Times for Change

The idea of time travel always makes for curious conversations with my wife and often tests my verbal agility: “Yes, honey, I still would have asked you out ten years ago even knowing how…um, voluptuous you will inevitably become.”

Apart from this soulmate constant, there have been numerous decisions and events in my past, big and small, that I wouldn’t mind modifying if ever given the chance — anything from changing my university major to avoiding embarrassment on a particular day. Most of the stuff that comes to mind relate to my own disappointments and insecurities.

In the episodic adventure of Life Is Strange, young Maxine Caulfield is eager to use her ability of time manipulation to help those in need. As a photography student, she observes the world through an optimistic eye and captures moments that exemplify the beauty of life. But unfortunately, she also witnesses a lot of darkness and destruction at play in the community. Being a heroine at heart, she seeks to rise above high school drama and the politics of the town to stop evil and mend relationships, as well as save the lives of everyone residing in the area of Arcadia Bay.

Photography 101 — selfie with your bestie.

One display of Max’s power comes in the form of the short rewind, where she is able to turn back the clock for about a five-minute length. It may not sound like much, but with shrewd application, such capability provides many tactical advantages.

For instance, Max can repeat conversations and use knowledge gained in previous attempts to impress or persuade listeners into certain actions. This brand of silver tongue is also valuable for intel gathering, as she figures out ways to probe deeper into a topic. This is an intuitive game mechanic that allowed me to visualise the nature of time travel: Max’s surroundings skip back to earlier configurations while her mind stays unaffected.

Max’s bodily state is also exempt from shifts of the fourth dimension. This includes her physical locality, meaning that if she were to get inside a locked area, there is the option of smashing a window and entering, then rewinding to restore said window; in other words, breaking in without really breaking anything. Later, she could exit via the door in peace, leaving no evidence of her visit.

The dumb way in.

These abilities may seem ripe for a criminal, but rest assured that Max is always motivated by a noble cause. Her methodology is crafty at times, but her heart remains one of service.

Even so, time travel cannot fix everything. Throughout Max’s journey, each step forward is marred by new mistakes that force her to rewind again and again. If the game demonstrates one truth, it is that a potent gift is still inadequate without proper wisdom to guide its usage. To produce definitive, universal improvements to her local community, Max needs to be both omnipotent and omniscient in that context. She needs to become like God.

Instead, as a mere mortal, Max continues to make a mess of situations. Events escalate when she begins using photographs to perform dramatic leaps in time. The further she goes to and fro, the more damage she inflicts via manipulation of an increasing count of unknowns. She digs up old wounds and tears new ones, accumulating burden and trauma upon herself with every attempt at changing the course of history, to the point of being overwhelmed by guilt and helplessness.

It isn’t wrong for Max to try, yet for each and every one of us, in our efforts of bringing about positive influence to the world, we must come to the realisation that humans are creatures of limit. The pursuit of absolute heroics, however noble, will eventually fall short regardless of the powers that we have at our fingertips. Forcing the issue beyond our finite understanding will only serve to make matters worse, doesn’t matter how capable we think we are.

Unintended consequences.

On the other hand, let us not despair over the mistakes that we have made in our past. Take the account of Joseph in the Book of Genesis, for example. As a boy, Joseph was his father’s favourite out of twelve sons. This generated jealousy among his brothers, who sold the boy into slavery, displacing him from Canaan to Egypt. Joseph struggled through various hardships in the foreign country, but God provided opportunities for him to gradually earn the trust of Egyptian leaders, all the way up to the Pharaoh himself. He gained prominence and became the key to identifying and combating a harsh seven-year drought that affected numerous nations across the land. Under Joseph’s insight, Egypt was prepared for the impending crisis, and even stored enough resources to aid its neighbours, including the people of Canaan. In an emotional reunion, Joseph said to his brothers who once betrayed him: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”1

When we find comfort in knowing that there is a higher strategist with the foresight to turn our flawed efforts into blessings, the idea and desire of reverting back to the past is no longer relevant. Rather, God is far more interested in turning our hearts back to him — from regret to repentance; from repentance to restoration; and from restoration to transformation. Just as the psalmist prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me,”2 we recognise that patterns of futile iterations may be broken by a clean slate and a revived commitment.

Toward the end of Max’s tale, I lost count of the number of times she tries altering external circumstances without achieving a solid outcome. She does, however, begin to accept the fact that there were too many details in life that prove beyond her control, and that the most important changes have to occur from within. For only then would she be ready to leave the past behind her and look to the future with an enduring hope.

Back on track.

  1. Genesis 50:20 (NIV).
  2. Psalm 51:10 (NIV).