Emotional Gaming: The Ultimate Unity of Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding
“The goal of the game is to connect the world.”
Strand is an interesting word, it means several different things, some definitions of which include:
i) a fibre or group of fibres twisted together that form one part of a length of rope, cord, thread, etc., or a single string, hair, or line of objects
ii) leave (someone) without the means to move from somewhere.
iii) the land bordering a body of water such as a shore or beach
Developer and creator of Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima, associates his 2019 open-world video game with an entirely new genre of gaming, going so far as to register a trademark for the term ‘Social Strand Game’. His Twitter account demonstrates his thinking behind this action:
“By incorporating the concept of connection (strand), it's a totally brand new genre called action game/strand game(social strand system).”
In this tweet, Kojima draws attention to the significance of the social design of Death Stranding which accentuates human connection, an essential component of not only the game’s narrative and desired end goal, but also the world itself and its interactivity. Kojima’s intention of foregrounding the importance of human connection within the game’s narrative, world and game mechanics not only highlights his own ambitions but also contributes to a wider discourse on the emotive potentials of gaming.
Before introducing Sam, BB and the UCA, it is important to define a few key terms. This essay will often refer to ‘world-building’, by this, I mean the conceptual fabricating of a fictional world and its systems, geography, society and other constituting factors as well as digital world building through the use of game engines. As world-building has many connotations and connections to the literary genre of Science Fiction, at points, I will draw upon relevant critics and writers to compare approaches and techniques used in more conventional modes of story-telling, particularly, Science Fiction and contrast these with the world-building present in Death Stranding.
This essay, borrowing its form from a more conventional literary analysis, will attempt to drill down into the in game mechanics, highlighting effective techniques that emerge from Kojima’s Social Strand system. To understand the impact of Death Stranding in an appropriate context, it is necessary at times to adopt a wider lens and engage in reviews and research surrounding the emotional potential and impact of gaming more widely. Therefore, the methodology of my research has included youtube reviews, gameplay walkthroughs, gaming journals and relevant studies in relation to gaming and emotion.
Death Stranding is an example of a video game that uses fairly conventional storytelling used in fiction and myth - which I will evidence- in conjunction with thorough and emotive worldbuilding and game design. In what follows, I aim to present an analysis of Kojima’s Social Strand System evidencing how the world of Death Stranding is successful in delivering an emotional and innovative gaming experience.
In Death Stranding, you play a delivery man, who must travel across an apocalyptic future version of America with the mission of re-connecting the UCA (United Cities of America) after a mysterious and catastrophic event; the Death Stranding. This occurrence has opened a doorway into the afterlife, leading to supernatural entities known as ‘BTs’ or ‘Beached Things’ becoming stranded in the world of the living and which act as the main enemies within the game. When a human dies in Death Stranding, the body undergoes a process referred to as ‘necrosis’, this results in a body becoming a ‘BT’. If a human gets eaten by a ‘BT’, this leads to a void out which is a huge explosion manifesting in a large crater. This terminology and level of detail is evidential of the depth of Kojima’s world-building, leading to a believable and investive gameplay although not unusual in works of Science Fiction.
We go on to discover that a huge proportion of the human civilisation has been wiped out by a mass extinction event and those who remain live in bunkers underground, their survival dependent on the in-world courier systems that function above ground. Our protagonist, Sam, is introduced to us as Sam “Porter'' Bridges. Bridges is the company Sam works for and his role: a porter.
Sam, with the aid of other characters (Fragile, Heartman, Die Hardman…) as well as a small unborn baby known as BB (Bridge Baby) must travel across hazardous terrain reconnecting America. BB, is a baby removed from a dead mother and can see both the living and the dead. On this perilous journey Sam must survive threatening obstacles; he must kill BT’s; fight separist terrorists and overcome and confront painful personal moments with his family and himself. He must do this while all along carrying medical supplies, metals, and other materials which are stacked precariously one on top of another strapped to Sam’s back, arms and legs.
