to be happy. Out of everyone in the group, Josh would have had it the hardest during the past year. He was the older brother of Hannah and Beth. He was likely held responsible for their disappearances by their parents because he was meant to be looking after his sisters while they were at the lodge. More importantly, Josh likely held himself responsible. If he hadn’t drunk so much alcohol that he passed out, he might have been able to prevent them from running off. He might have been able to comfort Hannah instead of her running off, which would have also prevented Beth running off. He might have been able to catch up to Hannah before Beth did, and therefore talk sense into her. Josh probably felt a lot of guilt regarding the situation, which is why this video is so off-putting. He seems overly happy, overly excited. There is something off, but it is challenging to work out what with the limited information available at the time.

Skipping forward a little bit, the big (immediate) issue that the group face during this horror night is The Psycho. He is the secondary antagonist that taunts the group, psychologically torturing each and every one of them. The group are led to believe that this guy is the one who killed Hannah and Beth a year ago, and now he was back to get the rest of them. His first kill is Josh, which makes the idea of this murderer being back for more even more likeable because the first person he goes after is Hannah and Beth’s older brother. Josh gets cut in half in front of Chris and Ashley. At this point, The Psycho is torturing Chris, making him pick between his best friend and love interest, and then just killing his best friend regardless. So, Josh is dead.

Until he isn’t, of course, because in a shocking turn of events, Josh is actually The Psycho. He means well, but his friends do not see it that way, probably because of the whole psychological torture process that Josh made them endure. Josh explains that he had a plan, that he was filming the entire thing and was going to upload it online to make the group famous. His friends were less than impressed at his plan, and at this point, the player realises that there is something psychologically wrong with Josh because he just tortured – and depending on how you play the game, caused the death of – the people who were meant to be his friends. It was all for some video that might not even go viral.

So, let us dig deeper into Josh’s head.

Remi Malek, who portrays Joshua through voice acting and motion capture, states that Josh’s original reason for inviting everyone back a year after the disappearance of Hannah and Beth is so that everyone could get a little bit of closure. His intentions were always good.

Looking at the psychiatric report that can be found by Sam, you can see that Josh has suffered from mental illness since he was a child. He had been on many different medications to treat the same thing- depression. Looking further down, it is shown that Josh was referred to Dr Hill as he was at risk of suicide after the disappearance of Hannah and Beth. He was put under observation and then treated with medications. Dr Hill believed that Josh needed a higher than the normal dose to see improvement. But there is a much bigger issue here that this game touches on quite well, and that is how medical professionals treat mental illness.  

This is not to say that medical professionals fail because of something on their behalf. The issue with mental illness is that no one knows how to treat it efficiently. People, especially children, in treatment (such as therapy) know that their treatment is not working, but feel they cannot speak out for two reasons. The first reason is that it is meant to work. Treatments such as CBT and antidepressants are intended to work and expected to work. When these treatments do not work, the patient is often left feeling like they are too sick for treatment. The second reason patients with mental illness do not feel able to speak out is because they are unable to offer an alternative. As a whole, people who are mentally ill do not know what kind of treatment or support that they need, similarly to people who are physically sick. They rely on professionals. With physical illness, the goal is typically to fix the symptoms. Some doctors treat mental illness this way as well, especially due to mental illness being linked to physical symptoms. However, this is also the route that antidepressants take. They balance out the chemicals in the brain, but at the end of the treatment, the patient still has depression.

Let’s take a further look at Josh’s medical records. Joshua had been seeking treatment since 2006, when he would have been 10 or 11. He was a child. He was also put on antidepressants around this time. Antidepressants are typically not used in children or teenagers (below the age of 18) due to the risk of suicide or self-harm that may be caused by the medication for this group age. However, exceptions are made after the patient has already tried therapies (such as CBT) and have been unresponsive. The question that needs to be asked is: was Josh under some kind of therapy before he was put on antidepressants when he was a child? The short answer is, we do not know. However, it is unlikely. He was referred to Jeremy Harris on 11th June 2006. He was then put on antidepressants on the 18th June 2006, just a week later. It is improbable that in this time, they tried some kind of therapy and decided that Josh was unresponsive to the treatment. According to ABC News, one in ten Americans over the age of twelve are taking antidepressants. Yet, less than one-third of these patients are seeing a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or therapist.

