[ Game Theory ] Dissecting Death Stranding’s E3 Trailer

I’ve been really attached to Death Stranding ever since it was formally announced at E3 this year. It has been for a lot of people for a few reasons but most of them point towards the fact that it’s given followers of Kojima’s work something to theorize about again and since Silent Hills will never be a thing that will happen, this fell right in place to fill that gap that it left.

This couldn’t be more true for yours truly, as someone who hadn’t really jumped on the theory train regarding P.T. as the Silent Hill franchise had become more and more isolated from entry to entry that seeking connection between them was kind of a lost cause and waited patiently to just hear about what Kojima and del Toro was due to bring to it.  This kind of reveal and this kind of trailer was exactly what I expected from Kojima and finally sparked that light in me that is usually reserved for earlier Metal Gear Solid works – let’s face it, the ending reveal of Metal Gear Solid V was not exactly surprising as I’d suspected you weren’t playing as Big Boss from the moment the voice cast was revealed.

Recently, I came across a pretty intriguing video from RagnaRox regarding what the story of Death Stranding could be about and it got me thinking about the theory I had floating in my head about it and what had already been talked about so I thought that perhaps it was time for some healthy speculation!

death stranding theory 1

Story Theory 1: Religious End of Days

What you’re looking at here is something more in line with Judeo-Christian faiths and fears: that our constant deviation from faith and embracing of the sciences is seen as an affront to God and the sacrifices that need to be made in those embraces. These eventually result in a kind of religious apocalypse situation where five cherubim descend upon the Earth to commit one final judgment on the entirety of existence on the planet and those who succeed in being deemed faithful to God would be elevated to Heaven in a Rapture while all others were left on Earth to die while evil reigned supreme over the planet.

It’s a lot to pull from a short trailer without any dialogue but a huge couple of keys lie in the symbolism – something Kojima is well-known for – and the poem he chose to open the trailer with, which is written by a man who is well-known for creating stuff of a somewhat religious nature and a disdain for humanity’s ill choices. It’s pretty clear that something had ticked the big man in the sky off enough to initiate end of days but the big mystery that comes up in this theory is what it is that brought Rapture on, exactly. Was mankind dooming itself and the warriors of Heaven stepped in to save the faithful from danger? Was mankind affronting God to the point of bringing the direct wrath of Him onto the remainder of humanity? Was this a clearing of the battlefield for one last glorious battle between good and evil? Was this some kind of point where God pushes the reset button and it’s being found that God has done this several times in the past? These all sound like ideas Kojima could bring to light, especially considering the thematic weight of what some of these ideas suggest for a game.

What’s the likelihood of this being a thing that happens? Well, considering how heavy-handed some of the commentary on his past games in the Metal Gear franchise are and considering how obvious some of his influences are when compared to the source material, I don’t really know that he could pull it off and still make a game that doesn’t incite huge controversy to the point of making the game unwanted by every retailer in the first world. I’m talking first Mortal Kombat levels of public concern over a game that tackles the subject of affronting God in a realistic way. I could see him doing some selective name-swapping and making it more of a religious-“like” experience and not directly reference any particular reference but, in all sincerity, it would still incite quite a bit of public controversy. It definitely would get people talking but most of it would not be the good kind of talking.

What would this mean for the game, gameplay-wise? This could mean a lot of things, actually, which is the only reason why I would see Kojima really going after this kind of approach. He was already somewhat dealing with a quasi-religious task with Silent Hills and this kind of story would allow him to, essentially, make any kind of game that he wanted. If he wanted to make an atmospheric creep-fest in the veins of Alien Isolation, he could; if he wanted to make a multi-set platforming action game in the vein of something like Uncharted, he could; if he wanted to create a sort of multi-location open-world game in the veins of WitcherMass Effect, or Grand Theft Auto, he could. This kind of story would allow him the kind of freedom it would appear he’s been searching for.