Sam’s demeanour is defeatist and reluctant carrying the characteristics of an outsider as well as touching on more archetypal depictions of the reluctant Hero. He is also a repatriate and sufferer of DOOMS. This condition creates a stronger connection between those afflicted and ‘The Beach’. Sam often has visions where he finds himself regaining consciousness on the Beach, which functions as a kind of limbo within the game: “a place between the living and the dead formed by humanity’s self conception of Death”. When a person dies, their soul goes to what is referred to as ‘the Seam’ which is visualised as a space underwater, where souls float tethered by strands. As Sam is a repatriate, he has the ability to guide his soul back to the world of the living and therefore, back to life.
Death Stranding is structured episodically, with long features of animation interspersed between hours of gameplay. The longest of these episodes are toward the end of the game once Sam has completed his mission of connecting the Chiral Network (a sort of shared Internet) and sets off to rescue his sister, Amelie. During Sam’s last visit to character Heartman, he is informed about ‘Extinction Entities’, which as the name suggests, have the ability to bring about a mass extinction, of which there have already been five. In a distressing revelation, it becomes clear that Amelie is the Sixth Extinction Entity also known as the Last Stranding. When Sam reunites with Amelie, we reach his apotheosis where he must face his sister with two options, to kill her or convince her not to destroy the world. Reaching a climactic point, duty gives way to empathy and Sam embraces his sister showing her a poignant act of love and effectively convincing her to disconnect her Beach from the world of the living, therefore saving the world from extinction.
Following this, Sam is told the truth about his family whilst facing a terrible realisation that BB is dead and must be taken to an incinerator to avoid Necrosis. Sam can’t bring himself to incinerate Lou. Instead he burns his cuff links and takes Lou out of the pod. In an emotional segment pleading and struggling, Sam is able to resuscitate Lou back to life.
Death Stranding is about the environmental catastrophe, late capitalism, human connection and empathy.
In poet, scholar and critic Darko Suvin’s formative text Metamorphosis of Science Fiction (MOSF), Suvin argues for an understanding of Science Fiction as the ‘literature of cognitive estrangement’. In the introduction to MOSF, Gerry Canavan writes:
In our time – with the world now fully mapped, and no hidden islands or isolated valleys yet lurking that might hold the secret of another sort of history - it is the imagination of the science fictional chronotype (the future, other dimensions, outer space) that yields the opportunity to both imagine radical social difference and connect that radical difference to our own situation in the here-and-now. Cognitive estrangement constitutes precisely this twofold move: we transport ourselves to the other world (estrangement) so that we can better think about this one (cognition).
Within the world and plot of Death Stranding, there are themes, characteristics and world properties that can be closely associated with the literary genre of Science Fiction. As Suvin suggests and Canavan summarises above, Science Fiction literature has predominantly involved the process of imagining worlds and that which constitutes them - geography, social and political systems, time, language, materiality and technological infrastructure- which allows us to reflect and think about our own. To a certain extent, the world and plot of Death Stranding does this fairly conventionally. The world itself shares similarities with our own current reality: the world faces a serious threat; the environment is poisoned; ecosystems are dying; terrorist groups and a lockdown. In an (un)/happy coincidence, Kojima’s imaginary world has eerily similar conditions imposed on its inhabitants; humanity locked down connected only by courier companies delivering essential goods. Released in November 2019 - just a month before the first recorded case of Covid-19 - the timing of the game’s release and its ability to mirror the real global conditions of 2019 and 2020 makes the themes of loneliness and human connection feel ever more relevant and poignant.