The problem with taking antidepressants without some kind of therapy is that it does not solve the problem, it just hinders the symptoms to make depression easier to cope with. Let’s put this in a physical condition situation. Let’s imagine you have a headache. You take a pain killer (paracetamol, for example), and the pain goes away for a little bit. This is a repeated occurrence. You go to the doctor because you’ve had this headache almost non-stop for a few months by this point. It’s easy to tell that there is something else wrong. Something is causing those headaches. Paracetamol is not enough to fix the cause of the issue. Similarly, antidepressants are not enough to fix depression. It merely suppresses the symptoms of depression. This can be fine for people who are having depressive episodes, but depression itself is not that easy to solve. It is an illness. It is not just going to pass by.

Depression is often caused by (as well as other things, including genetics) environmental factors. This is why therapy is so vital to the recovery of those patients who have depression. While undergoing therapy, patients are able to establish a different way of thinking about negative situations in their lives, as well as being able to express how they are feeling about these situations (that being said, there are many types of therapies that work in different ways). It helps to heal the problem rather than suppressing the symptoms like antidepressants.

Next, let’s talk about why some people would want to go on antidepressants and the symptoms of depression itself. This will help us better understand Josh’s situation. Depression is not just being sad all of the time. More than that, it is feeling numb. It’s not feeling anything, despite knowing that you are meant to. It is looking at your parents and saying “I love you” because that is what you are expected to do, not because you feel that way. There sometimes comes a point when you have depression that days blur into each other, you sleep through most things, you are constantly sick, and you isolate yourself. The physical symptoms of depression include insomnia, headaches, and stomach aches. These things, although happen to everyone, can be debilitating. For example, having a headache for every day for a month will eventually lead to symptoms such as nausea. Insomnia, or struggling to sleep in general, can worsen the mood of someone, making them more irritable. However, it can also shorten someone’s concentration, making them less likely to be able to do their daily tasks up to their usual standard. Experiencing just one of these symptoms every day for a long time can be worrying, but also frustrating as it does get in the way of everyday life. If the doctors put Josh on antidepressants a mere week after first being seen regarding mental illness, it would be wise to assume that Josh had more than one symptom, and was experiencing them quite severely. As for therapy, Josh may have experienced therapy alongside taking his medication.

However, the most likely answer is that he was put on a waitlist for some kind of therapy and while waiting, the medical professionals thought that it would be best to attempt to reduce Josh’s symptoms to help him handle day to day life a little better. Unfortunately, a child suffering from depression is not uncommon; rather, the opposite. Medical professions should act forcefully when treating a child with depression due to the high risk of suicide. Children are often more pressed with the ideologies of social groups, school work, and growing up in general. As adults, it is easy to forget how hard all these things were at the time because they seem easy to deal with in adulthood. However, for a child dealing with depression, dealing with social pressures is extremely difficult. Adults often dismiss the feelings of children who are struggling, as they feel like they had gone through the same thing and what they are going through is small in comparison to real-world problems. They often forget that children do not have to deal with real-world issues, and therefore they have nothing to compare this negative situation to. It may feel like the end of the world to them, and depression can cause these thoughts to turn suicidal. This is why it is so important for doctors to put children in therapy. However, this creates an issue in terms of waiting lists. There are not enough therapists around to have sessions with all the children that need it. In America and other places without free healthcare, there is also the worry of cost. Parents are sometimes hesitant to send their children to therapy as it costs significantly more than medication, and they often do not understand that their child needs therapy. The most likely case for Joshua, as stated above, is that he was put on a waitlist during this time, and his antidepressant medication is merely to help with the symptoms.

So far, the main topic of this post has been focused on Joshua’s psychiatric report. Next, the discussion is momentarily directed to the therapy sessions that break up the game a little. The player plays through these sessions as Josh, as he talks to Dr Hill about the game that he intends to play on his friends. Dr Hill questions the root of Josh’s anxieties, asks which friend he likes least and most; overall, it seems pretty basic. It is evident that this is the way that the game finds out what you are scared of, and which characters you like least or most. It is a horror game. It is meant to make the player uncomfortable. However, the main thing that needs to be addressed here is that the therapy sessions are not advanced enough to be helpful, due to the short amount of time that they take up. This reflects how many people find therapy unhelpful for (typically) one or two reasons. One being the lack of time spent there, and the other being that what the therapist directs the conversation to is irrelevant to the problems at hand. Both of these issues will be addressed.

