Wednesday, May 22, 2024

mxmtoon on Life is Strange, and the importance of Alex Chen being queer and Asian: “I didn’t have a character like that growing up”

mxmtoon, also known as Maia, started her career as a singer-songwriter back in 2017 with nothing but a camera, a ukelele and raw, musical talent. Hard work, determination and enthusiasm led her to a successful music career and the word mxmtoon being typed rapidly into YouTube search engines. Now in 2021, mxmtoon is just one of the many music artists featured in Life is Strange: True Colors.

Well, that’s only half true. Maia is definitely one of the talented folks featured on the Life is Strange: True Colors soundtrack but it’s more than that: she’s also the voice behind protagonist Alex Chen’s singing voice. And for those who’ve already played the game, you know as well as I do that she’s got one hell of a voice.

Maia collaborating alongside Alex’s speaking voice actor, Erika Mori, is no happy accident either. The singer-songwriter has been a huge fan of the Life is Strange games since 2017, when she first started to play and stream them on Twitch.

“Actually, I played them with my brother. We both played side by side and streamed it to an audience with 73 people. And it was really fun getting to the prequel and getting to the first game. Ever since then, I’ve just been a big fan.” Maia tells me over a Zoom call. “When Life is Strange: True Colours was trying to work on who was going to be the singing voice [for Alex], they reached out to me and it was an obvious yes to be a part of the project. So fun to be able to kind of create Alex Chen’s persona and existence, and be a part of her character.”

The official mxmtoon ‘creep’ audio for Life is Strange: True Colors

One of the first things that strikes me during our talk is how enthusiastic Maia is about the series and her role as Alex. It’s hard not to get excited too, and it’s not hard to see the great love she has for Alex too.

When I ask about how she gets into the role of Alex, Maia speaks about the character with great fondness. How she approaches becoming Alex, and how she uses the context and cues of what’s given to her about how Alex is feeling (the loudness, whether her voice is soft or hard) is through taking a step back and asking herself what she would do as Alex’s friend. “What would I kind of give to her, in this moment, in terms of emotional energy or my responses to what she would say. It’s kind of like singing as a friend, to Alex, but also just being Alex. It’s kind of confusing!”

Outside of her role as Alex’s singing voice, Maia also contributed four incredible, original music pieces for the game – all of which you can listen to right now. Outside of her original music, she also performed a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ that, if I’m being honest, I’ve not stopped listening to since it was first released on YouTube.

Of course, a cover is one thing and writing original music for a popular video game series like Life is Strange is quite another. “I try to disassociate myself from the fact that it’s a hit video game, because the pressure would just eat me alive, I think.” Maia says. “I kind of took it from again, like this kind of perspective of, ‘if I was a friend of Alex Chen, what’s the song that I would make for her to help her feel better?’ And so hopefully, when you listen to the song, it’s kind of clear that it could be sung from Alex’s perspective.”

Life is Strange is a series that first started back in 2015 and introduced the gaming world to two queer characters that still mean so much to fans: Max Caulfield and Chloe Price. The couple pulled in a community of queer gamers who have been dedicated to the series ever since, and it isn’t hard to see why. If there’s one thing that Life is Strange has always been good at, it’s telling relatable and meaningful stories.

Alex offers a unique story for players to witness

Life is Strange: True Colors and Alex Chen is no exception from this. As Maia tells me herself, Alex is an “entirely different individual” from Max, Chloe, and Rachel. For one, Life is Strange has vastly improved from the original in regards to including more queer and non-white characters, and Alex is the second non-white protagonist that the series has introduced. That comes with its own, unique struggles and joys. For Maia, Alex being Asian allowed her to see a character she didn’t get to see growing up.

“It’s kind of cool to be able to play a character that I feel not only resembles me physically, but also like identity wise is [also] super similar to me.” Maia tells me. “Like being Asian and being queer, and getting to have all those identities in tandem with each other? It’s so cool because I didn’t have a character like that growing up as a queer Asian person to look up to. I feel like that [Alex] totally embodies what I am as a person.”

It’s not hard to imagine what Life is Strange means to those that are queer. Maia acknowledges that the game’s success most likely comes from the fact that the series focuses on “telling stories about women” outside of Life is Strange 2. It’s no surprise then that so much of the game’s fandom and community is, from an outsider looking in, mostly made up of queer women. “I think we gravitate towards people that tell stories that are similar to our own and being able to find ourselves in these stories that are being told is really important,” Maia tells me. “Because we don’t always get representation that’s accurate to who we are in sort of like TV or movies.”

“My hope is that other queer people of colour, specifically Asian people too, can look at Alex as an example of them and their identities and see it playing out in the game. Having that identity be present is something that I never saw growing up. So it’s really exciting to be able to be a part of the character that’s doing that for the first time.”

As our interview winds down, I can’t help but ask Maia one last question. If she was to create her own Life is Strange game, what would it be about?

“Oh my God, man I can’t.” She laughs. “It’s so hard, because I feel like my experience is pretty much very similar to Alex Chen. So Life is Strange: True Colors is probably the game that I would make if I had a choice.”

You can listen to mxmtoon over on Spotify and YouTube, as well as her role as Alex Chen in Life is Strange: True Colors right now on PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, and GeForce.

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