WARNING: Major spoilers ahead! Please refrain from reading this text if you still haven’t played the game, or don’t want your playing experience to be spoiled.
Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding is a difficult game to digest. It is clearly not well-suited for modern-day teenage gamers due to its repetitive and dull gameplay which lacks the fun, but it’s also not very intelligible to grown-up audience whose knowledge of numerous cultural symbols is quite limited. Death Stranding seems to be best suited for people who have studied social sciences and literature as they form an audience who has the potential to fully understand its inner meanings and hidden messages that lie beneath its surreal tropes.
Death Stranding is absolutely crazy. It is also inexplicably brilliant; however, it is difficult to call it a masterpiece since its slow and boring gameplay sometimes feels just too frustrating. If it were a movie or a novel, it would without a doubt achieve the status of a masterpiece. However, being a video game, it lacks a little bit more of action-related content that would fill out those gameplay sequences between crucial cutscenes that propagate the story further. Nevertheless, Kojima’s creativity and effort must be applauded, as this man clearly wants to push the boundaries of the video game as an art form. And in times like these, this is very much needed, since video games must become something more than looting and shooting endless waves of enemies.
Kojima clearly succeeded in the latter. Even though it’s not a masterpiece, Death Stranding can certainly be considered as high art. It is a beautiful blend of literature, music, photography, design and filmmaking, all packed into a one interactive container called a video game. But besides being a profoundly authentic work of art, Death Stranding is also something else – a postmodern myth.
THE EMERGENCE OF A NEW MYTH
At the beginning of the final act of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, a following quote of Friedrich Nietzsche appears on the screen: “There are no facts, only interpretations”. Kojima clearly continues to cherish this thought in Death Stranding, as nothing in this game seems to be fully understandable, nor completely intelligible. However, unlike the Metal Gear series, which had a true modernist hero set in a truly modernist world full of grand narratives and ideological clashes, the world of Death Stranding feels completely alien to the common player. Not only that it’s alien, but it also feels very lonely, very empty. There is no religion, no major ideologies, no nations, and only very little politics. Within the world of Death Stranding, every effort feels so fruitless, everything seems to be predestined for inevitable doom.
Besides being a profoundly authentic work of art, Death Stranding is also something else – a postmodern myth.
Famous psychologist and philosopher Carl Gustav Jung postulated throughout his works that each period of human history produced its own myths and legends that consisted of contemporary symbols and archetypes which were most prominent in those times. For example, ancient history had many myths about the creation of the world and humans, antiquity was preoccupied with divine creatures that were human-like, while medieval age saw life as a necessary voyage to the eternity, filled out with temptations, witches and demons. Despite the fact that modern times brought rationalization, technological advancement, and the “death of God”, Jung managed to identify new modern myths and archetypes that began to preoccupy the mind of a modern man. In UFOs, aliens, black holes and other quantum physics and space-related phenomena, Jung actually uncovered manifestations of an existential crisis of a modern man who, in a world full of technology, becomes more and more alienated from its own being.
However, Jung’s analyses could be only applied to the motifs, symbols and cultural products of the 20th century. In 21st century, in an age of Internet, social media, global terrorism and worldwide pandemics, new symbols and myths are beginning to emerge, thus conveying fears and desires of humankind that are buried deep down in its collective unconscious. Even though not fully aware of their own doings, new cultural products, such as movies, songs, sculptures, paintings, stories, and even video games are starting to create new symbols and meanings, thus creating new myths whose purpose is to express collective emotions and give answers to the underlying problems that plague present times.
Just like the Bible tried to give meaning to life itself and pacify interpersonal relations, or as Cervantes’ Don Quixote tried to depict a post-chivalric world deprived of ideals, so does Kojima’s Death Stranding tries to communicate a vision of a new globalized world – a world in which everything is connected, yet everyone is more isolated than ever.
