SPOILER WARNING – This theory exposes important details about the 2015 episodic graphic adventure video game, Life is Strange. If you do not want this game spoiled for you, stop reading now!
DISCLAIMER – All thoughts and opinions are my own, I don’t own any rights to the story described in this post.
Life is Strange is a video game that tends to stick with you, even long after you’ve finished playing it – it’s been a couple of months since I’ve finished the final episode (and all the achievements) and I still find myself thinking about it on a fairly regular basis. It’s a beautiful game – from its story to its visuals, the whole thing just works.
I could make a million different posts about the story, the characters, the setting…But today I’ve chosen to discuss a very popular question among the LiS community: “what do all of the animals in Arcadia Bay mean, who do they symbolize and why?” – this has been asked over and over again, and yet I haven’t seen a thorough analysis that I can really agree with.
Thus, for the sake of convenience, I’m going to assume that if you are currently reading this post then you know the story well enough to remember it and a synopsis of the plot is unnecessary – that means we can jump right into the analysis.
A brief note: Life is Strange has plenty of Native American symbolism sprinkled throughout the course of the game (the most obvious example being Tobanga). Knowing this, I’ve analyzed it with that in mind – as I’m sure the symbolism is there for a reason and not just randomly placed.
- Blue butterfly – The blue butterfly is, of course, the first thing that comes to mind when we are discussing the wildlife of Arcadia Bay – it is the symbol of the game itself and we see it more than once during the gameplay (most notably when Max gains her powers). Many fans have considered it to symbolize Chloe, but I disagree with this theory – to me, the butterfly is simply a reference to the butterfly effect, a concept that is a part of Chaos Theory (a theory so relevant to this game’s story that Episode 3 was named after it) and Max’s time rewinding power. In Native American culture, butterflies are seen as a symbol of change and balance, but also vanity and frivolous behavior – this seems to match the message of the game perfectly since we see the butterfly during two pivotal moments that, in my opinion, are perfectly balanced and meant to be (in the bathroom, when Chloe is shot by Nathan and at the end, if Arcadia Bay is saved, at Chloe’s funeral) but that could have been altered, depending on Max’s behavior (one could argue that Max, in the beginning of the game, shows a certain degree of vanity – especially when she overestimates her own power and feels “invincible”). In addition to this, the presence of butterflies (and moths!) is representative of a healthy and balanced ecosystem and it is in those two moments aforementioned, where the butterfly is seen, that the timeline of Life is Strange is truly stable. Finally, as a fun fact, the butterfly is very similar to the real life Giant Blue Morpho, or Morpho Didius.
- Blue jay – This is where I tend to disagree with most people; as I see it, the blue jay is a representation of Chloe’s spirit, not Rachel’s. In the game, the player is presented with several opportunities to save the blue jay – much like what happens with Chloe. There seems to be a strong correlation between the two in that aspect. Additionally, blue jays are typically associated with determination (often to an arrogant degree) loyalty, fearlessness, resourcefulness and vibrancy – all of these are a perfect match for Chloe’s strong personality and traits that she showcases throughout the entire game. In Native American lore there is even a figure named Bluejay, who is considered to be a trickster hero of the Chinook, Chehalis, and other Northwest Coast tribes (the game is even set in this region) – he is typically a benevolent being who is helpful to humankind, but also quite foolish and careless. Remind you of our favorite blue-haired character? Chloe, despite well-meaning, tends to be rash and aloof – much like Bluejay, the trickster god. While is is true that Rachel does wear a blue jay feather as an earring, I think that this is meant to associate her with Chloe and symbolizes how close they were before her disappearance.
- Doe – Throughout the majority of the game we see Max sporting various doe related outfits, establishing an immediate connection between her and the animal. The “actual” doe first appears in the beginning of the game – guiding Max up to the lighthouse where she can see the oncoming storm – and then twice at the junkyard, once on top of Rachel’s grave and then finally watching from a distance as Chloe and Max discover said grave. Its final appearance is during the infamous Nightmare Sequence in Episode 5, where it guides Max to the school’s bathroom – the place where it all began. This feels very similar to what is known as a “messenger guide” in Native American lore, a spirit that “quickly comes into your life and then leaves once a message is understood” – the doe seems to guide Max and help her in her journey, but never dwells (not to mention it usually seems to be transparent and spirit-like in its appearance). In addition to this, Samuel – a character often considered to be very spiritual and connected with Nature – even tells Max that he believes that what Max saw at the junkyard was her spirit animal. In addition to this, deer are often associated with gentleness, innocence, intuitiveness, strength and regeneration – this seems to be in tune with Max’s personality, a young girl who is seen as being very innocent and gentle that grows to be strong and intuitive and who changes during the course of the game, finishing it as a stronger, regenerated version of herself. This theory even seems to be subtly supported by DONTNOD Entertainment based off of one of their promotional images.