Another aspect of the real world which has seemingly bled into the Knot Cities that make up Kojima’s UCA, is Capitalism. As Darko Suvin asserts: “The purpose of capitalist economy, profit, entails mass dying and unhappiness.” One could argue that the mass extinction events present in Death Stranding are products of Late Capitalism. Like the ‘BTs’, Capitalism exists in a post-human or anti-human sense, it appears alien and although birthed by humans it has become self proliferating to the point at which the world and its systems have reached a catastrophic point. As Mark Fisher notes: “Capital is at every level an eerie entity: conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity.”
When playing as Sam, the delivery man, one might recall another pivotal courier protagonist from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 Cyberpunk novel Snow Crash. Cyberpunk, as a sub-genre of Science Fiction depicts different futures heavily shaped by low and high technologies. Aspects of this genre exist within the technological systems of Death Stranding and can be considered as a critique of Capitalism by Kojima. When Sam delivers cargo to a destination, a hologram appears commenting on the speed, efficiency and condition of how the packages have reached their respective terminals. Rigorous tech based systems monitor the efficiency of Sam’s work including routes taken and damage to cargo. As Patrick Jagoda observes: “At every turn, players are addressed as entrepreneurs of themselves who must take constant risks for the good of the company and the nation, while being responsible for every aspect of their performance.”
It could be said that as well as Science Fiction, the narrative structure and plot of Death Stranding has been informed by traditional modes of story-telling. This is especially clear when analysing Death Stranding through the lens of Joseph Campbell and his analysis of world myths. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell discusses his theory of the mythological structure of the journey and archetypal depictions of the hero. There is much to explore here, however for the purpose of clarity, I will highlight a few of the most relevant terms. Sam, our Hero, is reluctant but also has what Campbell refers to as a strong “call to adventure” who:
Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favourite phase of myth-adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region.
In Sam’s case, BB is the ‘Supernatural Aid’ along with his paranormal affliction of DOOMS. Amelie, as the Extinction Entity is the ‘Lord of the Underworld’, whom Sam must confront once he has overcome his perilous ‘road of trials’. By appropriately applying Campbell’s logic to the narrative arc of Death Stranding and Sam, it is possible to see that the plot follows a fairly conventional and traditional mode of story-telling. This evidence can be supported by a similar avenue of inquiry led by Frederic Jameson when considering Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. World Reduction in Le Guin - a chapter found within Jameson’s Science Fiction study Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions - opens with Jameson asserting that Le Guin’s novel “can be shown to be constructed from a heterogeneous group of narrative modes artfully superimposed and intertwined, thereby constituting a virtual anthology of narrative strands of different kinds.” Jameson goes on to break down the intermingled narrative strands typical of conventional storytelling and myth and proceeds by raising the question of the novel’s “ultimate unity”, making a case for the coherence less to do with plot and more to do with world construction in fictional narratives. Jameson’s approach acts as a helpful guide as I continue to evidence the ultimate unity achieved by Kojima, not necessarily through the plot or story-telling of Death Stranding, but by the construction of the world he presents.
Kojima provides us with a world which is altered but recognisable and as Jameson notes when recounting Gethen in Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, “a world which, like all invented ones, awakens irresistible reminiscences of this the real one”. Jameson’s sentiment supports Suvin’s offering of Science Fiction as the literature of ‘cognitive estrangement’, however, this does not feel wholly satisfying when applied to Kojima’s work.
Science Fiction registers fantasies about the future and this is to an extent true of Death Stranding, evidenced by the threat of environmental catastrophe, advanced technology and active political systems. However, for Kojima, I would argue it is more personal than that. Hideo Kojima was born in Tokyo in 1963. The Creative Gene, Kojima’s book consisting of selected essays, provides an insight into Kojima’s personal life which resonates with the most poignant themes of Death Stranding. Kojima shares with his readers that his life as a child was lonely, turning to books for where he could find peace, comfort and shared experience. He writes: “Books kept the feelings of isolation and loneliness from crushing me.” Kojima postulates the book’s fictional world as virtual: one that is shared and active; for him, stories offered him a lifeline to shared experience and a connection to others:
“Stories allow you to experience places you could never go- the past, the future, or distant worlds. You can become a different ethnicity or gender. Even when you’re reading all by yourself, you’re sharing those stories as they unfold before you with countless people whom you’ve never met.