In that sense, Death Stranding is a post-modern myth. It introduces a new set of symbols, such as anti-matter, BTs, Timefall and mysterious substance called chiralium, but it also tries to convey all of these concepts in a completely new art form that fits the postmodern age – a video game. Death Stranding thus isn’t just revolutionary, as it creates a completely new genre of video games, but it’s also evolutionary, as it creates an utterly new breed of myths that can be understood only through a form of a video game. However, before getting deeper into the analysis of its symbols and meanings, here is a short recap of the Death Stranding’s extremely confusing, yet inspiring story.
A SHORT RECAP OF THE STORY
Once upon a time there was a grand civilization called America which was suddenly attacked by the forces of evil that came out of nowhere. In the world of Death Stranding these forces are called anti-matter, BTs, and later extinction entities or EEs. Explosive annihilation events in which matter comes into contact with anti-matter, as well as mysterious spectres, or BTs, that roam around and attack people start to plague the world. Humankind suffers great casualties and is forced to hide in bunkers and fallout shelters that are placed underground. Enormous amounts of mysterious element called chiralium start to accumulate in clouds and cause showers of Timefall, which is essentially the rain that accelerates the decay of any kind of matter it touches. In desperate attempt to save the humanity, Bridget Strand, America’s first female president, decides to build a visionary Chiral network across the continent in order to unite the America once again and speed up the research on how to stop the Death Stranding phenomenon.
Sam is no ordinary hero. Being a DOOMs sufferer, he frequently experiences PTSD-like symptoms, and is afraid of being touched by other people.
However, the only way to cross America and reconnect its people is to go by foot, and this proves to be a daunting task for ordinary humans. President Strand sends out multiple expeditions to the west under the leadership of her daughter Amelie. Unfortunately, this endeavour proves to be fruitless as Amelie is allegedly captured by a group of terrorists who threaten to sabotage the whole plan. On her deathbed, president Strands appoints Sam Porter-Bridges to complete the project of building a Chiral network across the state, and retrieve Amelie from the hands of mean terrorists. The reason why Sam is chosen to complete this epic task and become a national hero is due to the fact that he’s a repatriate. For reasons unknown he is able to survive encounters with BTs, and come back from the dead despite getting into contact with anti-matter. However, Sam is no ordinary hero. Being a DOOMs sufferer, he frequently experiences PTSD-like symptoms, and is afraid to be touched by other people. In a way, he is a lone wolf, some sort of a social outcast. He also shows no interest in saving the America, and agrees to help president Stand only because she is his adopted mother, and Amelie is his adoptive sibling.
Equipped with his own BB, or “Bridge Baby”, Sam sets out into the world to complete his mission. On his journey, or should we say pilgrimage, he starts meeting other people spread across the continent, and begins to learn about their lives, suffering, and their experiences of the Death Stranding. Thanks to BB, the unborn foetus that he carries in a pod attached to his chest, Sam manages to avoid BTs and stay alive. All of his progress is carefully monitored by two government officials – Deadman and Die-hardman, who tell him where to go next, and where to make necessary supply deliveries. After some time, he finds an ally in a woman called Fragile that eventually helps him save the South Knot City from a terrorist attack, and provides him with means to achieve fast travel across the continent. As the story progresses, Sam manages to connect the remaining cities of America to the Chiral network, and thus succeeds in improving the lives of countless individuals. A young terrorist called Higgs, the leader of the Homo Demens organization, threatens to kill Sam in order to stop his plan of making America whole again, while the mysterious man called Clifford Unger starts to haunt Sam’s mind.