All the scenes with Dr Hill take roughly 20 minutes, perhaps a bit longer or shorter depending on how quickly you answer the questions. There are 10 Chapters in Until Dawn. Each chapter takes roughly an hour, depending on how you play the game. Twenty minutes for ten chapters mean 2 minutes for each chapter (approximately). This is 2 minutes with a character that is meant to be helping you through the game. This is a refreshingly realistic aspect of the game, although exaggerated. The majority of patients seeing a therapist see them either once a week, or once every two weeks. This changes depending on different things, such as the patient’s financial situation, the patient’s and therapist’s availability, and if the therapist thinks the patient needs more or less time.

Taking the best-case scenario of the majority, the once a week arrangement, that means that the patient would be seeing their therapist for one or two hours out of 168 hours. That means that a lot is going on in the patient’s life that will probably not get discussed due to more pressing issues. Despite Josh’s therapy sessions in Until Dawn being hallucinations, it is still a good insight as to how therapy works. In the prologue, Dr Hill asks you how you feel about a scarecrow image. He asks if it makes you uncomfortable, would you want to stay in the place, even if it was haunted, those types of questions. They seem irrelevant, but they’re not. This allows the therapist to understand how the patient thinks more.

The second session, at the end of the first chapter, is a lot more direct. The game gives the player a choice of two things, and the player is asked which scares them the most out of the two. According to Dr Hill, it is to understand the root of anxieties. However, remembering that the patient in question here is Joshua, it becomes clearer what is going on. Josh does not have anxiety. He has depression. Therefore, these questions are meaningless and a waste of time to him. This is not helping him get better as he does not need help with his anxiety. He has 1-2 hours to talk about what is making him depressed (likely the disappearance of his younger sisters at this point), but his therapist would rather ask him about what scares him. Not what makes him sad or angry or upset. Not why he is depressed. But what scares him. This is something that is entirely irrelevant to Josh’s situation. This aspect of the game teaches players that therapy sessions for those who need it are short and sometimes unhelpful.

Now, the main event. Josh’s hallucination in Chapter 10. This particular part of the game is terrifying yet refreshingly realistic. This hallucination helps the player understand a little bit more about why Josh did what he did. It becomes very evident that Joshua is not well. Hallucinations can happen to anyone, on any scale. However, it is highly suggested that Joshua suffers from a mental illness called schizophrenia. This is not his imagination; it is not him being tired; it is a mental illness that affects a lot of people. As someone who has psychosis, I saw this scene and felt reassured that the Until Dawn team did their research. I hallucinate daily, and it does get that bad, and it is that scary, even if you deal with it every day.

Joshua is terrified in this scene, and it is heartbreaking to watch.  Joshua needs help. One thing that is often pointed out on the internet is that depression was not Josh’s biggest problem, but schizophrenia was; that he should have been on medication for schizophrenia instead of depression. However, antipsychotics have a lot of side effects, and they are often more severe than antidepressants. There is also the issue of since Josh has been on antidepressants for so long, there may be side effects to him coming off them and starting a new medication. Of course, he could have taken both antipsychotic and antidepressant; however, mixing these two drugs may not always be beneficial. The point also needs to be made that Josh had been on several different antidepressants. They all have different side effects, and it is important for antidepressants to get into your system to have a stable effect. If there is a lack of stability in terms of antidepressants, there is a risk of there being a negative reaction if the antipsychotics are also taken. It is also important to remember that schizophrenia can develop slowly, and often in the teenage years. Josh was already being seen by a mental health professional at this time, and we know this because of his psychiatric report. It is sometimes complicated for medical professionals to pick up on new symptoms that a current patient is developing, even more so due to it developing during the teenage years. Josh is 20 during the game. Some people still count this as being a teenager; however, with the recent events of the disappearance of Hannah and Beth, it would be understandable if the doctors wanted to focus on his depression, rather than looking into new symptoms.

In conclusion, Until Dawn teaches the player a lot about mental illness and how it affects the person who is struggling with it. The scene in which Joshua has a hallucination, you can see how scared he is. It is not clear as to if Joshua has experienced this before, but regardless, it shows that even people who (potentially) have this happen every day can still be scared. Joshua’s changes in medication show that nothing is set in stone. In regards to how quickly Joshua was put on medication, it shows that therapy is not always an option at first and that sometimes it is better to treat the symptoms of mental illness rather than not treating it at all. It was likely difficult to diagnose Joshua with schizophrenia due to both the age he was when he started getting medical treatment. Because of the age, his symptoms likely first started- his teenage years. After the disappearance of Hannah and Beth, it would be understandable for the doctors to focus on Joshua’s depression. Above everything else, Until Dawn teaches the player that mental illness is a scary thing to go through and that treatment is not as simple as just going to therapy or just taking medication; it teaches the player that people with mental illness need help, because they are not okay, which seems obvious but due to stigma surrounding mental illness, it is not.

