Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Is Death Stranding's surreality just a smokescreen?

It's been two or three days since famed japanese game designer Hideo Kojima, from the PSX 2017 stage, treated the world with a new in-engine trailer for Death Stranding. As it's usual for Kojima's creations, Death Stranding has been at the core of many discussions about a fairly basic point: what is this game all about? Aside from a generic allocation in the third person open world action genre, people only have a handful of elements to make sense of the plot, the characters, the narrative universe, or even how it is going to be played.

Kojima Productions and Sony, which is supporting the game's development from several angles (base technology, development and marketing budget), have been working towards an advertising style based on drip-feeding the audience with information, but keeping the whole thing shrouded in mystery and surreality. Chances are you've seen something about Death Stranding already, but here's the third, puzzling outing from the game:

Now, judging from what can be read on forums, message boards and commenting platforms all around the Web, people kinda expected this new outlook to shine a little more light on the product - you know, actual details about its nature as a commercial thing. Sony itself seems aware of this, as lead PS4 architect Mark Cerny felt the urge to make clear how "it all makes sense 4 to 5 hours into the game", but it is safe to say that not everybody is comfortable with this marketing tactics. Not all players are into decoding clues or having to research their way into something that's supposed to entertain them in exchange for money; if there's a problem, though, it's two-way.

On one hand, we have a marketing approach that on the surface, does the exact opposite of what anyone would do in the intent of selling a product, especially a videogame. In theory, trailers and such should instruct the player about the game's setting, establish the hero, show his line of action and maybe hint at his motives a little bit. Once the interest of the viewer is picked, it is possible to expand the scope of the advertising narrative by gradually disclosing further details. We might call it an inductive process that works well in most cases, and for the vast majority of the potential customers. In the case of Death Stranding, the advertising narrative started way before it was first shown to the world.

Death Stranding is one of
those rare cases where
the history of the product
entwines tightly with its
author's real life experiences

It's one of those rare cases in game development where the history of the product entwines tightly and publicly with its author's real life experiences: after the sad goodbye to Konami, Hideo Kojima had to reconnect with the world, the audience and to some extent, the industry. He became strongly involved in social networks, so that anyone could have insights on his personality, his lifestyle and gaming related ambitions . He went on a personal, yet very public "journey to the West" in search of the technology that would provide the backbone of his new project, something that involved strands - ties, relationships, cataclismic endings and new beginnings. It's hard not to see the real life themes that goes into the genesis of Death Stranding and the way it is presented.