After connecting almost every place in America, and making new friends which start aiding him on his journey, Sam eventually reaches Edge Knot City where Amelie is being imprisoned. To his surprise, he finds out that he has been played by Higgs and Amelie, and that she is in fact an Extinction Entity who has come to this world to annihilate it and send it into oblivion. In a series of events that take place in a different dimension called “The Beach”, Sam finds out that mysterious spectre called Clifford Unger is his BB’s father, while his adopted mother, president Bridget Strand, killed Unger with help od Die-hardman during a tragic incident that took place before Sam was born. Sam also finds out that BBs were used by the government to establish the connection between the world of living and the world of dead, as they are born by brain dead mothers, and as such react differently when exposed to the effects of the Death Stranding.
After returning to the real word, Deadman tells Sam that nobody has ever physically met Amelie, and that his childhood memories of her come from time and space that isn’t related to this world. After that Sam finds out that both Amelie and her mother Bridget Strand are actually the same being known as the Extinction Entity, and that this transcendental being used Sam to create a Chiral network in order to merge all of the reality into a one Beach, thus paving the way for swift annihilation of the world we know. After having these revelations, Sam decides to go to Amelie’s Beach and talk to her. Upon arriving to her Beach, Sam suddenly realizes that Amelie saved him on that Beach when he was just a baby. Shortly after that, Sam faces Amelie who unveils her master plan to him. While watching the Earth slowly being consumed by anti-matter, Amelie gives Sam the ultimate choice: either watch the end of the world with his dear sister, or kill her and save humanity despite the fact that doom is inevitable in far future. Sam decides to make a third choice, and drops gun to the ground in order to embrace his sister.
The empathy of his act forces Amelie to unveil more truths to Sam. Seeing humanity as an anomaly in the Universe, Amelie decided to completely destroy it since Universe will eventually stop existing, and human life as such is already pointless. However, the will of life itself to persist despite the inevitable doom breeds hope in Amelie’s mind, thus forcing her to see “an opportunity” in extinction, and causing her to sever the ties between the Beach and the world of living.
After this final duel with Amelie, Sam returns to the world of the living, and witnesses Die-hardman’s inauguration as the new president of the America. After that, Die-hardman tells Sam that he killed Clifford Unger and that he regrets this decision. Shortly after that, Deadman informs Sam that his BB, which he named Lou, has passed away, and has to be cremated. Before putting BB to its final rest, Sam realizes that numerous flashbacks of Cliff that he experienced while being connected to Lou were actually his memories, and that Cliff was actually his father, and that he was the first Bridge Baby that had a mission to serve as a bridge between the world of the dead and the living. After that Sam takes out Lou from its pod, and starts massaging its heart in hope to bring it to life once more. Luckily enough, Lou starts breathing again as it opens its eyes. The two of them then walk out into the rain which is no longer Timefall. The Death Stranding is officially finished.
A POSTMODERN EXISTENTALIST MYTH
Although Hideo Kojima is the main visionary that stands behind the project of the Death Stranding, the contribution of Kenji Yano and Shuyo Murata shouldn’t be overlooked, as they helped Kojima to breathe life into the bizarre world of Death Stranding.
Without a doubt, the Death Stranding clearly copies the structure of common myths and folktales without being too much innovative in that department.
In an essence, the plot of the Death Stranding follows the same pattern as the most common myths do. A grave danger called the Death Stranding threatens to destroy the world, and everything seems hopeless. However, a hero called Sam emerges on the horizon, but he is unwilling to accept his destiny to save the world as he is afraid to change himself and doesn’t care for America. But call to an adventure is too strong, and he sets out of his village (i.e. Capital Knot City) into a brave new world. With an aid of his helpers (Fragile) and mentors (Deadman), as well as his supernatural powers (BB, DOOMs), which at first he isn’t aware of, a hero starts to transform itself and succeeds in overcoming different challenges and temptations (i.e. Sam defeats Higgs). Eventually he comes to a revelation by discovering that Amelie is an Extinction Entity (a.k.a. evil deity) and that she used him to bring doom to this world even sooner. At this point of the story, Sam hits the bottom, as there seems to be no way to delay the inevitable cataclysm. However, he finds inner strength within himself and decides to do the unimaginable – to embrace Amelie. This choice alters Amelie’s mind and causes her to completely change and stop the Death Stranding from destroying the world. After that, the hero transforms yet once again, as Sam realizes that he and BB are the same person, which in turn finally makes him whole and fulfil his destiny.
