In the first ten minutes and concept of Death Stranding, the player plays Sam as its homo ludens who does not know where he is going. Most players die many times, feel lost, and do not know what the players should do. Like falling from a cliff, the player hopes that BB will give the player a thumbs up in his gut. However, it is not like which. A creepy plastic baby doll with spikes provides context to the game. The viewpoint and the atmosphere give the player a chilling feel.
Simply put, Death Stranding is a game that has horror-esque moments. Worked by Hideo Kojima, people know because of the Metal Gear series. It is nothing for him who cannot handle horror cannot work at all. Like in the first place, many people are itching for him to do horror games. However, by clearing P.T., things such as emptiness have an aura of tension on the player and intense boss fights. Kojima, by and large, still knows how to design a brilliant boss fight and more in the game. If a dozen notes given to the analysis leave a spot on certain elements, it would be beyond anyone’s understanding.
Personally and simultaneously, Death Stranding has a worse side than any other video game. The game has ambitious and original story cuts and base settings. Many of the cutscenes are some of the best that Kojima has directed. It is all-encompassing, immersive, yet gloomy. Kojima made the game beautifully, just like the score and landscape. Additionally, many characters are fun and crispy well by real actors and film directors. The film directors included Nicolas Winding Refn and Guillermo Del Toro. The core gameplay also revolutionizes the base game mechanics. It explodes through more than 45 hours of initial gameplay to include an additional hour to replay the entire story.
The plot, in addition, is confusing and convoluted. Kojima shows his narrative over but under central. It derives from his premise, which is extraordinary. His pace is terrible and happens too much early to late in the game. Because there is not much going on in the vast middle, many characters are nonsensical and boring. The core gameplay is too easy and barely progresses throughout the story in specific dialogue that cringes. However, the concept of disaster and Kojima’s homo ludens make Death Stranding unique. Apart from being a pure auteur, he is an eccentric genius with a slick world and imaginative storytelling.
On the other hand, he is also a bad writer with a lousy sense of narrative. Regardless of which, there has been much speculation. Metal Gear got in the way of both parts of Kojima during every game development. However, Death Stranding seems to be Kojima’s main personification in a pandora box.
The Landscape of Death Stranding
Months after its release, Kojima’s Death Stranding has proven to be an era-defining masterpiece. As real-world societies continue to live through a global pandemic, people find themselves isolated from one another. In the post-apocalyptic landscape of Death Stranding, the isolated individualist community is the United States of America. The player’s mission is to reunite the country by connecting remote settlements to a network service called the Chiral Network.
It not only enables humans to communicate but also to share resources among connected humans. Essentially, a connection is the game’s central theme through the system and narrative. In such a case, Kojima’s motivation is to connect a thread with more people. Connections in the game will always help the player feel that they are not alone. They look at other people’s tracks and think they are not the only ones in this world. This relationship with other people transcends the boundaries of the game itself.
Sam Porter Bridges and Chiral Network
The player plays Sam Porter Bridges, a courier for the seemingly ubiquitous Bridges company. His duties are equivalent to a cable clerk or postal worker. Sam’s job is to traverse North America to deliver packets and connect people to the Chiral Network. Narratively, the network of users to print specific resources from one node to another. Procedurally, Chiral Network gives the player the ability to share resources with other invisible players.
Regardless of which, the gameplay revolves around a problematic trajectory of terrain. The player also attempts to build a structure available to other players once they have connected certain areas to the Chiral Network. After finding one of these shared structures, the player can give Likes (similar to Instagram or YouTube) to the player who builds it. Giving Likes is intangible between the players, allowing each player greater access to other players’ development and structure through the game.
The concept of Death Stranding, at its core, focuses on Sam’s homo ludens of the United Cities of America. While uncovering his master role that is Bridges, in the supernatural disaster known as Death Stranding, Bridges, however, exists to serve two needs. The first is shipping cargo and connecting a network. Sam delivers and transports analog goods between settlements while repairing and building the infrastructure of the Chiral Network. The system well-suited Bridges to meet such demands of the business world. The processes that drive the Chiral Network result in the tools its players use in detecting invisible BT. Beached things are entities whose stranded souls are in the world of the living.
