Home » A Discussion with Death Stranding’s Hideo Kojima about Video Games and Narratives (Kojima: “Games and Storytelling Are Incompatible”)

A Discussion with Death Stranding’s Hideo Kojima about Video Games and Narratives (Kojima: “Games and Storytelling Are Incompatible”)

Kubricked is a professional Japanese-English translator/interpreter and MGN community member and friend was kind enough to translate this for fans. Be sure to give him a follow on twitter: https://twitter.com/kubrickedyaku

Japanese source: https://realsound.jp/tech/2019/11/post-443681_2.html

November 11, 2019

I tried to incorporate various perspectives on life and death from around the world

Throughout my playthrough of the game I noticed that a portion of the perspectives shown on life and death were Egyptian in origin. It left a lasting impression on me. Could you provide one reason why you chose to include them?

Kojima: I enjoy frequenting museums on a weekly basis and learning about those kind of cultures and traditions, but when you really think about it, the outlook on life and death differs between Eastern and Western civilizations. That’s why I try to incorporate various perspectives on life and death from around the world. Life as we know it first came into existence a long time ago and continued to evolve ever since. Along the journey, the concept of “death” was widely acknowledged and then this led to the birth of religion. In the case of Egypt, pyramids were constructed to allow safe return for those that previously had passed away. Creation of the ideas surrounding life and death took on a form of pride for the human race, so that’s why they play an integral role in the game’s story. References to cultures aren’t strictly limited to Egypt either. You can find remnants of the Inca Empire as well. The costume worn by Higgs serves as one, easily visible, exemplary illustration of these foreign cultures. Others are much more nuanced, and are embedded in a manner befitting those with a sincere interest for discovery and learning. Unearthing them will prove all the more rewarding.

Prior to Death Stranding entering development, my curiosity was piqued by your posts on Twitter about the moon’s surface as well as the moon being a feature in the trailers.

Kojima: Just as humans are able to design airplanes yet unable to fly themselves, I believe that 70 percent of the impossible is actually possible. If you give up on that which you cannot achieve then you’ll miss out on life’s valuable lessons that are just waiting to be extracted from those experiences. In essence, your capacity to use that potential knowledge has been preemptively rendered null and void. And it could have otherwise been an aid to your growth by overcoming future challenges. I believe this type of exercise encapsulates game design. Around 50 years ago today three Americans returned home safe and sound upon completion of a nine-day journey with the support from thousands of individuals. Or it may have been a lie {laughs}. If the human race was able to go to the moon 50 years ago then I feel anything is possible. The lines spoken by Cliff in Death Stranding convey this meaning.

I felt the driving force behind Death Stranding is not only its open world design but also its narrative. I was left thinking that a steady balance between the two was challenging because if it were to lean too much in either direction the entire structure would surely collapse.

Kojima: Games and storytelling aren’t compatible with each other. And while I do enjoy games with multiple endings I don’t think they make for compelling stories. To illustrate, picture in your mind a game’s protagonist involved in a romantic relationship. And then imagine presenting the player with two choices that’ll shape the protagonist’s path despite the underlying plot of the game meaning to have the romantic relationship fall apart in the end. Move the cursor right to end the relationship or left to stay together. I don’t consider this to be a form of storytelling. To me, Death Stranding cannot be considered an open world game if it was to lack a certain degree of freedom. I went about mapping a story where one progresses from point A to point B and from point B to C with routes created at the player’s discretion. Instead of traversing from point A to C or from point A to D, you’re still able to get from point A to B whether or not you opt to cross a river or scale a mountain midway through your journey. To put it in another way, the path from Tokyo to Shibuya to Ueno may already be fixed, but you’re still given the freedom to hail a taxi or jump on a train, or even take a break somewhere along the way. Experiencing the real thrill and excitement of an open world design doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll yield amazing storytelling {laughs}.

Although the world of Death Stranding is littered with many things that can bring about death, the game manages to impose penalties for acts of killing or wounding others. 

Kojima: I often discuss the concepts of the “stick” and “rope” that draw from the short story “Nawa” (translated as Strand or Rope) by Japanese writer Kōbō Abe. When the human race learned to walk upright and evolved from crawling on all fours to a new form of bipedal locomotion the first tool to be fashioned for use was the stick. Its purpose was to keep the unwanted and undesirable at bay. Humans then went on to invent the rope to connect with what they deemed wanted and desirable. The world we now find ourselves in contains both of these tools so that when you shake hands, the “rope” is being employed and conversely, a punch being thrown defaults back to the “stick.” Human beings may have been destined to add both of these arrows in their quiver, but the onus how they’re used rests with each and every one of us. In that train of thought, injury-inducing acts or outright killing aren’t treated in a positive light. The reason being that they’re out of alignment with the themes presented in Death Stranding. Having said that, this avoidance of violence wasn’t the sole driver occupying my attention throughout the development process.

During my time with the game I happened to notice the silhouettes of babies among the presence of the otherworldly BTs. I assume this may have been overlooked by some.

Kojima: Initially, I wanted to include BTs of varying nature, but this had to be scrapped due to obstacles. The current BTs that make their appearance in the game are the result from said limitations. The people inhabiting the world of Death Stranding may die before their time is up, while still in their infancy for example, so in a way you can treat them as a metaphor for BBs (bridge babies).

After completing the game some players may still wish to continue their mission or connect with other users. Do you have anything planned for those gamers?

Kojima: At this moment we don’t have any plans for DLC (downloadable content) content. By the way, is there anyone here in the audience that has already finished the game?

(One reporter raises their hand)

Kojima: I think those that have cleared the game will already know the answer {laughs}. Once the story concludes the delivery orders still continue. You still have Preppers in hiding, and there are plenty of available missions between players so you’re still able to play even after completing the main story.

(Edited and compiled by Takumi Nakamura)

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