Life Is Strange is a fantastic franchise that tackles a myriad of issues with a deft hand and a distinct style. It never ceases to amaze me how flawlessly these games move back and forth from massive conflicts like cataclysmic storms or superpowers that bend time and space, to the small micro conflicts that can feel like they make up our whole world, like small-town drama, or even the complex relationships that unfold under the roof of a suburban family. Father figures play a pivotal role in this series, shaping entire characters, framing the way they see the world around them and shaping who they ultimately become.
We’ve seen perfectly happy families torn asunder by tragedy, struggling fathers whose relationships with their children have become less than healthy, to say the least, and some who try but just can’t seem to make it work. And in the most recent installment of the franchise, we saw a father who raised his sons with compassion, support, and a refreshing lack of machismo. As both an excellently written character, and an incredible bit of representation for Latinos, I’d like to take a deeper look at the beautiful relationship between a man and his sons, one with effects that would remain long after his untimely departure.
Picking apart every bit of clutter in Episode One of Life Is Strange 2 paints a pretty clear picture of the Diaz household. It’s one where everyone is expected to chip in, one devoid set roles in terms of keeping the house running. Esteban cooks for his children as best he can, even trying to learn more recipes, and set an example by eating well. At least when he isn’t fighting for a choco-crisp candy bar. While the lion’s share of the responsibilities falls on Sean, the eldest, Esteban tries to teach his sons to keep a tidy home.
He invests in his children’s passions, engages with them and supports them. You can barely interact with a single item in their household that isn’t representative of this strong bond. Esteban has either participated in or supported the Diaz boys’ interests in some way or another. Interacting with the movies on their shelves shows a father trying to share his love of admittedly nerdy sci-fi cinema with his sons, even the family playbox console is a tool used to spend quality time with them. Time in the garage is spent trying to get Daniel interested in cars, and even when that doesn’t always work Esteban tells Sean that he only wants his son to find passion, no matter the field.
Not only does the clever design of the space help paint a picture of the family bond, but it informs the player about Esteban as a character. Having emigrated from Mexico, he worked his way up to an owners stake in a local mechanic shop, even displaying his certification for his young boys to see. He actively helps Daniel with his studies and tries to provide structure within the household, as difficult as that can be for a single working parent, a fact that Life is Strange 2 doesn’t try to hide. Schedules and charts given way to doodles and everyday horseplay show just how hard it can be to impose structure in such a busy household, but Esteban does try.
And even with all the items throughout the house, one need only play through the main game to see that this is a loving home. When we meet Esteban, he is embroiled in a debate over who deserves the last choco-crisp bar, the youngest of the house Diaz or the poor tired, working father. It’s a debate the player can end one of many ways, but its what takes place during this interaction that sparked my interest in the first place. Sean curses in front of his father, something most young Latino men would never dare to do in real life (I can almost hear the chancleta flying now). However, instead of a stern retort, he corrects his oldest with kindness rather than the harsh, totalitarian approach our culture can be known for.
Later on in the garage, when Daniel becomes the topic of conversation, as he often interferes with Sean’s budding love life, his father doubles down on this lesson. He reminds him that his brother is but a child, and deserves kindness and a measure of understanding and that in a somewhat scary political climate, family is all that you have. These are themes that any player knows run deep throughout the rest of the game.
Another interaction in the garage caught me by surprise. The opening gameplay sequence of Episode 1 has you gathering supplies for a night out with friends at a party where there will undoubtedly be underage drinking and drug use. One of those items is money from good old dad, who blatantly confronts Sean about his request. He asks if the money in question will be used to purchase drugs or alcohol, to which the player has the choice of lying or coming clean. Having been the oldest son of a strict Latino father, I knew the best option was to lie, but I thought I would indulge the truth for the sake of keeping things interesting. When Sean admits that there will be drug use and underage drinking, Esteban’s response is one of concern, rather than outright condemnation. He places his sons’ safety above all other concerns, warning him to not get into a car with a drunk driver.
This moment is crucial as it reveals that Esteban isn’t there to judge his children, he understands who they are, and what they will do whether or not he stops them. He can only protect them as best he can. Honesty, openness, and understanding are more important in the Diaz family than authority, an important point for something later in the story.
The games inciting incident is predictable for some incredibly heartbreaking reasons, but it results in the untimely passing of Esteban Diaz. And although episode one sees the character ripped from his family far too soon, this isn’t the last we see of him. Dream sequences in Life Is Strange 2 often act as a way for characters to see their loved ones, and work through pain, allowing them to find a measure of closure. In episode 3 Sean has one such dream. In it, he is driving the car Esteban had been building for him in anticipation of his upcoming birthday. He speaks to his late father about how much he misses him, their home, and more. And while the conversation is incredibly emotional, Esteban also asks about Sean’s daily life, and about a potential love interest. Players have the option to play Sean as hetero or homosexual. Those who have chosen to pursue Finn can reveal this to Esteban at this point. Sean’s father stumbles in his speech for a moment but never offers judgment, never shames his son, but instead doubles down on whatever makes Sean happiest, casting off old-world macho views once more. One can argue that this isn’t Esteban, this is, after all, a dream sequence. But I find it worthwhile to analyze even this construct, this shadow of Esteban because it shows us how his son views him.
This dream sequence is a window into the man that Sean sees when he looks at his father. He sees Esteban as someone who he can be honest and open with. It also shows that he has a pretty good understanding of his father, whose dream version is extremely close to the living one we encountered at episode one’s outset. His laidback and supportive demeanor are things that have stuck with Sean, even after Esteban’s passing.
A positive outlook on his relationship with his father is not the only thing that lives on, it’s also the bond of brotherhood between Daniel and Sean. I’ve made it a point to emphasize kindness, understanding, and patience being tenets of the Diaz household because these are ultimately integral to the relationship between the wolf brothers. While you do have the option to mess with Daniel, at times being the obnoxious older brother, the game tends to nudge your towards being a more nurturing guardian to your younger siblings, with in-game mechanics that allow you to do so, and even encourage it.
Sean immediately steps up to fill his father’s shoes, with his sole goal being the protection of his younger brother. The game always gives players the option to be patient with Daniel, even in incredibly tense moments. Whether it is through sweet pet names, lessons taught through gentility, or bedtime stories, the language of Los Hermanos Lobo is one of love.
All of this circling back to the man who instilled such values in his sons. Esteban Diaz is perhaps some of the best Latino representation in games we have seen in quite some time. Where games can sometimes use our culture as a backdrop, or as a vehicle for harmful stereotypes, Life is Strange 2 provides meaningful representation. It provides us with a character with depth, positivity, and even challenges some of our cultural norms. He may have been present in the game for a short time, but with that presence, he makes not only a lasting effect on his children but games as a whole.