Death Stranding is a game about a lot of different things. It’s about couriers criss-crossing post-apocalyptic America. It’s about interdimensional ghosts called BTs and special babies who can detect them. However, underneath all of the standard Kojima weirdness and style, Death Stranding is really about just one thing: connecting.
While the more overt goal of the game is to reconnect a fractured future America by travelling across the country and extending a network of cities and outposts, this idea of connection goes even deeper. Death Stranding isn’t just about the idea of connecting, it’s about the process of it.
Like Dark Souls before it, Death Stranding is a lonely game. Most of the time you spend playing it you’ll be alone, and fearfully vulnerable because of it. Also like Dark Souls, though, you’ll encounter other players primarily through how their actions have affected the world around you. Players are encouraged to leave helpful messages, donated gifts or leftover tools behind to help others, and doing so is a truly rewarding experience.
We’ve all been the person who needs help in our lives. Whether through money troubles, relationship problems or a more dire situation, all of us have had to ask for help in our lives. The more alone a person is, the less people they have to ask for help and that’s why Death Stranding always wants to remind you that you’re not alone. Even if it’s just a ladder or rope to help you scale a cliff or cross a river, players are always helping each other out, either outright or inadvertently.
This help fills the player with the spirit of generosity in turn, making them want to pay it forward by helping other players who are blazing their own trail behind them. Having been helped out plenty of times in their playthrough, Kojima and co. hope the player will turn around and help other players in need.
It’s a novel idea and one that forms the central theme of the game. Sam, the protagonist of Death Stranding, even suffers from a condition called aphenphosmphobia: fear of being touched. The metaphor extends itself into Sam’s past where he felt let down and abandoned by his family, and his body, covered with painful handprints of the BTs he’s encountered. Still Sam, like the player, is constantly encouraged to reach out and connect with others in this troubled world and cannot succeed truly without doing so.
As noted in interviews, Kojima was inspired by Donald Trump and Brexit to create this story. He noted how separated the US and Great Britain are under these divisive forces, and wanted to build a game where people would connect with one another rather than fighting over political and ideological differences. Kojima also noted the irony of the internet, which connects us all to one another, yet often leads users to withdraw from one another into smaller communities of like-minded individuals.
Hence the idea of uniting under a great threat and working together to overcome our differences. Death Stranding doesn’t want us to feel so alone, and thus, literally and metaphorically, encourages us to find and connect to one another, regardless of our differences. It’s not necessarily a major surprise to see Kojima come up with a story like this. After all, his Metal Gear Solid series often featured scenes where the heroes and the villains connected with one another over tragic confessions and professional admiration.
In some ways it’s a truly beautiful idea. While, again with some irony, the game itself seems to be dividing people in significant ways (some gamers have taken to review bombing Death Stranding on Metacritic) the notion itself is a powerful one, and makes Death Stranding one of the most interesting games to come along in a good, long while.