why Death Stranding deserves a hyper-contemporary exploration

why Death Stranding deserves a hyper-contemporary exploration

reading time: 5 minutes

Death Stranding.

“What’s that?”

If you think Death Stranding is just FedEx meets Fallout, oh fellow, do I have news for you.

Death Stranding.

It’s not just a game; it’s an existential quandary served on a disc. Or a download. Whatever tickles your byte. A smorgasbord of art, narrative, and a dollop of existential dread stirred in for good measure. Our host, Hideo Kojima, is not your run-of-the-mill mixologist. He’s like a Heston Blumenthal of gaming – deconstructing, reconstructing, and serving it up with a side of a baby in a jar.

How to think about and write about such a game?

Of course, a first thought that comes to mind is applying good old game study theories like ludology or narratology, or Johan Huizinga’s concept of the magic circle or Jesse Schell’s 100 lenses. And let’s be fair, the classics are rad. They’re our intellectual comfort food. But guess what? We’re in the era of cognitive fusion cuisine. This is less a plea for culinary experimentalism but more a stand for intellectual dynamism. Would Marshall McLuhan know how to handle chiral crystals? Exactly. While fine-tuned for game mechanics, such approaches lack the tools to dissect the metaness of contemporary art and society. So, you know who could unpack sipping Monster Energy to navigate between life and death? Try Douglas Rushkoff, whose insights into how consumer culture shapes our perceptions of reality offer a novel lens through which to explore the game’s nuanced layers. Or think of using Safiya Umoja Noble’s insights on algorithmic biases to interpret the game’s algorithmic logic of likes. Such thinkers breathe the air of our times; their thoughts percolate with the chaotic froth of the digital age.

To analyze Death Stranding purely as game and story would be like explaining Elon Musk’s Mars ambitions through the lens of the Wright Brothers’ first flight – a humble start but hardly up to spec for today’s challenges.

My idea?

Narrative osmosis.

A neo-hermeneutics term you’ll see me unpack in a later post, but briefly: I understand it as the simple notion that the membrane between fiction and life with games like Death Stranding is porous enough to let dread, political discourse, interdisciplinary concepts and bottled babies seep through. Not your usual bubble of escapism, I guess. Intrigued? More on this in another post, but for now, just chew on that.

To paraphrase Michel Foucault, we’re deconstructing discursive formations. Or in common parlance, we need to look at why things are the way they are. Death Stranding is a meta-textual playground that screams for deconstruction (the concept, not the act of dismantling your PC), and hyper-contemporary concepts from interdisciplinary fields let me pull apart Death Stranding in ways that make Jacques Derrida’s deconstructions look like Lego sets.

While I do tip my hat to the tried and true intellects of yore – our Foucaults, Marxs, and Bourdieus – let’s not forget that scholarship is a living, evolving discourse. Too much of discourse still amounts to intellectual rehashing, to endlessly cannibalizing their concepts like some intellectual zombie apocalypse. We’re stuck in a historical echo chamber, my fellows. But not here with META-STRAND. My analyses shift the spotlight from the venerable OGs more squarely onto the hyper-contemporaries, the thought leaders of today, if you will: figures like Shoshana Zuboff, whose work on surveillance capitalism cuts through the digital mirage of freedom, Kate Crawford, who dives into the politics of artificial intelligence, Ruha Benjamin, known for her expertise in the social dimensions of science, technology, and medicine, or Tristan Harris focusing on the ethics of human attention in the digital age, among others. In a world where the zeitgeist moves with every tweet, social network scandal, or NFT auction, why should academic critique remain stuck in the 20th century? By engaging with scholars who are working at the cutting edge of cultural, technological, and ethical debates, I aim to bring the conversation around games like Death Stranding up to speed with the complexities of our frenetic digital lives. I see these thinkers as the bridge to the ‘now,’ as the narrators of our current epoch, deciphering the inscriptions of a world written in the binary and the biological. Hence, it’s only fair that our analytical arsenal be as up-to-date as our antivirus software.

That’s why also, a dedicated ‘Thinkers’ menu on the META-STRAND website offers more than mere citations; it serves as more than a list; it’s a dynamic hub where we bring the cutting-edge insights of hyper-contemporary intellectuals right to your fingertips. This specially curated space aims to make intellectual engagement with Death Stranding more nuanced and contextually relevant. In a game that so clearly emphasizes connections, the ‘Thinkers’ section reinforces the idea that to navigate today’s complex landscape, we benefit from a myriad of voices, each contributing a unique lens for analysis and understanding.

But really let’s drop the pretense, shall we?

Isn’t this scholarly autopsy a form of intellectual showboating? Isn’t it just the intellectual’s pastime?

Perhaps a bit of both. But deconstruction isn’t a nihilistic exercise – it’s deeply humanistic.

But remember the ever-so-subtle moment when our protagonist, Sam, draws a connection between his BB and his life’s uncertainties? That moment isn’t just a trick Kojima pulled out of his hat; it’s an embodiment of Lacanian psychoanalysis, a screaming, crying, metaphorical mirror into our deepest fears of disconnection. It’s as if he took a peek into the collective unconsciousness and laid it bare for us to explore, one tap on the keyboard and mouse at a time. So what I’m doing with META-STRAND isn’t some arcade-level analysis in the form of deconstrcting the game. I’m entering into the space between and beyond (yes, it’s meta), transcendingly looking at it through a lens smeared with the complexities of, let’s say, Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology or Ulrich Beck’s concept of risk society. These thinkers help to understand that Death Stranding is more than lugging cargo across a wasteland; it’s about lugging the burdens of our times – environmental decay, political disunity, and technological alienation.

You see, we’re all Sam, just with fewer ghosts and more social network and messenger notifications.

By now, you’re probably worried that you need an MA in cultural studies to ‘properly’ play Death Stranding. Fear not. Engaging with a game is like engaging in conversation; it’s all about active interpretation, as theorists like Ien Ang would put it. The thinkers we’ve got on the menu, like speculative realists and tech ethicists, are my cheat codes. They equip me with the modern dialectics needed to venture beyond the pixelated surface.

related references:
  • Ang, Ien. 1991. Desperately seeking the audience. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Beck, Ulrich. 1986. Risikogesellschaft: auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
  • Benjamin, Ruha. 2019. Race after technology: abolitionist tools for the New Jim Code. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Crawford, Kate. 2020. Atlas of AI: power, politics, and the planetary costs of artificial intelligence. Yale University Press.
  • Derrida, Jacques. 1967. De la grammatologie. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit. English translation 1976. Of grammatology. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Foucault, Michel. 1969. L’archéologie du savoir. Paris: Éditions Gallimard. English translation 2002. The archaeology of knowledge. Second Edition. London and New York: Routledge. .
  • Harman, Graham. 2018. Object-oriented ontology: a new theory of everything. London: Pelican Books.
  • Harris, Tristan. 2017. How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day. TED talk.
  • Huizinga, Johan. 1938. Homo Ludens. Groningen, Wolters-Noordhoff cop. English translation 2014. Homo Ludens: a study of the play-element of culture. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing.
  • McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Understanding media: the extensions of man. New York: McGraw Hill.
  • Noble, Safiya Umoja. 2018. Algorithms of opression: how search engines reinforce racism. New York: New York University Press.
  • Rushkoff, Douglas. 2019. Team Human. New York: Norton & Company.
  • Schell, Jesse. 2008. The art of game design: a book of lenses. San Fransico: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers Inc..
  • Zuboff, Shoshana. 2019. The age of surveillance capitalism: the fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. London: Profile Books.

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