death stranding theory 2

Story Theory 2: Scientific End of Days

This is more in line with what I originally thought the game was going to be about based on what Kojima had been talking about since the trailer dropped: a kind of scenario that puts humanity on the same stage as Icarus, flying too high before getting burned and dying as a result. In a kind of Shyamalan-like twist, we see humanity getting to the point of scientific advance where we start having to make philosophical choices in regards to whether or not we should be making the advances or not and those that chose to advance actually end up dooming the world.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who thinks something like this is a possibility: there’s been proof that the “dog tags” around Norman’s neck in the trailers are housing some pretty heavy scientific theory in the areas of relativity and space-time physics and there’s also a core out there that believe the game may also be directly inspired by the novel The Time Wanderers by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky in the way that there are those who are segregated among humanity as those who are born with psychic powers and ability to reason much differently than your normal human, who call themselves the Ludens. In that novel, the Ludens kept themselves a secret as they believed that their race was superior to that of humanity and that humanity would not be able to properly react to their existence and, as such, constantly performed experiments on humanity and themselves to further themselves and understand humanity better. The central character discovers this and seeks to uncover the Ludens and succeeds in doing so, only to find himself among the Ludens.

One of the big qualifiers for this is the relation to science fiction and current media Kojima has been making in related Tweets and interviews: a lot of what he’s saying sounds like stuff straight out of A Space Odyssey, which is a lot like humanity opening Pandora’s Box to find that it was something they shouldn’t have messed with in the first place. What this also suggests, though, is some kind of extra-terrestrial intervention, which could explain the figures in the sky at the end of the trailer, if this theory is to be believed; that, perhaps, what scientific advance doomed us to was to be judged upon by an extra-terrestrial race. Much like Nine Inch Nails’ The Warning and, by proxy, the rest of the album Year Zero, in which Trent Reznor suggests that the totalitarian control of the world by a new world order gets the attention of some extra-terrestrial life forms who decide to just “wipe the slate clean” as a result.

What is the likelihood of something like this being a thing? Pretty strong, if I do say so, myself. Like I mentioned earlier, Hideo Kojima has always been pretty heavy-handed with his social commentary and making a statement against totalitarian and dictatorial control seems right up Kojima’s alley. Throw in some additional messages about racial segregation and science versus nature and you have a story that has Kojima’s name written all over it. Well… in my humble opinion, anyway.

What does this mean for the game, gameplay-wise? Well, this is where things get kind of hazy; this kind of narrows down what kind of game Kojima can make due to the fact that he would need to make sure he can make a Kojima-style narrative amidst all that’s going on, in-game. Because there’s a clearly science-fiction angle with this theory it would lend itself to a kind of action game, like Kojima’s already kind of hinted at; however, though, I don’t think this will be a game that would have action “elements” but rather have action be the driving force behind much of the gameplay, kind of like Metal Gear Solid has that aspect to it. While the game redefined espionage and stealth in video games and has through the length of its franchise, it was, at its core, an action title. I think this is the kind of thing that Kojima is going for if he’s going to have a concrete story idea like this that is a little more grounded and will have a strong social commentary.

death stranding theory 3

Scrap Theories: Just Going Crazy

Let’s not forget, here, that Kojima is the master of the mindfuck and will take any opportunity to screw with people. Let’s not forget that Metal Gear Solid V was initially only marketed as The Phantom Pain and was littered with Moby Dick references, including a fucking flaming sperm whale that only turned out to be… a… medicine-influenced hallucination, I guess, in the end? The point that I’m making here is that this is what Kojima did with a franchise everyone knew well and he took pleasure in misleading people with: we have no idea what Death Stranding is and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s having fun teasing us with this trailer and all this spoon fed information since then.

There’s this really radical theory out there that states that Death Stranding is going to be what Silent Hills was supposed to be, right down to the somewhat religious allegory and heavy themes of punishment and judgment, with several name changes to save face. There’s also this theory that I’ve heard in passing that goes along the lines of A Space Odyssey where Mr. Reedus is basically the space baby and the figures at the end are basically self-aware monoliths and the whole thing is meant to teach us a lesson about reliance on technological advancement. Something like that. There’s been a lot of crazy theory talk out there but one has to keep in mind that it’s super fun to theorize and all that stuff that’ll probably sound crazy whenever Death Stranding gets released is still kind of fun to think about because, considering it’s Kojima we’re talking about here, it might get us talking about something we never thought about before.

Even if all anyone is talking about, thanks to him, is Mads Mikkelson.


2 thoughts on “[ Game Theory ] Dissecting Death Stranding’s E3 Trailer

  1. Theorising, theorising and more theorising… I LOVE IT. I think Kojima at one point said that the combat will be somewhat primal and rudimentary? Maybe this ties in with the religious aspect

    1. Very possibly. I personally think it will be more akin to survival than primal to be honest but I suppose only time will tell.

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