‘Hideo Kojima does it again ‘, but what did he do exactly? Nothing very much, he simply created a game called Death Stranding. A game, after he left Konami in 2015. A game, weird enough but weirdly realistic.
Kojima is famous for his visionary game settings and convoluted plotlines. Much of his oeuvre is heavily influenced by films, personal expression, literature, the lot. He has always been a die-hard fan of a wide variety of cinema, and his games tend to have copious cult Hollywood touches. Think how Kurt Russell‘s offbeat ‘Snake Plissken’ character from Escape From New York gets shaped into the iconic Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid. Or his cult cyberpunk classic Snatcher – often seen as the blueprint for his later works. Story, narration, plot, even his characters, and their movements are affected by such tributes. But the trademark levity and bonkers style of his works are often weighed down by heavier themes. His early 2000s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for instance covers everything from existentialism to fake news that defines the digital world today.
In many ways, Kojima is the Jim Jarmusch of gaming.
Death Stranding Alone
“I had nothing around me, but a dream and a passion to create,” said Kojima (who is past fifties but still has youthful vigor for creation) in an interview. Death Stranding was born to the world in a lonely phase of this creator. It was at the time when he left Konami. He worked hard to build the now well-regarded Kojima Productions. All his life was spent building connections. That is why the main theme of the game is ‘connections’.
Kojima has said that ‘Stranding’ in the title stands for strings and connections. But the meaning of “strand” can thus shift in many ways. In the trailer released, we see the character lying on the beach along with dead creatures. Strand also means shore of any waterbody or leaves without the means to move from somewhere. Sometimes, sea creatures like dolphins and whales wash up on the beach. Kojima himself has mentioned in his talks that he was inspired by this phenomenon too. He liked the image of unknown creatures washed up on the beach. Which also connects it to the idea of “being stranded” – left alone, stuck.
Strands with Reality
Death Stranding is not a ‘normal’ action-adventure game. The current world of celebrity and fiction influenced and inspired the game to breathe. As we can see from the cast itself (which is a line of Hollywood actors: Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Lea Seydoux, Margaret Qualley, and Guillermo del Toro). The main character Sam Portal Bridges – Norman Reedus is an actor from The Walking Dead. In the trailer, Mikkelsen emerging from the water closely resembles scenes from The Terminator and its sequels. The sea of fire in which Mikkelsen is standing along with his group is similar to the water-caught-fire scenes from King Kong: Skull Island.
Not many creators like to bring politics into games. Kojima is among the few audacious ones to bring the contemporary and imminent politics of society into his games. Death Stranding is close to world politics. American elections and the BREXIT vote of the UK from the EU are a few influences. Apart from politics, another factor is social media. Because today’s world is full of connections. Kojima notes that the world is connecting through social media but still remains deeply unconnected. He hs said that he even chose a desolate Iceland as inspiration for the game’s apocalyptic setting to highlight this sense of isolation. Through all this, he is emphasizing the aching need for human connections in the real world. That’s why this game pays more attention to the interaction between players.
In-Game Connections (Death Stranding)
It is a multiplayer game but you can’t directly interact with other players. You can only feel their presence through the items they leave behind.
One of the key features of this game is that you can only move forward when you use these items left behind by others and through ‘likes’ on your pictures posted in-game. So for some, it can become boring and weird but Kajima wants the players to learn this as a life lesson. Because in-game you are alone delivering goods but these small interactions are the only hope for your survival. Bridging connections is what is most needed to move forward in this game. And this has a striking resemblance with the ongoing covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic made people lonely but those who survived, survived only because of connections and a sense of duty to one another as well as themselves. Only because we believed that there are lives outside.
Loss of human connection and loneliness are not the only themes of this game. Death is also clearly a central preoccupation. When Sam tries to rebuild connections, he comes in contact with BT beings occasionally. These beings are ‘ghosts’ or supernatural beings that give you an invitation to the no-life land. Death is a common occurrence in this game. Because we are talking about a post-apocalyptic America where many dangers are looming around. Connection with death is like connecting you with the past. This can be a beautiful lie or an ugly truth. Because the past means you – alone. So to overcome this hurdle, you must bridge connections between the past and the present, the realm of the dead with the undead. Because the lines can get blurry sometimes.
Video game auteur Hideo Kojima wants players to connect the textures of this surrealistic world with real emotions. He wants them to build strands of companionship to help survive both themselves and the world. To survive a “virtual” world (i.e. our world’s reality) with human restoration. Kojima aims not to simply throw the user into typical video-game escapism but combine entertainment and reality into a humanist project. His work is not so much entertainment as it is a resonating, ultimately uplifting message for humankind in an increasingly alienating quasi-existence.