“We used to pack theaters.”
“Used to be people could go anywhere they wanted. You could even visit other countries.”
Playing Death Stranding again circa-COVID-19 is a surreal experience. A game about a society holed up in cities, depending on porters to deliver essential goods, would seem almost trite if being developed today. History will likely have to remind us that Kojima’s opus was developed shortly before a global pandemic, and was for some of us (like myself), borderline prophetic.
The PC release has improved the already beautifully-realized world with higher frame rates and resolutions, and it breathes new life into Death Stranding’s universe. I knew the port would be a slightly enhanced experience compared to the console version, but what I didn’t expect was that it would be such a profoundly personal experience as well.
I never really felt the 30 FPS limit of the PlayStation 4 version of Death Stranding on my first playthrough, but now I’m unsure if I could go back. Seeing the lush greenery of the American (read: Icelandic) countryside and experiencing the atmosphere of dreary timefall storms on PC was something else. Unfortunately, the game’s scale didn’t mesh well with my dinky computer monitor, so I ran a comically long HDMI hookup to my TV and played with a wireless Dualshock controller. A bigger screen helped the experience, but it was my real-life limitations that made playing Death Stranding feel even more poignant.
Having primary immunodeficiency, I haven’t left my house since March. I haven’t seen my friends, family, or coworkers in over four months. Living this way makes life feel meaningless, and existence slowly dissolves into a blur of passing time. It’s for these reasons that Death Stranding, right now, has pulled my mental state out of the muck. It’s a story of hope, connection, and personal growth that hits entirely new chords now than it did when I reviewed it on release.
I imagine myself as Sam, helping people like me feel more connected to each other by facing dangers that would certainly spell their doom. In real life, of course, our roles are reversed. I think of the countless DoorDash delivery men and women who have brought food straight to my door, risking their own lives to potentially save mine. Of my parents, who take great pains to procure groceries and toiletries from packed grocery stores, sanitizing every item they bring home. I have become even more grateful for what they do after seeing it through a lens of Death Stranding’s surrealist science-fiction.
I hope, of course, that I would do the same for them. But it’s all I can do to live out this fantasy by delivering goods to digital NPCs.
It’s not as depressing as it sounds, though. Because in Death Stranding I can realistically help other real people. I place down a watchtower on a hill, or build a bridge over a ravine, and other players can use them in their games. I’m filled with satisfaction that from my own bunker, I can perform even these tiny favors for others. I took the time to rebuild every road in Chapter 3 – perhaps the most essential infrastructure in the game – because I didn’t want others to have to traverse the harsh terrain on foot.
Death Stranding has given me a modicum of purpose again. For now, I’ll keep taking my time and laying down paths for those who follow. And when it’s time, I’ll be ready to take the roads others have laid for me.