The world has come to an end. Society has we know it is just a memory. People fear each other and live isolated, locked up in shelters without any contact with the world outside. No, it’s not a description of life in the post-internet era – the one we live after the rise of social media – but the future as imagined by Death Stranding, one of the most anticipated video game of the year.
The game depicts a world returned to a primordial state after an apocalyptic event. Our society is gone and untamed wilderness stretches out for miles and miles between one city and another. In this world, though, there’s a man with a mission: filling the gap that separates people and turning again into a community what once were the United States. To fulfill his goal, the main character will not have to fight or to conquer anything. His only tool to bring people together will be his feet and a bunch of items to deliver from one city to the other.
A net to connect
An aim like that it’s something very peculiar for a videogame and looks more like The Postman – the movie in which Kevin Costner saves the US from the Apocalypse implementing a postal service – than to any Fortnite or Call of Duty. But that was exactly the goal of the game’s creator, the renowned Japanese game designer Hideo Kojima.
As he stated in the last Tribeca film festival “There are so many things happening in the real world, in America, in Europe. Everything is connected by the internet, but we’re not connected in the real world these days. Players will have to reconnect the world in the game. You feel very alone, in solitude – but you’re trying to connect.” Loneliness, indeed, is one of the major feelings in this game. As a player, you will have not so many things to do, except walking.
You will have to balance the steps of your digital avatar. Be sure the weight on his shoulders wouldn’t prevent him from walk (or run if needed). Check that his gears are in good shape, and help him crossing rivers or climbing mountains. The path will not be easy and advancing in the game is as painful and repetitive as great is the satisfaction and the joy to finally reach an outpost lost in the middle of nowhere. But, even though you may feel the opposite, you will not be alone in this.
Mr Kojima has a long history of innovation and crazy ideas in his specific field of work. And here he tries to do the same. Death Stranding is a game like no other, as it tries to create a new way to approach multiplayer games. In this kind of games, players are pushed to compete one against the others, but not in Death Stranding. Every action you do affects the environment around you and can be used to make the path way easier for others. Creating a bridge in a fairly difficult passage, can save hours of walking. Pointing out a dangerous spot can preserve the lives of other players. Leaving your extra equipment in a shared locker instead of throwing it away can be extremely helpful for your fellow adventurers. Instead of putting the players one against the other, Death Stranding encourages cooperation in order to survive in its harsh environment.
Being social in the social media age
Your good-in-game-deeds can be rewarded by others with a like, which – as Kojima puts it – is nothing else that “free love”. You can’t use them as a currency to buy better equipment or fancy gears. They just show how much your efforts are appreciated by the community of the players. Does it remind you something? If you’re thinking about social media, you’re right. Death Stranding’s solidarity system was conceived by its author as a way to fight atomisation, creating a different way of communication in the internet era.
Social Media has been born to connect friends sharing common interests, but they soon turned in something else. Now they look more like a uncontrolled field in which hate speech and toxic behaviour flourish. It has been proved that hoax shared via Facebook and Whatsapp played a key role behind racial and religious disorders in India and Sri Lanka, while White Suprematist terrorists found their inspiration on Facebook and Youtube. Speaking of our favourite video-sharing platform, who never lost himself watching one suggested video after another? Well, Mozilla recently stressed out how YouTube’s Algorithms tend to drive their viewers towards violent, controversial or shocking contents, in order to maximise the time they spent on the website.
The responsibility of communication
That said, the owners of these platforms refuse to be held responsible of the behaviour of their users. On top of that, many of these users – especially the most influential one, like politicians – use toxic behaviour as a weapon. For example, Italian far-right leader and former minister Matteo Salvini is used to expose his opponents (especially young girls) to the rage of his fans, unleashing a storm of bad comments over them.
But communication is a matter of responsibility, at least in Kojima’s eyes. “What does it mean to be connected?” he said to Famitsu “It means taking some measure of responsibility, which can be a very dangerous thing. If you see a friend often enough you’ll start to fight a bit; the same happens in marriage. There’s no unwritten rule about taking responsibility for online communication, so we all end up attacking one another.”
Tomorrow is in your hands
Death Stranding is his personal effort to put back responsibility into the online discourse. If every action you make in the game affects the others, you should be very careful about what you do. You’re constantly reminded that your efforts go not only to your own advantage, but for the others as well. And you’re rewarded for this. This game-inside-the-game turned out to be so powerful and empowering that many players stopped to progress in their own journey. Instead, they prefer to help out unknown adventurers building the most needed facilities in the most dangerous spots. As Kojima himself puts it: “As you get further into the game you start to realize that the fun of this particular racing game doesn’t come from attacking the corners and competing for the best time, and that realization can be quite liberating.”
Death Stranding is a bold attempt to build a new kind of communication for the future world. One that is less direct than the one we are used to, but can be as effective and bonding. In a world were that same technology that pleaded to keep us together it’s the best way to flame up hate, a videogame stands out to show people how good it feels to connect. If tomorrow is in our hands – it seems to state – better use them not to build walls, but bridges towards a new world.