For anyone who has had a chance to read Joseph Campbell’s work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the above-mentioned structural analysis of Death Stranding’s story will perfectly make sense. Without a doubt, the Death Stranding clearly copies the structure of common myths and folktales without being too much innovative in that department. However, the symbols, the figures, the characters, and the overall presentation of the game’s plot is completely unique and authentic, and has never been seen in any other art form, except in a video game.
Speaking of themes which Death Stranding tries to explore in depth, the death itself is clearly the most prominent one. Everything in the world of Death Stranding revolves around death. Whether its living beings, or objects like containers, roads, vehicles, structures, buildings, or the landscape itself – everything is prone to dying. The eternal Timefall keeps raining down on earth, destroying everything it touches, slowly making the matter older and older until it finally dissipates into nothingness. However, death in Death Stranding isn’t a singular point, an event in which something just pops out from existence. It is a process that comprises of different phases, some of which are reversible, while others are irreversible. Even though the world of Death Stranding is in a way atheistic, as there are no gods in it (although that is questionable, as we’ll see later), it is interesting to note that the game never asserts the belief that there is nothing after death. In fact, Death Stranding starts with a premise that there is certainly something after death, however, it is unable to straightforwardly say what. This way, the game starts to puzzle the player with numerous questions like does death transcend the human being to another plane of existence, or does it captivate it forever in its own collection of memories? Is death collective or individual? Do souls of the dead converge in the same existential plane, or does each soul has its own Heaven or Hell that is completely separated from others? In order to give answers to these questions, it is here necessary to introduce another Death Stranding’s key symbol into this analysis – the Beach.
Kojima cleverly explores the beach metaphor in his game. If we analyse the beach symbol from a broader perspective, we can clearly see that beach is in fact a border, a barrier between the two worlds – the world of land, and the world of sea. On a metaphorical level, the Beach of the Death Stranding actually divides the world of the living from the world of the dead. However, the Beach itself is a type of transitory space, some kind of a buffer zone. Here, beings are neither completely dead, nor alive. Like the stranded whales who are slowly suffocating to their deaths, so are humans fighting here for their return to the land, or to the world of the living. Once they enter the water, there is no returning back, as the new underwater world awaits. The only exception, however, is Sam, as he is the only one able to return back from the water (also known as the Seam), to return back from the world of the dead.
Like many legendary heroes, such as Moses or the modern-day Luke Skywalker, Sam isn’t aware of its origins, nor powers that he has.
The unique gift to respawn once again in the world of the living Sam inherited from his mother, as she delivered him to the world while being brain dead. Being born by a dead person ensured Sam to be connected with both worlds, however, after being murdered by Bridget Strand and Die-hardman, along with his father Cliff, Sam nearly ended up in the Seam forever. The Extinction Entity, also known as Amelie, took pity on him, and gave him a second chance to live, however, this made him a deathless repatriate. In short, Sam is actually an immortal, some sort of demigod, as he was born from human parents, but inherited supernatural powers from his adopted mother Bridget/Amelie/Extinction Entity. Like many legendary heroes, such as Moses or the modern-day Luke Skywalker, Sam isn’t aware of its origins, nor powers that he has. However, unlike them, his special abilities, also known as DOOMs, come with a great cost. Sam suffers from aphenphosmphobia or the fear of being intimate with others. He also experiences frequent flashbacks which he doesn’t recall to be his memories. In short, he is an extremely lonely and alienated person. Like Albert Camus’ Mersault from The Stranger, Sam suffers from an internal tear in his own being. He is both a social outcast, as well as a complete stranger to the world he is living in. This way his life’s authenticity is predestined for failure, as his being-in-the-world and being-toward-death are both meaningless since he can’t live with others nor fully die. After all, his name is “Sam”, which in Slavic languages means “alone”, but also “to be (by itself/on its own)”.
