Death Stranding is out soon! That may seem strange given that Death Stranding also came out about nine months ago. PC ports happen all the time, but this one feels significant for a lot of messy reasons — only some of which actually have to do with this incredibly weird video game.
First of all, I’m back under embargo. There are things I very much cannot talk about with regards to this video game that, again… already came out nine months ago. I may be new to this industry, but that struck me as incredibly strange right off the bat. I don’t know if this is the result of Deep Brain Poisoning that makes us all act like spoilers actually matter, or if this game has been fundamentally changed in some way between the PS4 and PC releases (I’m guessing its the first).
Second, I really needed this game right now. I do not think I’m alone. I missed out on the discourse around this particular Kojima Productions game because I was in the midst of a 24 credit per hour semester at college. That’s why I’ve been shocked to learn it’s exactly the sort of experience I wanted in my life right now. Death Stranding is messy and ambitious and, I think, full of heart. It’s a game about “America” as an ideal and an entity. And that — what feels like both a thousand years and just 10 minutes after Death Stranding originally launched — is a complicated thing.
With the current state of the world I am desperate to traverse space and bask in quiet. I’m not really driving right now; there are no transitional spaces to sink into. Taking a box of, I don’t know, old books up the side of a mountain plotting the route and making minor adjustments as I go is both a salve for my brain and a reminder of why I love motion. Aside from some occasional hitching, especially in menus and preceding cutscenes, the game flows perfectly on PC. It smoothly leads me from space between to space between. While America is known for its more transitional spaces (motels and highways are some of the most foundational elements of titular “Americana”) it isn’t really defined by them the way Death Stranding is.
Death Stranding does not look like America. It does not feel like America. That’s part of why I’m in love with it. The game professes to be about rebuilding the so-called United Cities of America a post-apocalyptic vision of a redeemed country. We, as Sam Porter Bridges, are told time and again that without connection, without America, humanity will go extinct. Hearing this in 2020 feels bad. Just nine months after the game’s initial release this message doesn’t just ring hollow as it might have last year; it’s discordant. I do not want to rehabilitate America. I want to see it run into the ground and dream of something better.
While I disagree with the game’s image of America as a place defined by connection, I’m constantly excited about the way connection as a whole manifests in the gameplay. The extant power structures within the U.S. actively chose to fail us. The massive mutual aid network Death Stranding presents is much more exciting to me. For as much as connection as a theme in the game can feel heavy-handed and messy, connection as political praxis is alive, good, and fully realized.
The narrative of building the Chiral Network (the internet, but with 3D printing) is one thing. But your ability to asynchronously help your fellow players by providing supplies, infrastructure, and completing their failed deliveries resonates deeply. I do not believe in America. I do believe in our ability to materially affect the lives of those around us. That’s what makes Death Stranding actually work — not as an ode to the United States, but as an unwitting alternative to it.
While its vision has aged incredibly poorly in a laughably short time, the game’s heart and practice of care have not. Which is why I think this is still a game worth playing, perhaps now even more than when it released originally.