Edit (8/1/16): I have received some questions regarding contacting me. I offer online therapy to California residents through munn.breakthrough.com.
As a psychotherapist, I find all emotions and thoughts fascinating. I always seek to understand why we feel the way we do in any given situation. In my opinion and experience, no feeling is ever invalid or meaningless. Feelings are information. A strong emotional reaction to something tells you something about who you are and potentially what emotional baggage you're carrying.
Sometimes our emotions are triggered by fictional stories and characters. Maybe you had a hard day and a sad car insurance commercial causes you to break out in tears, or perhaps you just finished a long book that you've been reading over the last month and you suddenly feel like something's missing in your life. Regardless of what it is, it's entirely normal for our emotions to be triggered by fictional stories and events.
Enter Life is Strange, one of the most well-written, well-executed, choose-your-own-adventure style games I've ever played--filled with rich, complex, and lovable characters. I hadn't read anything about this game before playing it, so I went in with zero expectations and zero preparation. I thought it was going to be a lighthearted story with a happy ending. I was wrong.
Upon finishing the game, I felt a sadness that I never felt from any fictional story, let alone a video game. I've played other RPGs in the past with emotional endings, but nothing came close to this. By the end of the game, I felt like I had suffered a significant loss. I initially blamed it on my tiredness (I played late into the night,) but it turned out to be more than that.
Upon waking up the following day, I was amazed at how much of those emotions had stuck with me. I missed the characters and the environment. I was replaying the ending in my head and spent a lot of time listening to the soundtrack of the game throughout the day. I was embarrassed to tell anyone who hadn't played the game (i.e. everyone in my life) how I felt, because nobody who doesn't play video games can understand what a profound art form they are capable of being. So, off to the Internet I went.
Over the next few days, I read a few articles and posted a bit on the subreddit for Life is Strange. I quickly found out that an overwhelming number of people felt very similarly. Many reported feelings of depression, emptiness, and anxiety. Some people even claimed to be emotionally hungover for months after playing the game. At this point I was convinced that there is something different about this game. What about it makes it so impactful on people's lives and emotions? After a lot of thought and discussion, I believe I have a pretty good answer.
In Life is Strange, you're responsible for whether Max eats an omelette or a waffle. Nearly every choice in the game is made by YOU. This creates a feeling of responsibility for the outcome of the story that is simply impossible to reproduce in any other medium. At the end, you have to make what I consider to be the most difficult choice ever presented in a video game. When the choice is made, you sit back and watch the results--the results that YOU caused. And holy cow does it sting.
Character Development and Relationships
The developers of this game stated that there are over 13,000 lines of dialogue in this five episode game. That's five episodes. A typical feature film averages around 1000 lines total. Granted, you don't hear every single line on each playthrough, but that's still a lot of talking and a lot of interaction with the characters.
A great deal of time is spent getting to know these characters and how they relate to each other. The characters are so rich, complex, and well-written that you can't help but start to feel attached to some of them. I remember genuinely adoring Max while playing this game. She's a good-hearted, vulnerable, and honest (unless you choose otherwise) person. Yes, she's fictional, but her qualities are qualities that we value in humans. To see these qualities portrayed so beautifully can create a longing to have them in ourselves or in those we are in relationship with.
The relationship between Max and Chloe was just superbly well done. There were ups and downs, thrills and disappointments, and a profoundly deep connection that you can't help but have an emotional response to witnessing. Regardless of what ending you choose, the end of the game means the end of experiencing that connection, and it's a loss.
What Your Reactions Say About You
Perhaps you've been the victim of bullying? If so, it's very possible that watching the horrors that Kate has to endure will trigger some intense feelings in you. Or maybe you've lost someone whom you loved dearly. There is a ton of loss in this game that can very easily bring those feelings bubbling back to the surface of your mind.
Ultimately, the sadness you may be feeling after playing this game is not really about the game. It's about you. What hit you the hardest? What/whom do you miss after finishing? What did you experience in the game that you wish you had in your own life? What did you experience in the game that you wish you didn't have in your own life? These are all important questions to ask. The game is simply a tool that shines a light on potential wounds that need tending to.
But be sure to be realistic about this. This game is realistic, but it's also a fantasy. If, for example, you feel a longing for the kind of relationship Chloe and Max had, I'm sorry to say that that just isn't something that is real, healthy, or sustainable. Their level of connection came in the face of an apocalyptic tornado. Max saved her life six times in a week. That's not exactly realistic.
I think it's perfectly fine and healthy to feel sad or empty for a while after playing this game. It's very immersive, and it's written in a way that creates a very strong attachment to the characters and the environment. That being said, if you're feeling any kind of prolonged depression or sadness due to this game (or for any reason), or you're feeling any urge to harm yourself or isolate, it is always a good idea to seek the help of a professional counselor or psychologist.