And why is this so important? Because this game is scarily realistic in terms of Joshua’s mental health. This stuff happens to real people on a daily basis. Mistreatment and misunderstanding lead to patient’s mental illnesses becoming worse; however, that is somehow unavoidable. We know Josh is getting treatment, yet his mental health is still extremely hindered due to misunderstanding and mistreatment.

'This War of Mine' (2016)- Game Review

Sound:

The sound in This War of Mine reflects the point of the game. It is gloomy, slow and reflects the ominous atmosphere. It doesn’t have cheery, upbeat music that people associate games with because the game is not cheery at all. This War of Mine is a game that resembles war in the way that war should be mirrored (accurately) and the sound in this game reflects that.

In terms of action sound effects, this game does a great job. When the character speeds up, the sound effects adjust accordingly in terms of both speed and volume. Attention is drawn to this as there is no voice acting, and the music is repetitive, so any changes to the sound are noticeable.

There are some points in this game where sound effects would be beneficial; something that was profoundly missed, however, was voice over. There was an issue with graphics that will be discussed later, but voice-over could have very easily made this problem not an issue.

Rate: 6/10

Graphics:

This game resembles the mobile game Fallout Shelter in the way that it looks. It has a side view of houses, similar to the side view of the Fallout Shelter vaults. There was plenty on the screen, and due to the side view, most of the time, you knew where you were going and what needed to be done.

As for the characters themselves, they looked good. Their movements were smooth, and you could sometimes tell when they were tired because they would slouch and move slower. The characters all look distinct enough so that you could easily tell them apart during a first playthrough. The characters glitch a little bit when they interact with each other; this is not often, so it is not something that happens all the time, and even then, it is optional.

The biggest issue I had with the graphics in This War of Mine was the writing on the character profiles. Regardless of how big the screen you play on, the writing is too small to be legible. This makes the game itself more challenging to play, and this issue – as previously mentioned – could have very easily been solved with voice over. This is not an issue if you sit very close to the screen, but it is still a difficulty that could have been easily solved, even with just changing the font.

Rate: 4/10

Gameplay:

This game is set to take part in the middle of a war, so the main point of the entire game is survival. This game does not make that easy at all.

The game isn’t challenging in terms of surviving. It is more frustrating that you are unable to get the items to protect yourself by scavenging in the safer places, in order to build weapons to go to the more dangerous areas. Things such as food and bandages are tough to come across in safe places, and you are fortunate to get enough items to make something as necessary as a lockpick to look around the house you are staying in, never mind somewhere that you need to go scavenging through.

This game is hard. You have to make difficult choices, sometimes that leave people dead. But overall, especially in the day, there is not a lot to do gameplay-wise. Sometimes you get to make something (that doesn’t take up a lot of the day, and with three characters, there’s always something else you could be doing), sometimes you can cook something. The daytime is the part of the game that drags, which is disappointing because the risks taken during the night-time are to make the daytime better.

This War Of Mine feels like it had the chance to do something amazing, to teach people a lot about war beyond the military stance that shooters tend to take, and it just missed the mark in terms of gameplay. There feels like something is missing, like you should be able to do more. Perhaps when attempting to recreate the dreariness of wartime, 11 bit studios forgot that this is also a game.

As for the controls, they are sometimes a bit temperamental. For PlayStation 4, you have to use the right stick to move, just like usual. However, this game would have benefitted more by perhaps using the D-Pad to move due to the layout of the game.

Rate: 6/10

Replay Value:

This game is one of the games, similar to Until Dawn and Life Is Strange 2, that replaying the game would give you a different result each time that you play. Therefore, it does have replay value. However, this game starts off slow and therefore, may be frustrating to play more than once.  

Rate: 9/10

Story:

Slight spoilers, but every story is different.

This War of Mine is set during some kind of war. The characters you start with have journals that you can read (again, please remember the issue with the writing mentioned in the graphics session). Each day, you do things as the characters; each night, you go scavenging, or sleep, or guard the house.

The best part of this game is when the character is sent to go scavenging. You can meet vulnerable people, such as hungry, homeless people or elderly sick people, or dangerous people who will try to kill you. When the night is over, the characters sometimes update their journals so that the player has some kind of insight into the character’s thoughts and emotions.  