By making travel over the ground a little safer for the couriers, the tools such as BB (Bridge baby, an unborn fetus that one took from a still mother by Bridges operatives) stasis in a glass-like structure that connected the user’s aftermath at the front’s center. Through a connected, handheld antenna, the BB warns its player about dangerous BT by pointing at BT with a flashing light and a rotating siren. As the narrative progresses, the player discovers that these technological developments lead to a catastrophe that makes all profitable and necessary.
The Death Stranding concept is an exciting step forward in the homo ludens design. Referred to as strand-like, Kojima invented a stealth game with the Metal Gear series. He also found games like standing with Death Stranding. While most players have played games about Nazis, aliens, monsters, psychopaths, or else, it is rare to find games where the player tries to build and connect people. While in specific games, indie games have used such concepts a lot, but rarely for AAA games. If the player’s ultimate goal is to connect or build, it is usually achieved by fighting. Part of the map by destroying bases or building settlements by killing bandits is not in the game. The game is based on the walking simulator system (as most people said) and relies on trade, logistics, and story philosophy.
Deftly walking between fantasy and sci-fi, the concept is a joy in unraveling the mystery of the death of the United States. In addition, the game contains one of Kojima’s best directives ever. The entrance or introduction of Cliff Unger, played by Mads Mikkelsen, fantastically, or the black-out scene in the first sequence of the game, is excellent regardless of cheesy. However, in particular, Reedus injects a lot of subtlety and interesting mannerisms into what could be a bland but empty protagonist scroll. The way Kojima handles the basic moves might be more revolutionary than his concept of a string game. Filled with a score by Ludvig Forssell (the composer of Metal Gear Solid V), it works perfectly with songs from Low Roar. Both contributed to the Death Stranding vibe.
A New Luden
On the Kojima Productions website, Kojima writes how “play” is not just a hobby; it is the primordial foundation of imagination and creation. Homo ludens (those who play) are simultaneously homo faber (those who create). If the earth were stripped of life and reduced to a barren desert, human imagination and desire to create would endure beyond survival. It will give hope that one day, flowers can bloom again. Through the discovery of the game, their new evolution awaits. In short, Kojima has long idolized Huizinga’s thinking, especially the concept of homo ludens or humans as players who put forward the importance of playing as a central and defining feature of all human culture. Play is a natural state of man, exists a priori to society and culture, being an activity free from voluntary.
In essence, play to order is no longer play and can become a forced impersonation. The concept of homo ludens is a cultural phenomenon besides the concept of games that existed long before culture. When an individual sees a pet playing, they see that the concept of play occurs without the need for a clue or pattern. In such a case, playing can be said to be an instinct. However, the problem is that when an individual says that playing is instinct, then the game means narrow. On the other hand, if playing is said to be a will or a thought, the meaning of playing will be broad. The concept of homo ludens is based on deus ludens, depicting God’s characters playing or having fun.
Heartman, the Homo Loquens
Kojima’s remarks about homo ludens and Death Stranding were taken as a statement of intent. In conclusion, Kojima wants to guide his players to a new state and play the role of homo ludens through the game he made. However, the concept of homo ludens in Death Stranding and its entity is difficult to transition to reality. Simply put, the game is explicitly preoccupied with such an idea. According to Kojima, Heartman is the primary representation of the homo ludens concept; he said that the Heartman character is a unique type of character who will serve Bridges at all times. In his concept of homo ludens, Heartman tries to unite people, create culture, shape the world around him, not through prohibition, punishment, or violence. Instead, it is through a representative action.
To his credit and quote, Heartman tells Sam that his body exists, but his soul is on the Beach and has long since died. In the text, Heartman could have acted as deus ludens and Sam as homo ludens. However, Heartman depicts a new variety and entity of human beings. All are defined and referred to as dispositions in understanding the world through religion towards the language of science and logic. It is what is referred to as homo religious and homo loquens. The disposition to play will later turn into a new evolution that awaits the player if Kojima succeeds.