We are alone, but we are connected.”
The weather specific to Kojima’s UCA provides us with an understanding into why there appears to be such an altered ecology and environment in the world of Death Stranding. The players are informed early about ‘Timefall’, an acidic rain which rapidly ages anything it touches including human skin, animals and the cargo Sam must carry. ‘Timefall’ acts as a signifier within the game, ramping up the hostility of the seemingly similar landscapes and environment. One might argue that the rain is also a motif carrying a symbolic meaning, a possible reading of such could be the worrying increase of extreme weather such as fires and floods brought about by global warming.
There is little visible animal or insect life in Death Stranding. At one point a crow falls from the sky and we see it rapidly age and die as a result of ‘Timefall’. This seems more likely a deliberate technique employed by Kojima to evidence the effects of ‘Timefall’ as opposed to suggest any significant presence of species. Removing life forms such as animals and insects is in itself a technique of world-building via means of reduction as discussed by Jameson. Both Le Guin and Kojima convey notions of isolation through the omission of other species, this technique manifests in the following quote from The Dispossessed (1974):
“We Anarresti are unnaturally isolated. On the old World there are eighteen phyla of land animal; there are classes, like the insects, that have so many species they've never been able to count them, and some of these species have populations of billions.Think of it: everywhere you looked animals, are the creatures, sharing the Earth and air with you. You’d feel so much more a part.”
Another of Jameson’s readings when thinking of Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, I suggest, can be appropriately applied to Death Stranding. He writes as follows:
“Utopia is not a place in which humanity is freed from violence, but rather one in which it is released from the multiple determinisms (economic, political, social) of history itself: in which it settles its accounts with its ancient collective fatalisms, precisely in order to be free to do whatever it wants with its interpersonal relationships - whether for violence, love, hate, sex or whatever. All of that is raw and strong, and goes farther towards authenticating Le Guin’s vision - as a return to fundamentals rather than some beautification of existence - than any of the explanations of economic and social organisations that TD provides.”
Kojima, like Le Guin, uses techniques of world reduction to present a world or future which at first seems hostile and barren but ultimately highlights the utopian fundamentals of freedom, relationships and connection. Kojima, like Le Guin, melts away the material; cities have been destroyed; ecosystems have died out; fragments of society remain with humans living underground and locked down. What is left is a carefully considered framework that illuminates individual moments of life and connection which is accentuated by the gameplay’s social design.
One immense strength of Death Stranding is Kojima’s ability to create the sentiment of being alone but connected. This is achieved through the virtual online aspect of the game and realised through the shared building of infrastructure such as bridges, ladders, zip lines and warning signs. After having had a break from playing, I re-entered Kojima’s apocalyptic terrain to find that other players had rewarded me thousands of likes for a generator I had installed for when my motorbike broke down or a climbing rope I had left after using it to help me down steep and tricky terrain. This design actively encourages cooperation and in a way, kindness. As the player, you are rewarded when other players use the infrastructure you contribute to the Death Stranding world which consequently leads to a sense of shared experience and a support system without ever encountering another player.
In an interview in Games and Emotion, a chapter in David Heineman’s Thinking About Video Games, Heineman discusses elements such as emotion, narrative, choice, system design and community with Mass Effect series creator Casey Hudson. Heineman notes how the Mass Effect series is recognized as particularly successful on account of their ability to evoke strong emotional responses from players. Heineman notes how “...there are a number of factors that come together, including design of gameplay, narrative creation, and art direction, that have to work in a particular mixture in order to facilitate this.” Hudson responds to Heineman’s question of creating emotions in gaming by accentuating the importance of shared experience. Hudson remarks that in the majority of games, as the player you are often wandering around by yourself, so they made sure to develop an in-game function where players could chat to each other and their squads. Whilst the ambition of this functionality is clear, and indeed adds to the feeling of connection by sharing with other members of the community, one could argue that Kojima’s social game design delivers a much more effective and meaningful sense of shared experience and empathy. It seems that Kojima has focussed on social connectivity and artistic concept whereas Hudson’s approach appears to be much more from a functional perspective.