The characters are vital to this story. Their relationship is shown through the knowledge that each of them knows (as it shows that they talk about and share what happened during the night). When someone dies, the characters can become depressed.

A radio can be made to give the player more of an insight into the world that the game is set in. This can be anything from warning about dodgy meat being sold, to the weather. It may not be valuable information, but it is a good insight into the world in general as it shows what people believe is necessary enough to report on.

There are also ‘outside characters’ that are apart of the story. As the game goes on, they keep popping up, and it feels like ‘your actions will have consequences’ is vital at these points. For example, if you steal from someone, they may not survive.

Rate: 6/10

Opinion:

I did a total U-turn with this game, and I really hope that this is the only part of this review that you can tell that. I hated this game. I wanted so badly to like it but got easily frustrated. After writing this review, I felt like it deserved another shot. I did not want to be overly negative about a game, especially if it did not deserve it. And this game really did not deserve the negativity I gave it.

There is an issue with the graphics, but that is nothing new. This game is different from the ones I usually play. But I am so glad that I gave it another go because once I did, I enjoyed it significantly more.

This actually taught me a lot about myself as a gamer; I am too stubborn, and I should definitely give more games more of a chance. It makes me wonder how many games I have claimed to dislike but just have not given enough of a chance.

In conclusion, this game is interesting. It is hard to take seriously as a console game. The resemblance to Fallout Shelter is strong. It may have been better suited to a mobile game. That being said, it is fun after the first couple of days. I started having fun when I stopped taking it seriously, which is a little strange for a survival game set in wartime.

TLDR: This is a fun game with some issues, but overall good. Just do not take it too seriously, and you should have a good time.

Overall Rate: 6/10

What Life Is Strange Teaches us about child grooming.

IMPORTANT: Spoilers for all episodes of the original Life Is Strange game.
DISCLAIMER: These ‘kids’ are 17/18, so technically they are adults. However, I class it as child grooming as they are still students.

Life Is Strange is a hard-hitting episodic game that came out in 2015. It contains five episodes that focus on protagonist Max Caufield, who has the new-found ability of time travel. It sounds fun. It is fun.  However, it definitely has a dark side. The game features drugging, potential suicide, and more importantly, to this article, child grooming. Although Max was part of the child grooming, the focus on this article will primarily be based on two other characters: Nathan Prescott and Victoria Chase.

Victoria Chase is the Heather Chandler/ Regina George of Life Is Strange. She is 100% the stereotypical mean girl in every single way. She’s mean (obviously), rich, and an all-around awful person. Victoria is the kind of person that friendly people go out of their ways to ignore actively. Throughout the game, she definitely goes through some changes. She softens up by Episode 4, which is where the metaphorical bomb drops. You see, Victoria is also a major suck up to her photography teacher, Mark Jefferson. She even goes as far as to flirt with him, trying to get her entry to the competition to win the top prize (which it does). She is seen talking to him several times throughout the game, the first one being in the classroom at the end of the lesson in Episode 1, where she gets annoyed at Max for interrupting their conversation. It is relatively obvious to the player that Victoria admires her teacher. As Victoria is a typical ‘queen bee’, you can imagine that her respect is hard to earn.
Victoria’s parents own a gallery, and throughout the game, you learn that Victoria is trying to get her work to be displayed in art galleries (and is currently failing to do so). She has all the most expensive equipment and is even looking into buying a 3D printer, but she feels sub-par in comparison to Max, which is likely why she treats the protagonist so poorly. She is desperate to win the ‘everyday heroes’ contest in order to get some kind of recognition in the industry. She even flirts with Jefferson and threatens him to tell everyone that he offered to let her win ‘for a favour… or something’, indirectly saying that she would lie and get him fired, telling everyone that they pursued a sexual relationship.