Like Sam, the Extinction Entity of the Death Stranding is also divided within itself on an actor (Bridget) and observer (Amelie). But unlike Sam who is an alienated Kafkaesque hero, Amelie is an inverted figure of Jesus Christ. You see, in the New Testament, we find out that Jesus is the incarnation of God the Son and that his mission is to save humanity from the burden of sin. During his life on Earth he preached about how to best follow God, performed miracles, and eventually died by crucifixion as a sacrifice to achieve atonement for sin. After that, he rose from the dead, and ascended to Heaven.
The Extinction Entity follows the same life path of Jesus Christ (or other divine figures), except in a completely wrong, or immoral way. The EE came to existence shortly after the Universe was made (i.e. it was spawned by God). However, unlike Jesus who had a mission to save humanity from the sin and Satan himself, the Extinction Entity actually has a task to bring destruction upon the world. The EE incarnates itself on Earth as Bridget Strand and starts to live among people in order to learn and invent the most effective way to quickly perform genocide. Although Bridget eventually dies, Amelie continues to live on, as she is the true transcendental form of the Extinction Entity. When Sam finally confronts her, she fulfils her destiny by figuring out that “extinction is an opportunity” and stops Death Stranding after which she goes back to the world of the dead. The key point here, however, is that both Sam and Amelie are lonely figures. Neither of them is good nor evil, but they both suffer from the same condition – the utmost loneliness.
Speaking of Sam’s and Amelie’s loneliness, we come to another major theme of Death Stranding, one which truly transforms it into a postmodern myth, and that is the alienation. World “alien” in English signifies a “stranger” or “foreigner”, however, its meaning comes from the Latin word “alius”, which means “another” or “other”. Alienation can be thus understood as “otherness”, and if applied to one particular person, it can be understood as “otherness from oneself”. Just how Death Stranding is preoccupied with alienation can be seen from its world design. In game, Earth’s landscape is represented as a pile of rocks, deserts and mountains, with practically no trees, and only few areas covered with green grass. There are no cities, as most of them are either destroyed by the Timefall and anti-matter voidouts, or because that majority of Earth’s human population lives in underground bunkers. There are also no functional roads, or any kind of infrastructure that wouldn’t depict Earth as a godforsaken wasteland. However, this emptiness of space in Death Stranding actually functions as a metaphor to demonstrate the inner world of an alienated person’s psyche. Kojima clearly envisioned Death Stranding as an allegory for today’s world in which people feel extremely lonely and disconnected from others, despite the fact that modern technology allows us to be always connected.
It is worth to point out here that in cutscenes in which Sam goes to take a shower, or defecate, he is always interrupted by an incoming call from some of his Bridges colleagues. This vividly shows just how (post)modern way of life is no longer private in any way, and just how technology enabled state and corporations to practice totalitarianism. Die-hardman is the true embodiment of these actors, as he constantly tracks Sam’s actions, and frequently contacts him to brief him with new information. In a scene in which Deadman and Sam talk inside the shower in order not to be recorded by numerous electronical devices scattered throughout Sam’s private room, it becomes clear how world of Death Stranding, despite its emptiness, is governed by omni-present forces that lurk in the shadows.
But theme of alienation in Death Stranding isn’t just related to the emptiness of space, totalitarian governments and the disconnection from one’s own self. It is also greatly related to the disconnection from others, such as family, friends, and community as a whole. French-Lithuanian philosopher Emmanuel Levinas defined the Other (whether it is a human person, or a being in general) as something that is not knowable and cannot be made into an object of the self. In other words, despite how close we are to our family members, friends, or loved ones, we are never truly able to understand them. We are never truly able to understand another human being, to make it completely cognizable. The Other always escapes our horizon of understanding, as each (human) being’s consciousness creates an unlimited internal world that can never be fully grasped.
