19 April 2020
Apocalypse Later, please! | Death Stranding
Apocalypse Later, please! | Death Stranding
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Apocalypse Later, please! is a section of this website that intends, in these peculiar and dramatic times, to offer a recommendation on films to watch when safely at home: today it’s not a film, but it’s a game – “Death Stranding“.

Introduction on this section.

In these hard, complex and unprecedented times that prescribe (still without an end period) isolation and time indoors in our own houses, we thought that we could’ve suggested ways to use this time at home to turn upside down this “apocalyptic” feeling that at the moment wraps our lives:
we will try to transform it in a way for us all to think, even laugh, “exorcising” our fears.
Everyday (or so) – hoping we stay healthy [oh, this is exactly the feeling that we want to try to exorcise] – we will write about a film [today we actually talk about a game] that for a reason or another sounds interesting and that deals (even if just metaphorically) with the concept of Apocalypse (and/or the measures taken to contrast it) exploring the ways some films have dealt with it.
We really hope this could bring a smile on your face and help you in using this unexpected (unwanted?) time – hopefully, spoilers-free.

Today’s choice: Death Stranding.

HIGGS: It’s so hard to form connections when you can’t shake hands…

Higgs in “Death Stranding”

Death Stranding is not a videogame like the others. If anything, labeling it “just” a videogame is a reductionist view that would not take into account the full spectrum of what this experience really is: a profoundly transformative journey.

The last creation of the world renowned game director Hideo Kojima, the brilliant mind behind the Metal Gear series, marks an outstanding effort in world design, storytelling and art direction; it is a masterpiece, a digital odyssey that manages to hit all the right spots when translating these efforts into a cohesive experience.

Death Stranding is a visionary piece of art set in a future where a cataclysmic event, namely the “Death Stranding” of the title, has taken place. This catastrophic event led to the birth of the mysterious BTs, hostile ghost-like beings, deadly enemies, expression of the on-going Sixth Extinction. The apparition of these aggressive spirits forced humans to stay separated from each other and to find shelter in cities because, in the world of Death Stranding, if even one person dies, a “voidout” will be triggered: an atomic explosion that would drastically speed up the on-going process of the “Sixth Extinction”. Within this context, human beings are not allowed to move outside the cities and cannot take risks, for the cost of even one life would be dramatic.

The game is then set right after an immeasurably catastrophic event but just before the ultimate End. Right in that middle ground where humans who are not allowed to die, trapped in their own city, without the possibility of forming significant relationships, are trying to hinder the arrival of extinction.

Given these circumstances, it is easy to see many parallels between the vision of Kojima and what is happening right now; the main difference being that the game was released in November ’19, before the Covid-19 pandemic had started and before its presence had even been known. Nevertheless, Kojima is a prophet who predicted many of the things happening right now. Check the trailer out to understand what we mean:

But how did he do it? What are the features of this game that predict what we are seeing today? Let’s take a look at the game art style and direction.

Game Design

In the world of Death Stranding, where people are not allowed to travel and to leave their cities, mankind survives thanks to the deeds of delivery men. And women.
Delivery men and women, brave and fearless, travelling from place to place, bringing resources from one point to another while warding off the dangers of a world taken over by BTs. (Like Amazon couriers, but better. Right?).

The player in Death Stranding impersonates Sam Bridges (played by the brilliant Norman Reedus in what is perhaps the best role of his career), a legendary delivery guy, a “Porter” tasked by the President of the USA, Bridget Strand, with a mission of capital importance: reconnect the US divided by the Death Stranding and ultimately bring humans closer together just like before. In order to do so, he has to travel from one city to another and he must connect every area to the main server, called “Chiral Network”. The gameplay itself revolves around the player wandering in natural landscapes that closely resemble those outstandingly beautiful Icelandic volcanic coasts while embarking on this journey alone, fighting against BTs and other uniquely flavoured enemies and amazingly profound villains who oppose his mission both on a philosophical and on a practical level.

This is where the magic of this experience presents itself in all of its power: Death Stranding is a game about the importance of human connections, but also about the importance of solitude.