Okay, let’s move on slightly and talk about the ‘dark room’. We will return to Victoria, all in good time. So, the ‘dark room’ is a place owned by the Prescott family. There will be much more on them later. Still, all you really need to know right now is that they are a very wealthy family who basically owns Arcadia Bay, and Nathan (who is very important to this whole situation) is, in fact, a Prescott. The ‘dark room’ is located in the Prescott bunker, and it’s decked out in everything to survive a Zombie apocalypse. The bunker itself is located underneath a very old, run-down barn that Max and Chloe (Max’s best friend) find after doing a lot of detective work. They didn’t initially know that the Prescott family owned it, but when they found a bunch of documents showing how much the Prescott family has done for Arcadia Bay, it was evident who this barn belonged to. Max looked around the barn while Chloe looked through a chest full of documentation. After a little bit of work, Max finds and opens the bunker, which is very clearly brand new.
This bunker can be different to get into, and the player will need to do a few time rewinds before getting there, but it is worth it. It is absolutely laced with evidence, all pointing directly at Nathan Prescott. Nathan was not the nicest person in the game, so the protagonists were already highly critical of him while stumbling across all of this stuff. The further they get into the bunker, the creepier it gets. Top of the range equipment? Yeah, that’s fine, I mean, he is a photography student. Throughout the game, you get the general vibe that Nathan Prescott is an entitled brat who hasn’t learnt right from wrong yet. The bunker is definitely shady from the get-go, and the more evidence you find that stacks up against Nathan, the more you begin to worry about the actions that he has taken, and exactly what he uses this room for.
Then you find the folders. They are these red folders with names of girls written on them. Two names immediately attract the player, and those names are ‘Kate Marsh’ and ‘Rachel Amber’. These names stick out as they are basically the main reason you were doing all of the super-secret detective work in the first place. Kate Marsh had either just committed suicide or, if you are lucky and managed to convince her not to jump, she had just attempted to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of the Blackwell dormitories; Rachel Amber is Chloe’s entire motivation for pretty much everything in this game. She had gone missing before the game begins, but you get the sense that there is definitely something more going on as the game constantly throws her missing posters in your face. In these folders, you find images of the girl that corresponds to the folder. The photography shows each girl in vulnerable positions, looking spaced out and in some cases, scared. It was very suspicious, but it only gets worse from this point on. There is one particular photograph of Rachel Amber, who was Chloe’s ‘angel’, in which she is posing with Nathan Prescott in a location that Chloe immediately recognises as the junkyard that she used to hang out with Rachel in (she also took Max there in an earlier episode). They quickly go to this particular spot, and it does not end well in any way possible.
Rachel Amber is buried in the junkyard. The smell is repulsive. Chloe is traumatised after digging up the body of her best friend/lover after believing that she was just missing for six months.
So, Chloe is understandably furious at this point, so the duo run off to find who they think is guilty of murdering Rachel- Nathan. Only he’s nowhere to be seen. Flashforward, they go back to check that Rachel’s body is still there and Max gets drugged, and Chloe gets shot. I know what you’re thinking- ‘dang that Nathan kid needs to calm down!’. Yeah, that’s pretty much what everyone was thinking at this point. And everyone was wrong. It is then revealed seconds later that the person who shot – and essentially just killed – Chloe was not Nathan Prescott, but in fact one Mr Mark Jefferson, the famous photography teacher.

The gamer is ultimately confused by this because everyone trusted Mark Jefferson. He was a teacher, a famous photographer. He was well known, well-liked. He was trusted. So what are you meant to think?

Informally, I would easily say that Mark Jefferson is the biggest pile of revolting trash in any video game ever (slight exaggeration because Kamoshida from Persona 5 exists, but Jefferson is definitely a close second). Formally, I would say that his character shows off some fantastic writing from the team, and I applaud them for making such an obviously shady character and disguising him in plain sight. At the end of this game, emotions were high, but one thing I could not deny is how well this part of the story was written. It is threaded secretly throughout the game, so going back to do a second playthrough leaves you slightly uncomfortable for the entire game at worst, but absolutely ranging at best. Plain and straightforward, Jefferson is a creep. Going back, it’s obvious, and the game is desperate to make you realise this.
After spending a bit of time in the dark room, Max has a nightmare where you are forced to go through the first class again. And that is pretty much when you realise how unobservant you were throughout the entire playthrough. The game literally throws it in your face. Jefferson says this within the first half an hour of the game:

“Seriously, though, I could frame any one of you in a dark corner,

and capture you in a moment of desperation.”

Every single inch of that screams that he’s a creep, right? But it goes completely unnoticed until later on in the game, until after you find a dead girl, your best friend has been shot by this guy, and you have been drugged and kidnapped. He said this in a class full of kids, most of whom looked up to him. Everyone seemed to admire him for this. He is one of the best photographers around, and everyone loves his work. This work is a result of drugging all of these poor girls. This work is the result of grooming, in more ways than what is immediately evident.

