In these strange times, I’m going to once again write about a strange game that has become surprisingly relevant lately!
Back in May, I wrote a little post in anticipation of Hideo Kojima’s upcoming ‘Death Stranding’ game, exploring the theme of facilitating connections between one another. Kojima had boldly claimed that his new game would help people “understand the true importance of forging connections with others”. Now that it’s been on general release for a few months and I’ve completed the game’s main storyline, I wanted to share my thoughts on my mission to “reconnect this fractured world”, especially given the current global situation that is affecting our ability to connect with each other.
For those of you who need a quick rundown of the premise of Death Stranding, that is no easy task, but I will do my best! In the near future, a catastrophic event happens, splitting open the barriers between the world of the living and the world of the dead, causing such destruction and hardship that only a few small isolated segments of American society survive. The survivors of this event, live in a world plagued with dangers including rain that ages whatever it touches, spectral enemies that grab at any living thing they find, bandits and terrorists. Most survivors have become so fearful that they live their lives isolated in their shelters to protect themselves from the dangers of the outside world. Starting to sound familiar yet?
I was originally planning on keeping the title the same as the previous article; “Death Stranding and Connections” but “Isolation” seemed much more apt for a number of reasons. Whilst the game does prominently explore the theme of connections, the majority of it is quite a solitary experience, that has you, as the player journeying on your own across a beautiful and desolate open world. And, despite having bought the game eager to explore the theme of connections, I found this slow, solitary exploration of the world quite satisfying!
You play as Sam Porter Bridges, a very closed off individual, fearful of even making the slightest physical contact with another human being. In fact, one of the striking things about the game is how little physical interaction there is between characters. Whenever you talk with someone, it’ll either be by radio or by hologram or even by email. Inhabitants of the world are so fearful of the outside that when you make deliveries to them, they’ll only speak to you via hologram, not even opening the front door to say ‘thanks’. But this lack of contact seems to suit ol’ Sam down to the ground!
All this begs the question – If playing the game is such a solitary experience; playing as a hard core loner who only interacts with people remotely, what can it teach us about connecting with others? Despite all the above mentioned conditions, you have a very important role to play in connecting people in the course of the game. As a porter, you are an essential lifeline to people, bringing them essential deliveries they need to get by as well as connecting them with the wider world beyond their shelter. Ultimately, one of your main goals is to bring all of these disparate groups together under the banner of the new United Cities of America. Making contact with settlements allows you connect them to the Chiral Network, a kind of supernatural internet. At the start of the game, households and settlements are entirely separate from one another, but bringing them into the Chiral Network allows them to be part of a wider community without having to leave their shelters and face the dangers of the outside world.
In Death Stranding, spreading the Chiral Network not only brings benefits to the in-game characters, but also to you and other players. Once you have connected an area to the Chiral Network, that area becomes populated with things that other players have made that you can share and contribute to. This might be bridges they’ve built across ravines, postboxes full of resources and equipment you can share and even safe houses for you to rest and recover in the wild!
As well as benefitting from the actions of other players, the game gives you feedback on when other people benefit from your actions, a feature that proves very gratifying! Building bridges and other structures in your game will also benefit player in other games and any kit that you’re not using, you can put in a shared locker for others to use instead! You could even leave signs to show them the short cut you made, or really help their deliveries by building a zip line network between difficult to traverse areas! Players can leave ‘likes’ for your items and structures they appreciate having in their game world, letting you know how much that was valued by them and how many other players have benefitted from it!
Whilst playing the game, I found myself naturally thinking about how I could help other players as I went on my various journeys. I’d often ask myself if I’ll need all the resources I have or if someone else could make better use of them. I imagined another players travelling through the area I’ve traversed and thinking if there’s any structures or signage I could leave that could help them. I know there’s been loads of times where I’ve benefitted from the thoughts and actions of my fellow porters and it’s satisfying to think that I’ve been able to do that for others as well. This is a mentality that is very important to teach and have people understand fully, especially given the current circumstances.