Humans are social animals but, at the same time, they need to learn how to be alone, how to enjoy their own solitude; they need to learn to be “enough” for themselves and accepting the fundamental solitude as part of their existence. But of course, the flip-side of this individual dynamic is that everyone still needs relationships to stay alive, everyone still constitutively needs the great “Other”.

Sam Bridges, the protagonist, is the epitome of this human struggle: he’s a delivery man, a literal bridge builder, his mission being to reconnect America. But, at the core of his personality, he’s afraid of forming new relationships, he’s unable to truly connect emotionally with people; he’s even afraid of being touched. This really highlights the paradox in him and in the player. It is known that gamers are often perceived as lonely individuals who, almost in an autistic fashion, retreat into their own safe zone to play videogames for hours.

With this in mind, Kojima decided to implement an asynchronous online experience into the game allowing one player to influence the action of other players. The idea is simple and brilliantly executed: by doing mundane tasks, like setting up a ladder to climb on a steep rock or by building a bridge crossing a river, the player can help another one because the online server will make these very objects appear into another person’s world, thus helping them in overcoming obstacles.
By doing so, players help each other in climbing mountains, crossing dangerous water streams, fighting enemies, and so on. Without even touching. And only by doing so, by helping and by counting on the help of others, one can truly reach the end of the game.

The core of this journey is then ready to be acknowledged: the player who dives into the world of Death Stranding learns to appreciate the value of his solitude, begins to enjoy his solitary, infinite walks in the awesomely crafted natural landscapes – while listening to stunning music. Ultimately, though, the world can only truly be changed by collective actions, right when people stop being “islands”, stop hating on each other, and start working together towards a common goal, contrary to what the culture of social media hate seems to tell us. The point of this whole message is that, only when one truly learns to be positively alone, content with oneself, then and only then he becomes capable of building fulfilling relationships with others. This is what happens in Death Stranding, this is the jump forward that Kojima makes the player do, the jump from “I” to “We”, the transformation of the individual and almost self-sufficient entity but ultimately in need of being part of collectivity in order to reach his full potential. Precisely this realisation is at the heart of this profound transformative experience.

Why this game for Apocalypse later, please?

Given all these considerations about the philosophy underlying the majority of the game, there are many elements in the nature of the game that are eerily close to what actually happened in our lives in the last couple of months. Au lieu of the BTs there’s the global pandemic; instead of America as depicted in the game-world, there’s the entire planet. Right now, in our real life, people are locked in their own houses and every connection with the “Other” is impossible.

Because of the pandemic you have people forced to face their own loneliness (with a few lucky ones managing to discover the reinvigorating side of positive solitude); But the same people are also afraid of the future as never before, for they are afraid of not seeing their loved ones again, of losing what they had before, of missing the distinctively social experience of mankind as we have known so far. The phantom of extinction has brought people together in the distance of a profoundly pervasive shared experience, where everyone, paradoxically, feels connected to the rest of the world while being separated in reality. The phantom has fuelled the human community, has woken up the spirit of cooperation and has united those who were drifting away in forms of “islands” and must now reason and act together. Everyone, in this day and age, is convinced that only if we stick together, only if your efforts are collectively integrated, then and only then, we can defeat the invisible common enemy.

With this in mind, what Death Stranding really teaches us, what it really says about the real catastrophe of this time can be summed up by quoting and slightly modifying the famous T.S. Elliot phrase:
“The world ends not with a bang, but a whimper”.

Death Stranding reminds us that the world really ends not with a bang, not with the “Death Stranding“, not with the economic collapse, not with the failure of our materialistic society.
The world really ends not with a bang, but when you can’t shake hands.
The world ends, when you can’t hug your loved ones.

If you want to discover more about this game and his profound legacy we deeply advise everyone interested to play it and live the transformative experience that Hideo Kojima gifted to the world. Who knows, maybe this could be a good medicine against quarantine anxiety… Play it now!

You don’t know what film to watch tonight? Please have a look at our Film Alphabet page.

Tired of the news, comments and you are interested in reading film analysis and reviews? Go and check out our Analysis section.

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