Going back to Victoria Chase, the winner of the ‘Everyday Heroes’ competition and if you’re not careful, the girl who ends up on the floor next to Max in the Dark Room. This was hinted at previously in the game because you find an empty folder with Victoria’s name on it. Still, since you assume that Nathan was behind all of this, you don’t think much about Victoria’s relationship with Jefferson. After all, Nathan and Victoria seem pretty close. They share emails, hang out together, and it is pretty apparent that they are friends. When you think of Victoria’s relationship with Jefferson, however, it goes a little bit deeper. Victoria is seen continuously flirting with Jefferson, and he seemingly pushes away her advances. However, it is also important to remember the one scene where Victoria and Jefferson can be seen together pretty late at night when no one else is in the school. This suggests that Jefferson went out of his way to help Victoria; to make her feel special. Anything could have happened during this time. They were alone. But from their dialogue and considering they had no idea that Max and Chloe were peaking around, it has to be assumed that they were genuinely working on Victoria’s photography work. Jefferson is an established, well-known photographer, after all. That would make sense. But what doesn’t make sense is why they would be staying behind so late. The player knows that no one else is in the school because they go into the school after Jefferson and Victoria. The only person they could potentially get caught by is the school’s security guard, David. So why were they staying behind so late? Although when they are outside of the school, Victoria does make a comment about spreading a rumour, the timing of this situation suggests something slightly different. Jefferson is grooming Victoria. He is slowly gaining her trust, bit by bit. Helping her with her portfolio after hours, announcing her as the winner of the everyday hero competition, going out of his way to help her. Kati Morton explains in 7 stages of grooming by a sexual predator that the predator – Jefferson – could slowly gain the trust of their victim by offering their help. Then they become essential as the predator fulfils a need by giving advice. Victoria is undeniably Jefferson’s next Dark Room victim, yet this argument still feels weak. Jefferson is a teacher. He is meant to help his students, after all. The most substantial bit of evidence here is that Jefferson and Victoria were together, alone, very late at night. But even then, they were still at school, and somewhere Victoria felt safe. It’s not like Jefferson asked her back to his place. They could have been caught by David, the security guard that was previously mentioned.

There is a strong argument of grooming somewhere else, however. And that somewhere else is Nathan Prescott.

Nathan is a very push and go character of the Life Is Strange franchise. Some love him, and some hate him, some do not have a strong opinion. At the beginning of the game, he shoots Chloe. He is aggressive and very clearly entitled. Nathan’s family rules Arcadia Bay. Above all his other traits, good or bad, he does come off as entitled. He is the Draco Malfoy “my father will hear about this” type of kid. It makes you feel annoyed, and it’s almost like you feel like he deserves terrible things, because he just goes running back to his father whenever anything goes wrong, or he reminds you that his family owns the town whenever you have a disagreement.  You can go through the entire game hating Nathan’s guts, but there’s one part that makes you feel sorry for the guy. In Episode 5, when Max is driving back through the storm, she gets a voice message from Nathan. It is him apologising for hurting everyone, stating that he never wanted to hurt the people he hurt and that Jefferson is coming after him. He also warns Max that Jefferson was going to target Max next. He voice acting in this scene is exceptional, to say the least. The pain in Nathan’s voice is evident. You can tell that this boy is broken; everything he has ever known is wrong. And this is because he was groomed.

The dark room is Prescott owned. It has everything that Mark Jefferson could have ever needed. Supplies to last months, expensive equipment, plenty of storage, and it was in a secure location that was not available to the general public but was easily accessible to him. So, the question that stuck in my mind after playing wasn’t “did I make the right decision regarding Chloe?”. It was “how the hell did Mark Jefferson manage to get on such good terms which a power-hungry family, and put their son in a position that he was able to be framed for Jefferson’s crimes, all while just being a seemingly normal, friendly teacher at Blackwell Academy?”.  

It’s a big question and not one to just throw away. In a game that so openly tackles issues such as suicide, cyberbullying and gun violence, how was this issue hidden for the majority of the game? And how is it so easily explained?

Apart from the obvious answer being good writing on behalf of the team, this is a serious and deep question because this is how grooming happens in real life. This is how awful, predatory people get away with grooming children and their families.

There is an interesting part in the dark room, when Max and Jefferson are talking. Max can accuse Jefferson of using Nathan, as he mentions that the whole set up of the dark room looks like Nathan did it “for homework”. Jefferson’s response to this is quite interesting, as he states that he prefers “the term ‘manipulated’. Like with an image… Nathan’s was easy to twist around”. This is evidence that Nathan had a direct impact on the dark room and that Jefferson got away with this because of the manipulation of Nathan.

