I’ve been agonizing on how to start this piece. This is such a deeply personal topic and I don’t quite know how to do it justice. So, here we go. On September 17, 2019, my grandfather passed from Stage 4 Lung cancer. He had been diagnosed only a few months earlier, so this came as a shock to my entire family. We were all very close to him, he was a pillar of our family. In the following months, the grieving process has been incredibly difficult. Depression, insomnia, and exhaustion have been weighing on me. I did what I would normally do, I retreated into games. It was a perfect way to shut out the world around me, to not have to think, to ignore what I was feeling. This was until recently, I picked up Death Stranding on a whim and immediately found myself coping with the loss of my grandfather. Playing more was helping me with the grieving process, something no other game had done before. So I finally worked up the courage to write this piece, I think it would be good to express what I’m feeling. So let’s talk about Death Stranding and coping with loss.
Be aware that there will be major spoilers in this piece. Death Stranding takes place some years after the titular event has shattered the world. After a series of events called voidouts, the US is left fractured. States are gone, what remains of the populace gather in city shelters. Outside the walls of the city, the world is a hostile and volatile place; weather events called timefall decay most organic matter, hostile humans nicknamed MULES attack anyone carrying cargo, and finally are the BT’s, beings who are tied to the Beach, a reality between life and death. With all of these dangers lurking just outside the city walls, humanity has lost all forms of connection. This is where Sam, the player, steps in. Sam is tasked with reconnecting America with the use of a chiral network, an information superhighway using the Beach. As Sam journeys the country he meets so many looking to be whole again. Every single person Sam brings into the network sees their lives improve. But at the core of it all is loss.
Loss is a main theme of the game, every major Bridges member has lost something that gives them meaning. Deadman lost his humanity, being some cobbled together entity living with dead tissue. Heartman lost his family in a viodout, yet he continues searching for them on the Beach due to his heart stopping every 23 minutes. Mama lost her connection to her twin sister, as well her own soul in a voidout. Lockne, Mama’s sister, lost her one chance at having a child, the spirit of her daughter now a BT. Sam lost his wife and their unborn child in a voidout. No matter where you look, every last person has suffered from the Death Stranding. But the one who’s suffering has transcended time is one of the central antagonists; Clifford Unger. Cliff lost his son, his wife, and his life, all because he was too trusting. None of the characters have dealt with their loss though. Due to the Death Stranding they have become isolated physically, now, emotionally they have retreated as well. This is something all too common when one experiences loss or any other strong negative emotion. This is what happened to me.
When my grandfather passed I emotionally distanced myself, often keeping quiet about what I was feeling. I thought that I needed to hold off on grieving, that I needed to be the emotional pillar for the rest of my family. I thought I needed to be like my grandfather was. But no matter how hard I stuffed my emotions down they always surfaced, stronger and more overwhelming than before. Sleep was the first thing that was affected. Laying in bed, I just couldn’t stop thinking, thinking about what I needed to do, what I had to do. When I finally fell asleep I saw him in my dreams. My grandfather was there but every dream saw him saying goodbye, something I didn’t get to say in person. I opened up to my fiance and she has been incredibly supportive. This has been hard for her as well, she was close with him too. This has been the hardest year of my life and it has been overwhelming. But when Death Stranding released I decided to pick it up. I figured it would help me not think about things and I had already been excited to play the game. Upon starting it up though I felt that something was different. I felt good playing the game. I actually started feeling better.
Death Stranding rewards cooperation, even though you will never see another player. Everyone can build structures or place equipment that other players can use. If a player finds something another player placed useful they can give the item a like. Likes don’t have any real meaning but they help reinforce this idea of teamwork and of helping others in any way possible. For me each like I got, whether it was from a successful delivery or just helping other players, made me feel better. I felt good helping people, even if some of these people were just code. I felt like my grandfather, a man who always made time to help the people he cared for. It helped me come to terms with the fact that he was gone. That even though he isn’t here, it doesn’t mean his memory isn’t. He was a man who worked most of his life, even in retirement he pushed on. He renovated an entire home with the help of my brother and I. It’s something I’m still incredibly proud of. For me, Death Stranding brought these feelings of love, joy, and pride to the front of my mind. Even with the sorrow and loss surrounding Sam and the others they always carried hope for the future. There’s a line that stuck out to me in the game, “Extinction is an opportunity”. Even when faced with destruction there’s always a chance for something good to come of it. Even though my grandfather has passed the good he left behind will continue to flourish.
This piece isn’t like most of my normal work. This is me talking to you, dear readers, on an incredibly personal level. I thought about this piece for a long time, what I was going to say and how I said it. In the end, I decided to let it just flow. I want to thank you all for reading this. Again, this is something very personal, I’m not used to being this vulnerable when I write. I just hope that you were able to take something away from this. Once again, thank you.