Communication technologies and networks, such as the Internet, feel very present in our daily lives however mostly remain unseen. Media theorist Sandra Robinson notes how we sense “them through our devices such as the cell phone, that mediate our network experience alongside software applications such as Facebook or Google”. Unseen yet felt, this account of social networks is reflected within Kojima’s gameplay which reveals another aspect of contemporary life. As Sam, we never encounter any other Sams, but we can shout to other players and ‘like’ each other's infrastructure left in helpful places. This design not only adds to a sense of connection more generally, but it also conjures another notion, one of ‘absolute hospitality’.
This aspect in Death Stranding leads to the feeling you are playing with ghosts (friendly ones) or virtual traces of other people. Unlike the threatening spectres that are the ‘BTs’, these ghosts are traces of people who have been in the virtual space before you and which speak to certain notions around Derrida’s concept of hauntology. As Line Henriksen writes when researching another online phenomenon ‘Creepypasta’: “By engaging with the ontology of the virtual as a hauntology, such a question becomes an ethical one of justice beyond the moment and a responsibility to toward those who are yet to come as well as those who have already been”. Although this concept has mostly been applied to Derrida’s law and morality, one can apply the approach of responsibility for strangers to this interaction within Kojima’s game. Despite the ‘likes’ possessing a gimmicky nature they effectively provide the player with positive emotions of value and contribution. Furthermore, the notion of ‘absolute hospitality’ could most significantly be considered in light of global warming and our preservation of the Earth for future generations.
This subtle element of shared gameplay and connectivity to other players is an innovative approach to game design which also embeds Kojima’s artistic concept of Death Stranding; human connection. In a review written for The White Pube, Game and Art critic Gabrielle De La Puente recounts the experience of building bridges and roads and finding structures made by others within her own game, she explains:
“I would be grateful to everyone else that has played; and that gratitude encouraged me to build more because I wanted to return the favour and be a part of the team. That follows through into the world-building, although it’s more subtle. If you keep walking over the same route again and again, eventually a path will appear - a desire line. The path can show up for other players and help them find their way forward.
As evidenced in De La Puente’s account, Kojima manages to make every individual player feel their contribution is important and has an impact on the world of Death Stranding. As you navigate Sam, a line appears; then a path. The world grows with you in it.
There are other features within the game play that promote care, responsibility and love, especially evident through Sam’s interaction with BB. The player must work hard to keep BB calm and feel loved which can be achieved by pulling silly faces at your BB in the comfort of your private room or you can press square to soothe your BB rocking it gently to pacify. The player is rewarded through interaction and care, themes which are reinforced by the ending of the game: where Sam fulfils his ultimate purpose and desire to become a Father.
When discussing relationships and interactivity, Casey Hudson remarks that:
“What makes that interesting in other aspects of relationships and friendships are the things that you do to bond with characters that are memorable moments outside of romances. All of those things become interesting if they’re optional, and because you chose to do them, and because you chose to pursue a relationship, and a friendship, and you kind of tease open these moments. That’s where they feel like they have something that starts to emulate the uncertainty, the nervousness, the unpredictability, and the excitement of relationships in real life.”
It is clear that what Hudson highlights is achieved through the gameplay of Death Stranding, not only when considering Sam’s relationship with Amelie and his family, but also his aids and of course BB. Together the you and Sam have developed deep bonds through chosen acts of care which in turn lead to an emotional and investive experience for the player.