Nathan Prescott is mentally ill, undoubtedly. You can easily find a lot of evidence that points to this, such as prescription medication, letters from a doctor etc. He is very clearly unstable, and that instability comes across from the way he acts. Right from the start, in the bathroom in Episode 1, he has to give himself a forced pep talk in the mirror because he knows that Chloe is going to try to walk all over him. Just like Jefferson did… only, Nathan doesn’t see it like that. Nathan believed that Jefferson genuinely cared about him, and the scariest thing about the whole situation is that Jefferson believed in that too. Maybe it started off as something innocent, Jefferson helping Nathan here and there because “he was genuinely talented” but then Nathan’s family got involved, and it suddenly became serious. Maybe as soon as Jefferson met Sean Prescott, he saw the potential for business and for the perfect image he wanted to create, and that is when his desires became distorted. Maybe, just maybe, Mark Jefferson did initially have good intentions.

But that didn’t last. During the same conversation, Jefferson admits to becoming a father figure for Nathan, who’s father (in his words) is “an asshole”, but he only told Nathan what he needed to hear, and because of that, Jefferson had access to the Prescott family’s wealth, which paid for the dark room and all the expensive equipment. In the same conversation, Jefferson refers to Nathan as a “dumbass”, showing the lack of respect that he has for his victim.

Another possible victim of Mark Jefferson that needs to be discussed is the one and only Max Caufield. Yes, the protagonist of this game is not immune to grooming just because she has super cool protagonist powers. Throughout the game, Jefferson has very clearly taken a liking to Max, even calling her back after class to remind her to submit a photo to the contest that he literally told everyone about in class. He is someone that Max admires profusely; it is almost like she wants to be just like him when her career takes off. He is successful in the field that she wants to go into, after all. This would make sense. Jefferson, as mentioned earlier, pointed out that become a father-like figure to his students was something that happened a lot. However, it was not like that with Max. She admired his work more than anything else; there is even a chance that you could tell the principle that he was at fault for Kate Marsh’s suicide. From the evidence available, it is assumed that Victoria has been fully groomed by Jefferson as she is his next dark room victim; Jefferson is slowly grooming Max, who will be his next victim after Victoria.

In conclusion, all of this is subject to interpretation. However, there is evidence to suggest that Mark Jefferson groomed Victoria Chase to become his next dark room victim (and possibly, by extension, each victim before that). There is a substantial amount of evidence that suggests that Mark Jefferson also groomed Nathan Prescott, and perhaps his family (although his family is not shown in this game). Jefferson goes as far as admitting that he manipulated Nathan for his own personal gain. However, as said many times throughout this post, in a game that deals so well with throwing issues such as suicide and violence in your face, this is kept scarily under wraps. There are very subtle hints to this throughout the entire game, and it becomes apparent when Max rewinds time after being in the dark room. The subject of grooming is never really thrown in your face while playing this game, which only makes it more realistic as grooming in real life is hardly noticeable from an outsider standpoint.

Post Explanation

So I thought I would take this time to get everyone familiar with some types of blog posts that you can expect to come along within the next couple of months. These differ (in some cases, drastically) and I do not want to have to put an explanation of a type of post at the top of each post.

Topical Posts: These will be (hopefully) at least 3000 words, and go into detail about something a game teaches you about. An example of this would be Until Dawn and mental illness.

Top 10 Lists: These, I feel, are pretty self explanatory. All opinions are my own; the order of which things are put are opinion based.

Dear Diary: This is the post series that I am probably most excited to do. This will start with Persona 5 Royal. I will be taking notes throughout my playthrough and then after an hour or so, writing diary entries from the perspective of the protagonist. This works well with games like Persona 5, as they have dates (and saving is literally just Joker writing in his diary). After time, this may move on to secondary characters (such as Ryuji and Makoto). This type of post shows my fictional writing skills, and allows me to reflect on my playthrough.

In The Eyes Of A Girlfriend: This is the one that will be much more personal. It doesn’t have to be ‘girlfriend’, it’s more a casual gamer watching a more intense, experience player play a game from the beginning and the whole experience of not completely understanding what is going on but still being interested.

Game Reviews: Again, I believe this is self explanatory. I play a game a little, review what it was like and give you my opinion at the end, with a rating at the end of each section and an overall rating at the end.

I hope this guide was useful for you. There may be more types of posts over time, but these are the ones that are planned as of right now.

-Eleanor