Death Stranding presents us with a world fraught with danger and a society driven into isolation, but provides players with the opportunity and the tools to connect with and help people without having to interact directly with them. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this – how can we do this in our current situation?
Whilst Death Stranding has the Chiral Network, we have the internet as a tool to remotely connect with and benefit one another. Granted, the internet can easily be blamed for the reason why we live in an increasingly isolated society in the first place, but it’s important to remember its potential to bring people together when it would otherwise be impossible. With so many people currently self-isolating to slow the spread of COVID-19, the internet has become a social lifeline for many. As well as obvious health concerns about the virus itself, there are also concerns for the people who are self-isolating, with regards to the mental health effects of being alone with nothing to do. Whilst many introverts have joked that self-isolation is the moment they’ve been waiting for, everyone requires some level of interaction with others to be in a healthy state of mental health. The NHS has a page specifically related to safeguarding your mental health during this time, which is well worth having a look at. Amongst the guidelines are reminders of the importance of staying connecting with friends and family via phone, messaging or video calls.
As the character Amelie, from Death Stranding, says “Humans aren’t made for living alone, they’re supposed to come together, to help one another”. Seeing as coming together physically currently presents many risks, people have had to get creative to stay connected and it’s been heartening to see how many ways people have done so. Among those leading the way are gamers, many of whom are already well practiced at connecting with people remotely through online gaming and chat. I’ve seen various gaming groups on various social media sites, such as Facebook and Discord, going the extra mile to check up on how everyone’s doing, sharing their struggles and distracting one another with their shared love of gaming. Meanwhile, Youtube channels such as Outside Xbox, Outside Xtra and PlayStation Access have recently been using their videos and live streams more deliberately to address and entertain people stuck at home in an attempt to keep people’s spirits up.
All this isn’t to say that the non-gamers aren’t also finding novel ways to reach out and connect! There are all kinds of innovative virtual events and groups showing up including but not limited to: Social Distancing Parties, Netflix Film Clubs, Online Yoga classes, Writing Share & Support Groups, and, a favourite of mine – Taskmaster Daily Challenges inspired by the TV Show, Taskmaster on Dave!
(Taskmaster promo shot Dave/UKTV website)
We also have our equivalent of Death Stranding’s porters, making sure that people receive essential supplies in the midst of self isolation and panic buying. Neighbours have been posting fliers through doors, offering their services to deliver food and other essential items for housebound residents. In Ripon, North Yorkshire, residents have developed a system based on residents sticking coloured cards on their windows. A red sticker is a signal to others that you are unable to lead the house and need help, whilst green stickers mean you’re doing fine and can be left alone.
With uncertainty over how long this pandemic may last, many of us will need to get used to some degree of isolation over the coming weeks and months. As usual, these kind of crises show the worst of humanity in the form of selfish panic buying and the spreading of fear and misinformation, but also the best of humanity, in the form of people’s kindness and creativity. It is my wish that the way we deal with the challenges ahead is characterised more by the latter and that we do our bit to help each other, whether you’re a care worker looking after the sick or a friend keeping another friends’ spirits up.
There is a beauty in isolation and being comfortable with limited amounts of it can bring clarity about your values and the way you interact with the world that I hope we all can benefit from. That said connecting with others on some level is vital for our mental and physical welfare and where many of life’s joys come from. The isolation in Death Stranding, made the moments when Sam did physically interact with and even, *minor spoiler alert* embrace others all the more impactful and precious. I look forward to the day when I can meet up with friends and family again, but until then I’m pleased to see that there are so many ways we can still stay connected and help one another.
3 thoughts on “Gameslife #4 Death Stranding and Isolation”
Great article, Nick. Very timely and totally relatable!
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As a non-gamer, I find the way in which your experience of playing this game has given you insights into our current self-isolating lives fascinating. I wonder if playing games like this makes people more pro-social, and more likely to be their best selves?
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I think playing games has a huge potential for shifting behaviour as they engage people in all kinds of experiential learning. But I don’t think that’s limited to video games, this could happen in any learning activity or experience that was designed with this kind of intention in mind.