Let’s start with an assumption, I believe in Kojima’s word when he talks about strand game. Maybe this concept go unnoticed, but he referred to this multiple times, especially during Tokyo Game Show 2019 while he was presenting the gameplay.
I feel like people do not really understand what is really going on with the concept of Death Stranding.
But what is it really? It's hard to understand for who hasn't played the game (and even for the ones who have).
Why strand game?
Maybe, to better understand the concept of strand game, we need to know why it exists. Personally, I consider Death Stranding like an implementation of a contemporary need: the game itself that is trying to explain why it exists. I believe that Kojima’s aim is to bring us in a world where each aspect represents something really existing in our life. Thanks to technology, an aspect of our life that many don’t know how it works but they use daily (did you say chiral network, uh?), we are all (potentially) connected with each other, but is it real? Or are we alone? Are we all stranded? The game itself, in the beginning, explain us the double and contrasting meaning of the world strand. As a noun, means wire, something that connects; as a verb means something blocked, like a beached ship.
I know, it sound a little bit philosophical and there are a lot of discussions about that, but we have to be clear in mind what we are talking about.
What is strand game?
I know there are a lot discussions about Death Stranding, sometimes these discussions involve philosophical and psychological concepts, but for the sake of these pages I will (try to) avoid this.
As noticed by everyone, a strand game seems something like an activity in which you are called to put together fragmented pieces, distant people and different point of view. Is a journey where you reassemble everything, sometimes you receive an help from other players, sometimes you give an help to other players. If we help each other it will be simple to finish the game and reunify the country.
Ok, this is true, but it is only the facade of the game, what is really hidden inside this unique experience? I think we must talk about empathy, the immedesimation in the others. For the first time a game made me want to help other players with simple actions. An example? To build the highways. I build it thinking the other players will use it and they will have an advantage. Did I do that because I want to receive a lot of likes? Yes, I was looking for personal gratification but the game manages to channel my efforts in a direction that I have never seen in this medium. For the first time in a game I did something for a greater purpose, which is not explicitly explained by the game. It is not only about the reconstruction of the country, is something beyond the concept of the game itself. The concept of strand game trying to modify the concept of game as an autotelic activity made for ourselves. The state of the game is shared by each other (and this is not something new) with a different, but at the same time equal, perception. When I do something, I do it thinking like us.
How is the game affected?
Do you remember the definition of meaningful play by Salen and Zimmerman? “Meaningful play occurs when the relationships between actions and outcomes in a game are both discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game." (Salen and Zimmerman, Rules of play, 2004 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pag. 34).
Now I will try to explain how the concepts of discernable and integrated are extended in Death Stranding for those aspects of the game who concern the interaction with players.
In Death Stranding, what you do has relevance for others players. Every players understand what is going on thanks to the system of likes. Whenever I receive likes from others players, I am also receiving a feedback from the game. If I build a bridge or I deliver someone’s else package the game notices me that my work was appreciated by others.
In Death Stranding some actions do not affect only my game world, but also the others’ world game. The interesting thing here is the transition from me to us. While playing you think stuffs like “If I build a bridge, we will obtain an advantage for map exploration” or “If I lose a package, someone will recover it” or “If I like your job, we will improve the game world in a better way”. We have an outcome in a shared world, starting from an action in our world, where our world is a subset of the shared world.
In Rules of Play, Salen and Zimmerman said "the outcome of an action is woven into the game system as a whole" (Salen and Zimmerman, Rules of play, 2004 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pag. 36).
In a strand game we could talk of entwined meaningful play, because the outcome of an action is now entwined between different game worlds.
Imagine a lot of papers each one representing a game world, then draw a line or point in the paper who corresponds to your world, this line will appears (outcome) also in all the others papers (worlds) connected.
This game trying to overfill from the conventional rules and theory of game and I decide to write these pages because I would like to prove it. Death Stranding is not just an high budget game with asynchronous multiplayer made by a famous game designer. It is a game who give a real contribution in the improvement of the medium. I think it is really a new kind of game who deliver (yeah, deliver ) a message. And also if you don’t like,I think is a good case of studies.
- Salen and Zimmerman, Rules of play, 2004 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Death Stranding, Kojima Productions, 2019, video game