Probably one of the most disconcerting things about moving to a different country is how easy it is to forget who’s still alive back home.
You’d dream about your grandfather, only to remember a week later that he passed away months ago. Or you come across an old picture, and it hits you that most of the people smiling at you are already dead. But the scariest part is when you realize that one day those people are going to be the ones closest to you. Your parents. Siblings and cousins. And ultimately you.
A Different Type of Game
Once in a long, long while, there comes a game that stirs feelings within you. And I’m not talking about that adrenaline rush. No, there are lots of titles out there that do just that – shoot up some zombies for a quick fix. The feelings I am talking about are those that creep up unknowingly on you. The games that make you contemplate the nature of life not necessarily through dialogue, but environment, music, and narrative combined.
Death Stranding features stunning vistas and some of the best music I have heard in my entire life. On the other hand, the metaphors often lack subtlety, as do character names. Light-hearted jokes don’t always manage a smooth landing and can end up being ridiculously cheesy moments. What ultimately won me over was the fact that this game does what so many don’t even bother trying to do – it makes me reflect on loneliness and death through isolation. It is one of the most unique games I’ve ever played – wildly imaginative and a risky bet. The feature of division amongst critics and players alike is one of the pillars of art – two people can look at the same work and take home vastly different interpretations. One finds ruminations on the human condition in the very experience that others find frustrating and a sheer waste of their time.
Usually, a scene analysis is the domain of films or television media. However, this is where video games – especially one as artistically ambitious as Death Stranding – diverge from traditional analysis.
This piece is not concerned with shots, camera angles and interpreting them as one could do with film – as the point of view varies from player to player due to the camera not being fixed during gameplay – but rather the choice of music and the underlying meaning behind the sequence.
SPOILER ALERT: Minor plot point from Episode 1: Bridget (and major S05 spoiler for BoJack Horseman)
The Music – Bones
Like so many people, I have Death Stranding to thank for introducing me to Low Roar. The moody tunes mesh perfectly with the desolate Icelandic plains. The inspiration behind the songs plays a big part in the impact they have on the listener. Ryan Karazija of Low Roar draws inspiration from a variety of influences, including his experiences with immigration, difficulties adjusting to a new culture, finding a job as a foreigner, and of course, heartbreak.
Although its origins can be traced to a breakup (it does sneak in a reference to being far away from home too), an alternative interpretation is of losing someone who is very dear to you – so much that they’re a part of you– and the pain that comes along with it. It is a raw moment – in the truest sense of the word. Kojima couldn’t have chosen a better song for this sequence (although that’s true for most, if not all, of them).
Death Stranding, for all its merits, doesn’t revel in subtlety. Names are self-explanatory – Deadman is held together by organs harvested from cadavers, Heartman suffers a cardiac arrest every 21 minutes and so on. Episode 1: Bridget tackles death in a similar fashion. During this sequence, Sam is tasked with carrying Bridget’s corpse to the incinerator before it goes necro and causes a voidout.
Death is defined as ‘the destruction or permanent end of something.’ Bridget’s death spells an end to her physical existence in this world – the literal destruction of her body. But along with that, it also symbolizes the end of her relationship with Sam – or the idea of the relationship they could have had, had he not cut all ties and left. Free Churro, one of the most brilliantly creative episodes of BoJack Horseman also deals with the concept of pain brought about by losing one’s parent despite never having had an ideal relationship with them.
Sam’s relationship with his adoptive mother was by no means perfect – he ended up abandoning her cause and leaving behind what was presumably a comfortable life among the Bridges elite to trudge day in and day out delivering packages, risking his life every step of the journey. However, it is clear from his conversation with Bridget that despite his choices in life, she always held onto the hope that he would someday return to reunite all of America.
Sam had also been holding onto his past in his own way – the picture he always carries with him might have his wife’s face grayed out, but Bridget and Sam are still there, a memory of happier times.
There is something primal about seeing a man carry his mother’s corpse, struggling not to fall. It’s difficult to place this feeling. Doubtless, one feels a mix of pity, sadness, empathy – and an uncomfortable reminder that most likely we will have to go through the same loss at some point in our lives, if we haven’t already.
This sequence also gives meaning to the weight of family that we carry with us. You can cut all ties, move a thousand miles away, but their impressions remain. The family that raised you shapes much of your beliefs, outlook, and attitude towards life – all of which you carry with you into adult life. These remnants are far more persistent than a mere body that can be reduced to ashes in a matter of minutes. Sure, Sam can carry his mother’s body to an incinerator – a rough journey, complete with mountains to conquer – but can he ever rid himself of what remains?
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Looking for more Death Stranding? Why not take a look at our review or this piece exploring the real-world roots of the sci-fi featured in Death Stranding?
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