- Bunny – Due to its presence in the game as Kate Marsh‘s pet, it is safe to say that the bunny (Alice) is meant to symbolize its owner. In Native American culture, the rabbit is considered to be a Fear Caller – this is because it projects “its fear of those wishing to eat it, and thereby attracting the predators it fears.”. This can be associated with Kate’s gentleness and naïveté but especially with her fragility and fear after her video became viral – Kate sunk into a deep depression and feared her family and her community’s reaction to her behavior on camera. It can also be said that Kate attracted her “predators” in a way – it is rumored that Kate was known for criticizing the actions of her classmates for not being aligned with her Christian beliefs. Additionally, in China, “people born under Rabbit sign are believed to be artistic and sensitive” – something that also reflects Kate very well; she has several drawings in her bedroom and seems to enjoy music quite a lot, even playing the violin herself. She is also always soft spoken and ready to forgive others. Rabbits are, of course, also deeply associated with Christianity and we already know that Kate Marsh is a devout Christian.
- Squirrel – Widely accepted as being Samuel‘s spirit animal, the squirrel is considered a “messenger who may bring warnings of danger” in some Native American Northwest Coast tribes – this, of course, resonates immensely with Sam’s character; his behavior leads most to believe that he knows more than what he reveals and he even tells Max that “he believes that the spate of dead animals is more than an eco-disaster, and that someone is causing it to happen”, going as far as saying that Max and Arcadia Bay are “connected by time and tide”. This has lead many fans to believe that Samuel is a representation of God himself (based on his behavior and the meaning of the name Samuel). Additionally, Sam himself claims that his spirit animal is the squirrel and he is indeed often seen in proximity with the squirrels in-game. Samuel also displays squirrel-like tendencies such as hoarding items to keep them safe and displaying a very odd and nervous squirrelly behavior when he speaks (most likely due to a mental illness). As a slight side not and though not exactly solid evidence, I found this quote to be very pertinent: “to see a squirrel in your dream can indicate that you are involved in a loveless, pointless relationship (…). It could also mean that you (…) are holding on to too much and need to learn to let go.” – this could be why Max sees giant squirrels during her nightmare; perhaps her subconscious is telling her that her relationship with Chloe will only bring misfortune and that she needs to learn how to let go of her.
- Whales – Perhaps the most obvious example of Arcadia Bay’s wildlife, whales are seen in most cultures as sign of good luck. In Native American culture, the whale is closely associated with wisdom and awareness of the spiritual realm. Thus, when beached whales appear in Arcadia Bay this can be seen as bad omen for an entire and a spiritual unbalance – in other words, one of the consequences of the butterfly effect and Max’s interference with Chloe’s destiny – foreshadowing the disaster that is coming to the town. The Two Whales Diner, the restaurant where Chloe’s mother Joyce works as a waitress, is a direct reference to the presence of these animals and their importance in the community.
- Owl – Only seen in the Prescott’s barn, the owl is undoubtedly one of the most interesting animals present in the game. As a spirit animal, the owl “guides you to see beyond the veil of deception and illusion; it helps see what’s kept hidden. It also symbolizes the ability to cut through illusions and see the real meaning of someone’s action or state of mind.” – this is incredibly telling of the situation Max is in when she sees the animal. This is the moment in the game where all is revealed; Max finally discovers the truth hidden in the Dark Room and Mr. Jefferson‘s true intentions. In addition, owls are usually seen as a symbol of death, both literally and figuratively – this could either be associated with Rachel’s overdose in the Dark Room and/or the changes that are to come because of Max’s powers. It also is often believed to represent the spirit of a deceased friend of family member (Rachel, perhaps?) or viewed as the spirit animal that carries the souls of the departed to the underworld. Finally, the owl is typically a symbol of wisdom often associated with teachers – need I say more? I don’t believe that the owl is Mr. Jefferson’s spirit animal per se, just an omen of what is to come.
If you’ve made it this far – congratulations and thank you for reading! Please let me know in the comments below or via Facebook (check the sidebar) if you enjoyed this post or have similar/different opinions. I could discuss this game for hours. Don’t hesitate to use the share buttons below either!