I loved Life Is Strange and I’m looking forward to its three episode prequel, but the one character I’d like to see more of is unlikely to ever get a spin-off.
Before we proceed, be warned that I am going to spoil huge chunks of Life is Strange.
Publisher Square Enix clearly feels there’s more to say about Chloe, Life is Strange’s secondary character; especially about her relationship with her friend Rachel Amber. Rachel’s disappearance was a key point of this timey-wimey episodic adventure series and its resolution delivered a massive emotional punch. But the character whose background I’d soonest like to explore is, in fact, Chloe’s step-father, David Madsen. Okay, at this point you’ve probably spat out your root beer and are getting ready to post on social medias, but bear with me. Not only is David Madsen – unaffectionately referred to as “step-douche” by Chloe – not the complete scumbag he appears to be but he’s a superbly well-written character.
Yes, he’s a flawed man and, depending upon one of your choices in the game he, on one occasion, hits Chloe, which is hella, hella wrong. And it’s a testament to the strength of Life is Strange‘s writing that if you go with Chloe’s assertion that he’s a hateful, monstrous jackass, you’ll largely see him as such. Yet if you think twice, bearing in mind that Chloe is one hell of a handful herself, you start to see beyond the evil stepfather stereotype. Joyce, Chloe’s mother, defends David and if you treat him as an ally rather than an enemy, you discover that Chloe’s view is indeed a little skewed.
That’s not to say his behaviour is acceptable; hectoring Kate in Episode 1 is a bafflingly stupid thing to do, and he’s as subtle as a sledgehammer. A returning Iraq war veteran, David suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as evidenced by the medication you can find by his bed. His tour has left him with an overriding desire to protect people; as noted by one of the characters, he still has a soldier mentality. Yet he is, aside from Chloe, the only person who views Rachel Amber’s disappearance as suspicious and has been investigating in his own ham-handed, military manner.
And he does love his step-daughter, which is made all the more apparent in the game’s grim finale. After he wades in to rescue you, you have the option of informing him of Chloe’s death. He breaks down, sobbing with regret at how stupid and pig-headed he’s been, that he intended to apologise to Chloe this very day. Nor are these empty words, as is illustrated by the series’ most heart-breaking moment. There’s a point where you enter an alternate timeline and, viewing your texts, learn that Chloe and David finally reconciled, and that she understands he does love her as well as Joyce. It’s a beautiful moment, related entirely through texts, but it’s ripped away when you realise that you’ll have to unwrite history.
It would have been so easy for DONTNOD, developer of the original game, to make David Madsen a one-note, antagonist, villainous character. Instead they went beyond the call of duty to create a well-realised individual who was undeniably flawed but nevertheless sympathetic. And I’d love to learn more about his history. Why did he join the military? What did he go through during his tour or tours? What was his life before like and how did it shape the man he became? Did he have other family? However, given that he’s a tertiary character, that’s never going to happen. Instead, I’ll have to savour all those little conversations I had with David during the course of the game; where he softened and I was given glimpses into the mind of the man behind the moustache.
So while you’re shivering in anticipation of stepping into Chloe’s shoes, I’d like to propose a toast to David Madson. Antagonistic, emotionally closed-off and a tad paranoid, he nevertheless remains one of the most interesting and intriguing video characters of late. Walking into a relationship and attempting to be father to a teenage girl who had lost her own dad was never going to be easy, even if he did go about it the wrong way. And, if your in-game choices left Joyce without her daughter, there’s no-one I’d rather be there for her.