Death Stranding is a new game by Hideo Kojima’s videogame development studio Kojima Productions, with creative contributions from writer, producer, and director Guillermo del Toro and starring actors such as Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelson. In this article I’ll be taking a look at the trailers revealed so far and attempt to extract some meaning from their surreal frames. Take a look:
It’s easy to get lost in the videos, brimming as they are with vivid imagery but devoid of any contextualization; Kojima certainly holds no hands revealing Death Stranding. These videos depict a chilling world--the details of which we can piece together--but what interests me more is its subject matter. What exactly is Kojima playing with in his new project? His Metal Gear Solid series regularly emphasized themes such as patriotism, sacrifice, the tragedy of war for both soldiers and civilians, the physical, mental, spiritual, and bloody costs of freedom, the cultural and political influence of technology, and the manipulation and defense of ideals, all typically revolving around the United States and its persistently overt world presence. It doesn’t take much to see that he’s playing the same game (pun intended), but with an obviously more psychedelic, nightmarish vision. Guillermo del Toro’s imaginative influence is apparent, the stunning imagery reminiscent of his work on P.T. and his films on war such as The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. Since Guillermo has similar experience with these themes, I have high hopes with this partnership, and both trailers for Death Stranding have affirmed my confidence.
Within the imagery is the unmistakable suggestion of the simulacrum of war; a new form of conflict paired with the ideal, a normative insanity. The simulacrum is a term coined by Jean Baudrillard that indicates a change in the meaning of an object or concept through its own replication, and reduces or eradicates the importance of the original or authentic it’s based on. The war we see in Death Stranding is a simulacrum of the war we are familiar with because of the use of dead puppets, and this war has become normal, expected, even revered. A bright rainbow in a clear blue sky almost frames the chaos below, giving everything else a dreamlike idyllic quality; there’s nothing wrong here. We get a sense of valorization from the lighting, the colors, even the framing of the tank, planes, and soldiers, like a nationalistic promo to buy war bonds, join the fight, or remember those that have sacrificed for their country. Something is horribly wrong, though; massive destruction surrounds the scene, and the grotesque haunts every image, instilling the idyllic with twisted lunacy.
Historical references are warped and mutated in Death Stranding. World War II U.S. military technology and dress refers to a hallowed past: the old tank, propeller planes, M9 rifles, the skeletal soldier’s helmets and clothing. These icons nestled under that brilliant rainbow suggests an idealized patriotic identity corrupted by something raw and terrifying. The soldier has become a type of copy that renders an original unnecessary, a fighting machine from the corpse of American history and patriotism. These ghosts of those that once traveled a sea away to fight Nazism now represent a new kind of patriotic identity that overrides the authentic American hero. The American soldier, molested by undeath, is horrendously manipulated, the strings of these puppets’ umbilical cords linked to puppeteers: the grotesque tank and Mads Mikkelson, the modern soldier with night vision goggles and the iconic M4. The monstrous and bizarre surrounds and heralds these cursed icons while the modern soldier basks in cathartic power, begging to be challenged.
Whatever the events of Death Stranding, we know the U.S. is center stage; if all the above imagery wasn’t enough, the U.S.-shaped pin on Del Toro’s lapel further proposes the international juggernaut. The spiderwebs etched upon the pin incriminate the red, white, and blue in the world’s current state; the program that spawned these webs of umbilical cords hails from the states. So does Del Toro represent this organization, and if so, what has gone wrong?
In a world consumed by death, destruction, and historical simulacra, the fetus remains, a treasure as the ideal of self, the sense of self, a replication of the self outside of oneself. This is the uncorrupted self that we cherish and protect amidst war and corruption, the authentic among simulacra, the self-conscious amid the cloned and commanded. Incomparably valuable, it also exists as a weapon. This is why Reedus’ and Del Toro’s characters cling to their fetal copies so tightly; the fetus is the power to resist and be. Certainly, these two resist; their broken handcuffs and resolve suggest so. Reedus’ lack of umbilical and loss of the fetus makes him special in some way; perhaps he is freed from the system as a whole, a wrench in the works, or he is broken, and in his state of disrepair is something unique and sought after. The dismembered doll with an identical “scar” on its abdomen and Mikkelson’s reaction upon seeing it suggests Reedus’ character’s importance lies in this absence of connection.
The fetus is an apt symbol in Death Stranding as it becomes an increasingly politically and scientifically charged object in the U.S.; the debate surrounding abortion continues, stem cell research remains promising but contested, and the fetus may become a tool for growing organs to save lives. Already symbolic of life, possibility, and the soul, the fetus’ appearance and centrality in Death Stranding is pivotal to its theme, and I'm excited to experience what it connotes and how it might figure into the actual gameplay.
I don’t know what’s going on in Death Stranding, or what its gameplay will be like. I do know that I’m fascinated, and I’m looking forward to an experience that warrants thought, dissection, and perhaps a bit of bravery. I'm confident that Kojima will create yet another masterpiece full of sharp gameplay and ripe with thoughtful content, and I'm overjoyed and practically obsessed with its vivid and darkly surreal atmosphere.