On the other hand, Sam’s metaphorical actions are not simply subject to Bridges’ control. However, it is also tied to the notion of duties and obligations for individuals and organizations. Sam’s mission is marked as essential and defined by his physical vulnerability in a world where vulnerability is already very high. In simple terms, Death Stranding demands that its players pay attention and internalize and learn its system. However, how did the creative and free-spirited homo ludens fit into a seemingly unfriendly system in the game?
Die-Hardman, John Blake McClane
The representation of homo ludens, other than Heartman, is cut in character Die-Hardman, played by Tommie Earl Jenkins. In the final sequence nearing the ending, Die-Hardman (from now on McClane) delivers a speech celebrating the formation of the United Cities of America as its first president. The appointment seems to be inherited from the boss Bridges, who in the late game died. During his speech, McClane dramatically removed the skull mask that defined his character as he called for a new America with courage and strength to rise from humanity’s past and embrace the future. In a private conversation with Sam, he regretfully divulges the dangerous role in the plot unfolding.
His irresistible feelings wonder at a confused Sam. Was his ascension to power the result of divine intervention from Cliff Unger? After confessing to being the one who killed Unger only to be saved by his ghost, McClane tells Sam that he wants to continue being Die-Hardman. Die-Hardman’s personification is a product of the system he operates within. He represents the kind of character that Kojima is trying to deconstruct through the personification of Sam. Even his alter ego, McClane, does not play the full role of homo ludens. In essence, he is too entrenched in the past, representing a stance that views his entity’s history as justification for continuing to exist at any cost.
“I’m Fragile, but not that fragile.”
In the last breath, the player underlines the liminality of space owned by Sam as homo ludens. Just as the latter exists in a current but timeless, liminal space between spirituality and video games. In a precarious state between the routine of certainty and the discovery process, Death Stranding ends its narrative in the ritualization of the game. When the player returns to the game after reaching the end of the story, it takes the player through such an experience. The play has become a complete ritual and a casual work practice. As every human’s homo ludens alter ego, Sam must leave in a state of mind that remains in limited play.
He rejects the structured nature of ritualization. Besides homo ludens, Sam also plays a role as a cultural disposition where he provides organizing principles. Human understanding does not come from linear development but by imagining problems from all angles. Sam represents a willingness to accept new logic, perspectives, and thinking when trying to connect with the world and the Chiral Network. In simple terms, the infamous quote from Fragile (not cringe but literally in the context) describes such a concept which reads: “I’m Fragile, but not that fragile.”
The Fundamental Change of Video Games
In one of the interviews from the BBC, Hideo Kojima said how Death Stranding is a response to everything that has happened to the image of politicians and their governments in the world, not only Europe and the United States. Ironically, it does not go away that, at times, the game is so close to deflecting a critique of Trump’s reign or even another. Kojima’s screams of “tomorrow is in your hands” hardly suggest that Kojima is becoming the opposite of his continuing interest in America which is a bit lost. The game broadly envisions a new path of the democratic process, both deliberatively and precariously.
However, in Kojima’s literal sense, a healthy democracy requires more than elections and suggests a fundamental change that will encourage deeper engagement with national and local democratic processes. Death Stranding is a strange concept in prominent, unique, but different homo ludens. However, it is difficult to conclude why people continue to question the game logically can be called a video game or long-term film. Therefore, the game becomes one of the benchmarks of why arthouse and video games cannot be separated. It will always be a new medium or art, not only literature and film but also video games. All entities have their video games, but the ending will always be the same, which is death.
- Anchor, R. (1978). History and play: Johan Huizinga and his critics. History and theory, 17(1), 63-93.
- Ehrmann, J., Lewis, C., & Lewis, P. (1968). Homo ludens revisited. Yale French Studies, (41), 31-57.
- House, R. (2020). Likers Get Liked. Platform Capitalism and the Precariat in Death Stranding. gamevironments, (13), 27-27.