Being another person, another being, the Other itself, Amelie always escapes the full grasp of Sam’s understanding.
Kojima appears to be exploring in-depth the relationship between the alienation and the Other in the Death Stranding. It is interesting that Sam very rarely encounters other human beings throughout the whole game, and even if that does happen, most people whom he meets keep their relationship with him at distance. As the story progresses, however, other characters start to slowly open up to him, but Sam also starts to express his emotions more often, and open up about his past. The first character that truly opens to Sam is Fragile, which even at the beginning of the game tries to form a relationship with Sam. He, however, rejects her at first, because he is afraid of being “touched”, and has trust issues with her. Eventually Fragile opens up to Sam, and tells him about her life’s trauma, after which they become true companions. With time, Sam even starts allowing Fragile to touch him – something which is necessary to make space-time jumps – however, their friendship remains to be Platonic, even though in certain cases we witness some subtle sexual tensions between them.
The same could be said about Sam’s relationship with Mama and/or Lockne. However, it is necessary to stress out her that the world of the Death Stranding is completely asexual. There are no romances or unrequited loves, and sexual affection seems to be unknown to all game’s characters. This asexuality of Death Stranding’s world, however, seems to be arising from two different causes. The first one is that most game’s characters are asexual because they function as metaphors for different ideologies, worldviews or psychological and phenomenological phenomena, and as such just simply can’t copulate. The second cause is more related to the real world, and it arises from the fact that people in Western world are less prone to intimacy, and as such don’t find sex as interesting as they used to. Either way, the asexuality of the Death Stranding’s world can be seen both as metaphorical and literal, but there is no doubt that it tries to depict the widespread alienation which plagues its characters.
Probably the most significant scene in which Death Stranding attempts to vividly picture the problem of alienation and the inability to fully understand the Other is the scene in which Sam has to cross the tar belt in order to reach Edge Knot City and rescue Amelie. In this scene, Sam faces a difficult task of traversing a vast sea of black goo in which undead sea animals seem to be living in. Despite being an extremely dangerous endeavour, Sam decides to make his way across the sea in order to finally reach Amelie. Various sea creatures start to attack Sam, and numerous buildings start to pop out from the tar. In this apocalyptic environment Sam keeps “keeping on”, and after surviving numerous hazards, he finally reaches Amelie who appears to be standing at the far end of the tar belt. Upon reaching her, he is completely exhausted and starts sinking into tar. He cries for help to save him for drowning; however, Amelie turns her back, and leaves Sam to drown.
In this very emotional and disturbing scene, Death Stranding is able to fully depict the futileness of the attempt to completely connect with the Other. No matter how Sam was close with Amelie in his childhood, and even being able to inherit some of her supernatural powers, she will always remain distant to him, and in some ways unknowable. Being another person, another being, the Other itself, Amelie will always escape the full grasp of Sam’s understanding (i.e. turn her back). She will always be a universe of her own, distant and forever unreachable, alien beyond measure. This way Sam’s colossal task of uniting America, and traversing deserts, mountains and great plains to finally connect with Amelie proves to be pointless. Same could be said about real life. No matter how we love some person, and to what lengths are we prepared to go, or sacrifices to make, just to make it happy or safe, this person will always remain beyond our reach of understanding. It will always be something else that we won’t be able to fully perceive.
