I walked into Death Stranding expecting to stumble. As much as I enjoyed Metal Gear Solid, I believed Hideo Kojima’s newest work would frustrate me more than entertain me. For a good while, my initial predictions came true, and I almost considered dropping it entirely.
Then I hit the Central Region. My outlook had changed a bit. The power skeleton alleviated the annoyances I found in the encumbrance system, and by that time, I had easy access to Death Stranding’s first vehicle. However, nothing made me turn the other cheek more than the massive highway that stretches across the map. Its existence perfectly evokes the message Kojima wants to convey, and it’s one of the finest examples of ludonarrative harmony I’ve seen in video games.
Where We’re Going, We Need Roads
When you first reach the Central Region, you have to expand the Chiral Network. Think of it like climbing towers in Far Cry, but after you do it, you get to see the structures other people have created. Bridges appear out of nowhere, and that sorely needed generator could be just around the corner, courtesy of a complete stranger. Their generosity—even if unintentional—is appreciated. You can even prove it by awarding them likes.
As you explore the area, you’ll notice these auto pavers. They require a ludicrous amount of material, some asking for more than 4,000 units of metal or ceramics. That’s a lot for one Sam to carry. However, after expanding the Chiral Network, you may have noticed that these auto pavers turned into full-fledged roads. Eventually, I found a highway slowly develop across the map, making deliveries far easier.
I don’t have to deal with MULEs or rough terrain anymore. I just put stuff on my back, get on a trike, and go. There’s even a fast lane that keeps the battery in check, so I can cruise in record time. Suddenly, Death Stranding goes from tedious walking simulator to relaxing trike simulator. This happened because a community formed before my very eyes.
Death Stranding Connects Real Players
In the words of Kojima, Death Stranding has always been about reconnecting people. In the game, this happens because of Sam. He travels to remote settlements, delivering much-needed supplies to people in need. In return, the people at these settlements join a futuristic version of the internet, connecting to the world at large. It’s pretty on-the-nose, even for Kojima, who named a medic Para-Medic.
Yet, the highway in Central Region subtly and brilliantly does the impossible: It brings real people together. When I first saw the required materials to build those roads, I initially thought that would be a late-game treat for me to enjoy. I thought that I alone had to earn the right to enjoy a smooth, paved surface. After all, Death Stranding is a single player game.
As I saw parts of the highway come to life before I had submitted all the materials, I realized that this isn’t just my highway. This is everyone’s highway. Everyone wants easier deliveries, and everyone’s contributing to that dream, little by little. Seeing the fruits of everyone’s resolve lit a fire in me, and I ended up contributing far more materials than I ever expected to unfinished parts of the highway. Initially, I just wanted to see the story of Death Stranding, but I fell for Kojima’s trap and ended up becoming part of a community.
That’s when it all clicked. Death Stranding really does bring people together—real-world people, not the characters and cameos in the game. I felt a genuine sense of community with my fellow porters who were experiencing Kojima’s wild ride with me. At that point, it wasn’t really about the gameplay anymore; it was about making things easier for everyone.
The Power of Likes
Because of the ways players interact with one another, measuring everything in Likes feels appropriate. As a substitute for experience points, it comes off as contrived, but the more connected you are to social media, the more it secretly tricks your brain. Maybe it’s the eerily familiar thumbs up logo, or maybe it’s the relatively new way we perceive the concept of “Likes.” Whatever the case may be, I suspended my disbelief, despite all the otherworldly craziness in Death Stranding, and did extra work to get more Likes.
Likes in the game, much like real life, comes from other real human beings. Sure, you can earn them from NPCs, but when you throw the human element into the mix, they take on a new meaning. Structures with a lot of Likes get a lot of use, simulating the democratic process via player choice. Well-Liked warnings hold more weight as well, imploring players to heed their message. It taps into a fundamental group mentality we all share. By invoking that instinct, Death Stranding, in an odd way, forges bonds among all the players that have stepped in Sam’s shoes.
Is it all high-brow nonsense? To some, it probably is. Yet, once again, Kojima pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a video game. That feeling of interconnectedness with others runs deeper than it does in some multiplayer titles. Death Stranding takes asynchronous multiplayer and pushes it to the next level. When I see the remnants of another player, I don’t think of it as a gimmick; I see it as part of the larger metanarrative that Kojima wants to convey.
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