As I prepare to put this section to bed and move onto our protagonist, it seems the appropriate time to mention ‘Cairns’. A small and subtle aspect of the game design but one which embodies Kojima’s concept poignantly. In Death Stranding, a hologram of a cairn will appear after resting. These heaps of rocks and stones can be liked by other players and “resting near a cairn will increase the speed at which Sam recovers”. The more players that rest in a given spot, the bigger the cairn will grow and the quicker Sam will recover. This detail of the game enforces shared collectivity, togetherness and strength in connection.
Loneliness is one of the central themes of Death Stranding, portrayed predominantly through the character of our Hero. Sam has Aphenphosmphobia, which is the fear of touching and being touched by others. This infliction acts as an effective tool in exaggerating Sam’s isolation and distrust in others and is made visible by the dark handprint shaped scars traced on Sam’s body which hold trauma left behind by violent encounters with ‘BTs’. It could also be said that the weather, in particular the rain, has a specific purpose in strengthening the loneliness of Sam’s character. The literary device of pathetic fallacy is employed not only to expose the hostility of the world itself but more importantly to amplify the isolation of our Hero and the depiction of him as lonely. Furthermore, these varying conditions of hardship bestowed on our Hero lead to empathy and result in a bond between the player and Sam himself.
As mentioned above, Sam has a phobia toward human touch which affects him and his ability of proximity to others; emotionally and physically. On the subject of touch, it seems necessary to note that Sam appears to possess little sexuality which, could perhaps be considered unusual due to the historical representation of sex and also of women within videogames. Take Grand Theft Auto for example, where only until early this year did they present their first playable female character, up until then all were peripheral, overly sexualised and disposable characters. Sexuality seems to be another example of Kojima’s world-building via means of reduction, creating a protagonist presenting no sexuality and who does not encounter any romantic relationships. In journal Games and Culture, Rob Gallagher discusses the absence of sex in video games writing that: “as a digital medium, games themselves operate not according to a logic of reproduction, but one of replication, iteration, and modulation. They remind us of the fundamental otherness of digital technologies.” Although this can indeed be applied to Sam when considering the lack of sexuality within the game, Kojima wrestles with this concept via Sam’s deep bond and relationship with BB. Thus, ultimately making him appear much more human than ‘Other’ despite the lack of any romantic relationships.
Sam is played by actor Norman Reedus. Innovative motion capture technology and computer generated imagery deliver a realistic cinematic animation borrowing production techniques more commonly associated with that of film and television. However, gaming and its employment of CGI has often been criticised for invoking Freud’s notion of the ‘uncanny’, which I suggest is apparent not only in the CGI of Death Stranding but more so through the ‘BT’s’. The opening between the two worlds, created by the Death Stranding has allowed the ‘beached’ creatures to enter the world of the living. Although these apparitions borrow aesthetics of ghosts and phantoms - creatures often associated with themes of horror and death - I would argue that they strongly possess the quality of the German word ‘unheimlich’. The nearest semantic equivalents of which are ‘uncanny’ or ‘eerie’, but which etymologically corresponds to the ‘unhomely’. As Freud notes, this etymological offering suggests something unexpected: “ the term ‘uncanny’ (unheimlich) applies to everything that was intended to remain secret, hidden away, and has come out into the open.”
It could be argued that via the implementation of Freud’s concept, Kojima is able to create connections to themes of repression and hidden feelings. In light of this, one can recognise in Kojima’s ‘BT’s’, not only the uncanny triggered by seeing the inanimate i.e. the dead, but specifically themes of repression in relation to Sam’s own character and inability to connect with others due to his complicated familial relationships. These spectres act as vehicles for greater character depth and psychoanalytical readings of Kojima’s main character.