However, this same principle also works the other way around, as neither Amelie is able to fully grasp Sam’s consciousness, despite being a divine entity. This way, even the Other has its own Other who escapes its horizon of understanding. In this revelation, the Death Stranding appears to be demonstrating the fully beauty of “otherness”. Each being, entity or subject that has its own consciousness is a completely unique figure that has its own feelings, thoughts and memories. By embracing the Other, by showing compassion and empathy to it, we are able to at least partially connect with it. This is way Sam Porter-Bridges is the ultimate hero of the Death Stranding. Not only that he is able to build bridges between the worlds of the living and the dead, but he is also able to build bridges between Others, and also able to embrace Others, to open doors of their hearts and minds, even if he himself at first wasn’t able to. By showing compassion to Amelie, Sam also shows her that he also feels lonely in his own world, and he is just like her. Joined in loneliness, both Sam and Amelie are able to overcome their own constraints, and finally return to their worlds to spread the message of compassion and understanding.
By rebelling against our own loneliness, and by realizing that we are all united through our own loneliness, we are able to overcome the meaninglessness of our existence. This way Death Stranding fulfils its mission as a postmodern myth, as it gives the solution to the problem of alienation that plagues the contemporary human being. Functioning both as a Bildungsroman, a type of story in which characters go through a moral growth, as well an interactive philosophical work, the Death Stranding achieves the status of a postmodern myth, as its symbols, metaphors and figures enable it to produce more meanings than its creator or makers originally envisioned.
In this last section of our analysis of Death Stranding, we’ll examine the cultural influences that helped Kojima make its game come true. As we have already mentioned in the previous paragraphs, Death Stranding makes quite a few references to various works of art, but also to different literary, philosophical and scientifical works.
One of the main literary works that Death Stranding seems to be extensively referring to is Kobo Abe’s short story called Rope in which its author tries to explain the importance of humanity’s first tools – the rope and the stick. Unlike the stick, which is used for defence, the rope is a tool that enables humans to keep important things close to themselves. Referring to this analogy, Kojima himself explicitly said that his intent with Death Stranding was to make a game in which players will be forced to use “ropes” and not “sticks”. In this sense, the Death Stranding tries to be almost a pedagogical game, as it forces its players to grow up, and to think how to build and preserve things around them, instead of just shooting them.
Akira (1988) and Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) are probably one of the most notable works that inspired Kojima to create the Death Stranding.
Being a Japanese cultural product, the Death Stranding without a doubt draws quite a lot of inspiration from various Asian religions and schools of thought such as Shinto, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Since all of these philosophies are quite foreign to most of us Westerners, we’ll limit this analysis to only the ones we are most familiar with. It could be said that Buddhist concept of nirvana seems to be one of the main themes in the game, as Extinction Entity is a being that tries to bring death and everlasting peace to all living organisms that occupy the Universe. However, the theme of reincarnation also seems to be a prominent one in Death Stranding, as even death is perceived as a continuation of life, except in a different form, as well as time and space. Lastly, the appearances of BTs in shapes of whales, squids and four-legged beasts implies a certain Shintoistic and pantheistic worldview of Death Stranding, as nature appears to be comprised of different spirits whose disturbance can cause disbalance and lack of harmony in the Universe.
Death Stranding is also full of references to Abrahamic religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Like we have already said, Amelie can be seen as an inverted figure of God or Jesus Christ, while at the same time Sam can bee seen as “the Chosen One”, or as a “Saviour of the world”, provided if he decides to fulfil his destiny by uniting America again. Die-hardman can also be interpreted as an inverted figure of Moses, as he succeeds in leading his nation to “the promise land”, but is unable to enter it as he is plagued with guilt over things he did in his past.
When speaking about philosophy and literature, Hideo Kojima, Kenji Yano and Shuyo Murata clearly took great care in making Death Stranding as complex as possible. Being preoccupied with existentialism, it is no wonder that Death Stranding makes numerous references to various works from prominent thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor M. Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka and Haruki Murakami. In continuous dying and repeating of same tasks, Sam is a contemporary Sisyphus – a man destined to endlessly repeat the same task over and over again for the rest of the eternity. He is, however, an anti-hero, as he is plagued with loneliness, depression, and nihilistic thoughts that render him unable to connect with others.
