Hideo Kojima’s newest game, “Death Stranding,” is set in a post-apocalyptic world where an extremely bizarre set of circumstances leads to a completely disconnected society. It is completely antithetical to our world today-- a globalized world where we can talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime; where I can order new shoes from a store in California today and have them on my doorstep tomorrow; a world where we can watch the protests or disasters of other countries in real time from the comfort of our Midwestern homes. In the world of “Death Stranding,” it may as well be the Dark Ages all over again.
Not only are cities and countries no longer connected, tons of information is lost. Sam Porter Bridges, the main character who works as a courier delivering messages and goods between cities and settlements that otherwise cannot communicate with each other, relies on a baby (called a BB) held in a protective synthetic womb to detect the otherwise invisible monsters that now plague the ravaged country, and nobody even knows anymore why BBs work. One of Bridges’ handlers, Deadman, has a couple of theories, but the original research has been lost.
To get that information back and to rebuild society, the president of what is now called the United Cities of America (the UCA) asks Bridges to help reconnect the cities through the use of the Chiral Network (basically the internet, for the purposes of this column). Bridges must be cautious of those monsters I mentioned, called BTs (Beached Things), in addition to MULEs (thieves who are obsessed with cargo and will steal any and everything you’re carrying) and terrorists called homo demens that want to remain independent and want to dismantle the work of the UCA.
Therefore, the central theme of “Death Stranding” is that of reconnecting: Reconnecting the cities of the UCA, Bridges reconnecting with the family he walked away from, society reconnecting with its past, souls reconnecting with their bodies (BTs are souls who have returned to the world of the living looking for their bodies-- if they find it, it causes a nuclear-sized explosion which is what led to the apocalypse). Trust me, Kojima makes absolutely sure you do not miss this connection theme (your character works for a company named Bridges, the president’s name is Bridget, almost every city has the word “knot” in it because you’re “tying” them all together and you’re beaten over the head with symbolic and literal umbilical cords). However, as heavy-handed as Kojima is, I think it’s a really unique idea. Sure, we’re all connected today, but how connected are we really? “We’re in an era of individualism,” Kojima said in an interview with Time. “Everyone is fractured. Even on the internet. It’s all connected, all around the world, but everyone is fighting each other.”
The game is a challenge to stop fighting and work together. There’s no combat at all in the first 10 or so hours-- if you encounter a hostile force, you have to carefully navigate your way around it. You don’t get any vehicles right away, so you’re walking across this gorgeous, natural landscape (since all the cities have been leveled and then moved underground) with nobody but BB for company. Yet, you occasionally encounter a ladder or a rope that helps you on your journey. These are actually taken from the games of other players-- players you don’t see, but who have left behind a little bit of themselves to help you along your own journey.
“Death Stranding” is a breath of fresh air from most games that try to keep the action going nonstop at the expense of story. In fact, it does the opposite: it tries to keep the story going at the expense of action. It isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s definitely unique in its approach to what video games are and the messages they can convey.