When my college search began, I was really unsure of what kind of college I wanted. I didn’t know if I wanted big or small, only had a vague idea of location, and wasn’t at all particular about things like dorms, dining, and environment. My only priority was that the academics were good and there was a good program for my major (Cinema Studies), and this allowed me to explore a variety of schools, but made it difficult to hone down to a few, and eventually just one. I think I always wanted a small school, though, because of how I imagined my college life when I was younger. In middle school, whenever I pictured going to college, I always imagined the school looking like Blackwell Academy from the video game Life Is Strange.
Blackwell Academy, located in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, is a special school for high school seniors, and Oberlin is coincidentally pretty similar (minus the drama, criminal activity, and impending catastrophic tornado, of course). The layout of the front of the fictional school is quite reminiscent of Tappan Square, and the school also has a liberal arts atmosphere (the developers of the game have said that they looked at a lot of private high schools and colleges while designing Blackwell; I honestly wonder if they took some inspiration from Oberlin). The vibe is pretty similar too, with artsy students hanging out on the bright green grass, squirrels and birds hopping along with the soft breeze — I can almost hear the game’s indie soundtrack playing when I’m studying outside on a nice sunny day. Oberlin reminds me so much of Blackwell that I put a poster on my dorm wall of one of the posters you see and interact with in-game, and looking at it I almost feel like I’m Max Caulfield, the main character.
I think where the greatest similarities lie, though, is in the comfortable smallness of Oberlin and Arcadia Bay. In most video games, the map you traverse is limited and has boundaries; there are a set number of places you can go to, and if you play the game enough, you learn the layout of them inside and out. Arcadia Bay has the school, a mom and pop diner, and hidden hang-out spots intrinsic to a small college/school town, much like Oberlin. Moreover, Arcadia Bay is along the sea, and while Oberlin isn’t right on the water, Lake Erie is only about 20 minutes away. It seems like I inadvertently chose a school and town almost exactly like my dream one. Maybe it was part of what subconsciously attracted me to Oberlin.
Of course, real life is much different from a video game, and actually attending Oberlin isn’t exactly like Arcadia Bay, even if there are some similarities. While I do tend to keep to campus and downtown Oberlin since I don’t have my own transportation, there are no set boundaries like a game map, and I can traverse farther out into Ohioland, such as to Cleveland, if I wish. Maybe every day isn’t as picturesque — I don’t have indie music seeming to just float in the air (although, if you walk by the Conservatory or Finney Chapel, you'll likely hear the sound of students practicing), and I haven’t acquired time-rewinding powers yet — but I do think I found a college as close to my perfect imaginary one as I could.
There were many different things that led me to Oberlin, things I don’t even often think about or realize, such as how I have family in Ohio and how I have gone to private, small schools my entire life, but reflecting on how I envisioned college, it almost seems like Oberlin was my fate. A big part of Life Is Strange is the concept of the butterfly effect, something I often ponder on, wondering how the tiny things in my life led me to where I am today. Maybe if I hadn’t ever heard of this video game, I would have never chosen Oberlin. I think I would have made it here eventually, though, and the mental image the game gave me was just a coincidental push in the right direction. Life really is strange, how it takes you down paths without you even realizing and sometimes blows the wind in just the right direction.
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