Hideo Kojima's defining trait is his penchant for creating the bizarre. He’s known for creating strange, absurdist game worlds, using cryptic clues and ideas to communicate themes in his work, and borrowing ideas and styles from other directors and creators as inspiration for his own designs.
Now on his first excursion in game development not backed by Konami, he’s back with an even more twisted creation than before. Death Stranding, the mysterious game seen earlier this year at E3 2016 via a trailer starring Norman Reedus, a baby, and a beach covered in dead animals.
People were quick to jump on Death Stranding as a way to connect it with the now-defunct Silent Hills Kojima was working on in conjunction with Guillermo Del Toro prior to his departure from Konami. But with the latest trailer from The Game Awards 2016, we’re getting a sense that Death Stranding goes a bit deeper thematically than we may have thought.
As it is wont to do, the internet is alive with theories, speculation, and explanation attempts to help make sense of the cryptic madness unleashed in these trailers. Here are what we consider to be the most likely.
What Is Death Stranding?
Hints at what exactly Death Stranding is are hidden right in the game’s title. Images of decay, rot, and darkness making up the world suggest it will explore themes of death, loss, isolation, and possibly even rebirth.
But there’s also the Stranding, made evident by the literal snakelike strands connecting everything--alive or inanimate--to something else.
On the Kojima Productions Twitter account, we’ve seen several messages delivering cryptic clues as to what we can expect from this eventual project. One of them spoke of the importance of a “continue” option in coin-operated games and the way it punished death, but allowed for a new beginning. According to this same post, “death is about to have a new meaning.”
Both the themes of interconnectivity and death are interesting, because they are simultaneously in conjunction and opposition. Death is thought to be final, infinite. Interconnectivity in its most realized state can continue forever in an endless cycle. But what if they were able to meet in the middle? What if death is just a new beginning, a launch into something entirely different?
It remains unclear exactly what Death Stranding is; is it a shooter, an action game, a narrative-driven experience? With so few concrete clues to go on, we’re instead left speculating about its themes more than its mechanical nature.
However, there are some who think Death Stranding might be a multiplayer experience, a shared adventure in which players will have to work together. There are two major clues to this possibility: first are the handcuffs worn by both Guillermo Del Toro and Norman Reedus’ characters, which are on opposite hands of each other and possibly suggesting the two had, at one point, been connected to each other’s company. The second involves the strange baby Reedus caresses and Del Toro carries around in a weird tank he’s able to hook into. In the first trailer, Reedus picks the baby up and tearfully embraces it, but not before it vanishes and leaves him with nothing more than handfuls of the thick, dark muck that permeates the world.
In the second trailer, Del Toro is clearly in distress and makes a rushed decision to link up to the fetus. When they do, there appears to be a conscious connection between the two, and this has led to some speculation of whether or not Del Toro’s action caused Reedus’ baby friend to disappear.
Thus, there’s the possibility that players could be working cooperatively in different sections of the game, sharing resources but having to be careful about who uses them and how. Information is still incredibly limited, but the thought of players working together on a massive level like that is something that screams Kojima’s name.
Welcome to the Afterlife
Obvious signs of death aside, there’s a lot going on in these Death Stranding trailers to suggest the characters we see are stuck in some sort of purgatory or afterlife. Both Del Toro and Reedus’ characters have suffered some sort of physical trauma--Reedus has a massive intersecting scar on his abdomen, Del Toro has a large scar running the length of his forehead--and that trauma could have been what ended their mortal life and placed them in this world.
The beached animals are also a big indicator, since animals (particularly whales) that wind up dead on beaches often get there because they are lost or ill and stumble in. The idea they’re “lost” is especially appealing for this theory; ideas of Purgatory and the afterlife itself are rooted in souls being “stuck” in one place while awaiting judgement to go into another. Add to that the strong imagery of dead, skeletal soldiers stalking the streets, and you’re staring at a group of the dead, marching in step toward their own forsaken eternity.
Even the five mysterious figures floating in the sky have a sort of deity-like quality to them, hovering above the world and looking down upon it. Are they the ones who oversee this place, who govern its people? Why are they there?
The world around them is dying as well, leaking fluid and developing more and more of a gray, lifeless pallor. Even the beached animals suggest a world in distress, as the environment cannot support the seeming throngs of creatures that once populated its surface. The world of Death Stranding is bleak, and it doesn’t appear that anyone is able to easily leave.
Time Travel/Parallel Dimensions
Another theory is that Death Stranding is a game in which characters travel through alternate moments in time and across different dimensions on a journey to right wrongs made in previous attempts.
One of the biggest suggestions of this theory come from the pin on Del Toro’s lapel. Featuring a map of the United States connected by a vast network of webs (or ‘strands’), the pin has the name “Bridges” written across the top. Is this a secret group Del Toro works for, bent on traveling within multiple dimensions to right wrongs and attempt to connect with their alternate selves?
The disparate use of technology also within the trailer suggests perhaps there’s also a time travel element in Death Stranding. In Reedus’ scene, he’s naked on a beach that could possibly predate mankind, whereas Del Toro carries around complex future technology capable of keeping a baby alive in a tank tucked under his arm while walking beneath a World War II-era tank and battalion of skeleton soldiers dressed up in fatigues from the same time march overhead. Older fighter planes soar by in the sky, trailing their own strands behind. Consider this tech mixed with Del Toro’s baby tank and high-tech, blue-glowing handcuffs, plus Mads Mikkelson’s night vision goggles and modern-day skeleton soldiers, and there’s a strange mix of time and tech going on.
This could also support the Purgatory theory, though. If Purgatory is where everyone goes first when they die, it would naturally be a bizarre mix of people and times from throughout human history. And perhaps the more otherworldly elements could be explained away as part of the purgatorial setup as well.
Everything is Connected
The strands in Death Stranding are definitely significant. Many of them seem to hook into people’s bodies via the belly button, as we see with Del Toro’s weird baby tank linkup, Mikkelsen’s multiple skeleton soldier tethers, and Norman Reedus’ massive abdominal scar taking up the space where his belly button should be.
In one moment, Del Toro and the baby appear to share a moment of consciousness, where they both look blankly into the camera in a similar way. Not long after, Mikkelsen's character communicates to his soldiers via hand signals, which sends them running and detaches the link cables between himself and the skeletons.
Even the poem seen at the start of the original trailer suggests the theory that all things are connected to each other and all things share significance, lending more credibility to the idea that Death Stranding is a game about shared connectivity.
This might also suggest why Reedus is seen in distress at the start of the first trailer. His scar suggests perhaps he isn’t connected to anything, or that he has lost his ability to connect to something outside of himself. Thus, he is literally disconnected and longing to find his way back.
There’s still so much to understand and learn more of. What is the significance of the babies and adults sharing the same space? What exactly is that thick, black substance leaking everywhere? Do the strands have a deeper meaning or purpose than we’re aware of?
There’s still no release date for Death Stranding, but it’s likely we’ll learn more about it from reveal trailers in the coming months. Until then, check out some neat fan theories we’ve discovered in other video games.