Death Stranding and the Blurring of Games and Film

Ever since its release on November 8th, it’s become virtually impossible to explore the gaming sphere without hearing about Hideo Kojima’s widely anticipated Death Stranding. Highly regarded as one of the most acclaimed video game designers in the industry for his Metal Gear Solid series, Kojima is known for his highly cinematic game direction. During his childhood, he developed a strong passion for film and literature, and it shows in his signature cut-scenes that reference the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, George Romero, and Orson Welles. 

His newest bizarre masterpiece takes place in a post-apocalyptic world torn apart by a large bang referred to as the Death Stranding which left behind invisible and destructive paranormal entities. The story follows package courier, Sam Porter Bridges (modelled after and voice acted by Norman Reedus), as he encounters and forms a paternal relationship to a BB, a stillborn infant living inside an artificial womb, used for experimental tests due to its spiritual link to its deceased mother which allows it to see ghosts (I told you, it’s a bizarre game). The majority of the gameplay is spent travelling alone, delivering packages, and caring for the BB. Kojima says, “I’m very prone to loneliness. I think there are similar people around the world… So when those people play this game, they realize people like them exist all over the world. Knowing that even though I’m lonely, there are other people like me, makes you feel at ease.”

As the first game developed under Kojima Productions after the renowned auteur’s split from Konami in 2015, Death Stranding been met with mixed reviews – receiving praise for its atmospheric storytelling, and criticism due to its fairly mundane (some might say boring) gameplay. This article will not, however, be focusing on the game’s commercial reception. Instead, I’d like to address the multitude of doors that a game such as Death Stranding has opened up for creators in both the film and games industry. 

Filled with intriguing characters and familiar faces, Death Stranding’s cast is saturated with film stars who have provided their likeness for modelling such as: esteemed horror director, Guillermo del Toro, as a Frankenstein character struggling with his humanity; French actress Lea Seydoux, as the CEO of a company her deceased father passed down to her; art-house director, Nicolas Winding Refn, as a desperate scientist in search of his dead family; and Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen, as an enigmatic Special Forces Operative in direct opposition to Sam.

While there have been instances in the past of celebrities featured in video games, none have been as ambitious as Death Stranding. We’re beginning to see much more collaboration between games and film, both in front of and behind the camera – with actors starring as game characters, cinematic techniques infused with gameplay mechanics, and game tech being used for innovative new ways of filming. Death Stranding is a prime example of the transversive power stories can hold when knotting together the two most sensory expressive visual mediums. 

Video games, in general, are looked down upon for a variety of reasons such as unfavourable representation with money-grabbing loot boxes and DLCs, gratuitous violence, and publicly perceived two-dimensional narratives not worth telling. This is often due to a superficial understanding of the medium, or a simple refusal to engage with games due to an aversion to technology. Death Stranding, however, and its filmic approach packages games in a way that feels familiar to those that haven’t played a game in their life, and makes the medium more accessible to those who may not have felt inclined to try gaming otherwise. It makes incredibly promising strides in turning video games into a publicly recognized form of art, instead of the flippant brain-rotting demon its still unfortunately portrayed as by entertainment critics. It is my hope to see more triple-A studios follow Kojima’s steps, and make the effort to churn out bolder stories in the name of art, as opposed to money.

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