Death Stranding also tends to refer a lot to works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. The game thoroughly explores various psychological phenomena such as extroversion, introversion, perception, dreams, sexuality and consciousness, without being too scientific or punctual. If we apply psychoanalysis to various Death Stranding’s characters, we could probably interpret Amelie as Sam’s schizophrenic unconscious, while Die-hardman and Bridget Strand could be seen as the “Father” or “Super-Ego” figures. However, these interpretations shouldn’t be taken for granted, as Kojima clearly tries to create a postmodern symbolic imagery to which 20th century psychoanalysis can’t be easily applied.
Kojima’s enigmatic game also draws a lot of inspiration from the world of cinema. Being an avid movie watcher, it is no wonder that Kojima made numerous references to different motion picture works in his game. Akira (1988) and Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) are probably one of the most notable such works that inspired Kojima to create the Death Stranding. Both animes are preoccupied with mysterious cataclysmic events such as nuclear explosion or appearance of alien beings on Earth, and they both extensively explore human psyche, mythology, archetypes and depression, all while being set in a unique cyberpunk world. With that being said, it is also pretty self-explanatory to state that Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla (1954) is another major influence to Death Stranding, as it’s considered to be the “great grand-daddy” of modern Japanese cinematography.
Death Stranding also seems to be borrowing a lot of artistic ideas from Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, as BTs tend to be behaving just like the infamous Forest God. Speaking of domestic influences, it is also worth to mention Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another from 1966, as this existentialist movie thoroughly explores the Jungian concept of “persona”, and tries to give an answer to the question how to find our true selves – something which Death Stranding tends to be actively working on at its end.
When it comes to foreign influences, Death Stranding seems to be inspired a lot by Francis Ford Coppola’s The Apocalypse Now (1979) and Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998). A lot of elements borrowed from these movies seem to be observable in scenes where Sam confronts his father Cliff. However, The Postman (1997) appears to have had a significant impact on Kojima and the creation of Death Stranding, as this movie thematizes the idea of delivering inspiring hope to citizens of a post-apocalyptic America.
Finally, Death Stranding also seems to be heavily inspired by two European classics – Russian movie Stalker (1979), which explores loneliness in the remote Siberian site called the “Zone”, and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957), which tells of the journey of a medieval knight and a game of chess he plays with the personification of Death, who has come to take his life.
Being an extremely intertextually rich work, it is hard to list all of the influences that helped Kojima shape the Death Stranding. Even in music, video games, art and architecture, numerous influences could be found, however, analysing all of them goes beyond the borders of our analysis.
METATEXTUALITY & CONCLUSION
Instead of repeating all of the above statements about Death Stranding being an intertextually rich postmodern myth, we’ll conclude this essay with the analysis of game’s another important aspect – its metatextuality. You see, Death Stranding is an extremely self-aware game. This is most notable in the fight between Sam and Higgs, where Higgs frequently teases Sam by saying that he should “lower the difficulty” and that “isn’t that [the fight] what he wanted?” In these statements, we can see that characters of Death Stranding are in a way self-aware of their existence as virtual characters living in a video game. Having that on our minds, it becomes quite clear that the whole Death Stranding revolves around the death, and that Amelie’s prophecy of the coming of inevitable doom is inherently true, due to the fact that the Death Stranding will eventually at some point come to an end. And this end will be completely real, as once we uninstall the game from our computer or gaming console, and leave our keyboard or gamepad, the Death Stranding will cease to exist. This is why Death Stranding features a delayed ending, or multiple endings, which are again just delayed endings. Even if the world is saved, the end will come, as once we stop playing Death Stranding, its world will also be gone.
Having that said, it is justified to say that Death Stranding is an incredible piece of art. It is hard to call it a masterpiece, due to its somewhat dull gameplay which, being one of the many aspects of the video game as an art form, needs to be properly addressed. Nevertheless, Death Stranding is a brilliant video game upon which completion we can only say: “It was a good walk”.