As mentioned previously in this essay, the protagonist of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash shares similarities with Sam. Firstly, both have names which are Charactonyms and define their profession or role within the story; both are ‘porters’ and ‘protagonists’. One might argue that these are specific literary techniques employed by Kojima and Stephenson in order to suggest the advanced state of Capitalism and its conditions in which both are made to survive and endure. Whilst Stephenson’s approach is paradoxical, Kojima’s is not, and effectively creates a sense of burden for Sam and suggests a lack of freedom and individuality. Sam’s identity is entirely defined by his profession and the company he works for. His identity and value within the systems he exists in is registered by his dedicated work ethic.
Sam’s personal journey carries in it the sentiments found in the work of Ursula Le Guin and her approach when depicting Utopias. Le Guin does not present beautifications of existence or utopias, she skillfully presents conditions in which certain beliefs or thinking can be revealed. Similarly, Kojima presents a world that is in every way hostile and unforgiving but what shines through is positive emotion and human connection achieved through his ‘Social Strand system’.
Conclusion: The Last Delivery
Throughout this essay, I have sought to evidence the “ultimate unity” of Death Stranding achieved through the cohesiveness of Kojima’s plot, world construction and social game design. The combination of which threads people together, like strands, allowing for a participatory escape through experience of positive emotions. Of course there are negative effects of gaming, but this paper’s aim has been to highlight the emotional potentials of gaming demonstrated strongly by the in-depth and highly ‘affective’ world-building present in Death Stranding. The interactivity and immersion of Kojima’s ‘Social Strand System’ allows for a more intense experience of emotion due to the rich game narratives, concepts and connection with one’s own in-game character acting as emotional stimuli.
Kojima’s world is shared and active, full of the traces and tracks of people whom one plays alongside but never sees. It is at times eerie and haunting with little evidence of other human life. However, these small traces and acts provide a sense of support and kindness that I argue is unique to Kojima’s game which supports his statement that Death Stranding is an example of a completely new genre of gaming.
In the final episode, entitled ‘Lou’, Sam is given the last objective of laying his BB to rest. Lou must be cremated in order to avoid Necrosis; a devastating last task for Sam. As he leaves the terminal ‘BB’s theme’ begins to play, a melancholy and emotional sonic setting for Sam’s last run. Sam is once again alone in the landscapes of Death Stranding and a gnawing concern builds - will Sam receive the resolution he deserves?
Although eerie and quiet, there is a serenity captured by Kojima in the environment of Death Stranding and on Sam’s final run. This serenity can be described in a sentiment of Mark Fisher’s:
“The serenity that is often associated with the eerie — think of the phrase eerie calm — has to do with detachment from the urgencies of the everyday. The perspective of the eerie can give us access to the forces which govern mundane reality but which are ordinarily obscured, just as it can give us access to spaces beyond mundane reality altogether. It is this release from the mundane, this escape from the confines of what is ordinarily taken for reality, which goes some way to account for the peculiar appeal that the eerie possesses.”
Here Mark Fisher unknowingly highlights a sentiment elicited throughout playing Death Stranding. In the same way Science Fiction offers Suvin’s ‘cognitive estrangement’, the eerie and emotional environment of Death Stranding provides players with a space beyond reality, away from everyday life which in turn offers moments of reflection and a chance to draw attention to what matters most; our connection with others. For many during the pandemic, gaming, provided the immersion of fiction, purpose and social support. Games provided a distraction from life's difficulties in particular those with integrated social aspects such as Death Stranding.
Kojima’s ‘Social Strand Game’ concludes in a rest; Sam has completed his mundane tasks as well as those of great significance; the world is saved from extinction (for now anyway) and Sam can focus on being a Father to Lou. This essay too now concludes, having endeavoured to portray the different contributing factors that make Kojima’s Death Stranding so compelling to play and so successful in delivering an emotional interactive experience.
In order to highlight the positive emotive capabilities of Death Stranding, I have withheld up until now other details, which belong to another study and are beyond the scope of this paper. But, as I log out of Death Stranding and turn off my Playstation 4, I will leave you with this: whilst players generously leave ladders and ropes, left to help others along the journey, some leave traps too.