In the grand scheme of things, I came to video games late. Of course, as a child I played a lot. I grew up with a ZX Spectrum 48k, then 128k. We graduated on to the Commodore Amiga, and then came the consoles. Various Christmases and birthdays brought the Sega Megadrive, the Nintendo Gameboy, and then the Sony Playstation. At some point I drifted away. In my head it’s because I discovered guitars, but that’s probably just nostalgic revisionism. More likely, I just didn’t have the patience.
2012 brought about a resurgence, having bought myself an Xbox 360, though in retrospect, it was really an EA Sports FIFA machine. FIFA 2012, 2013, and FIFA Street, were the only games bought along with it.
Eight years later, and a pandemic inspired purchase of a PS4 (and later a PS5), and one game in particular, has ignited a middle-aged love of gaming that had otherwise been dormant. There was the aforementioned FIFA and the amazing ‘Spider-Man’ game, but really the console had been bought to play the incredible, breath-taking, Hideo Kojima produced, Death Stranding.
Detractors have dismissed Death Stranding as a “walking simulator” or that the protagonist within is really just a post-apocalyptic FEDEX delivery man. Given how reductive such criticism is, I would imagine many of those writers haven’t spent much time in the world.
To avoid spoiling the game, I won’t write much more, however, the game is beautiful both aesthetically and thematically. I said, recently, to a friend that it’s not only my favourite game but may be in my top 5 entertainment experiences of my life. A lofty, and probably pompous, assignation tainted by recency bias, sure – but sincere nevertheless. The conclusion of the story has been so emotionally affecting it’s not a lie to say that I think about it almost every day.
Ok, so why write about this on a photography blog?
My partner, who works in the digital arts space recently introduced me to Operation Jane Walk. Within the world and among the rules of action RPG Tom Clancy’s The Division, the militaristic environment is re-used for a pacifistic city tour. “The urban strollers avoid the combats whenever possible and become peaceful tourists of a digital world, which is a detailed replica of Midtown Manhattan.” On the one hand a fascinating statement on non-violent participation in video-gaming, and on the other, it is an innovative way to use the intricately detailed mapping on modern open world games.
Both Death Stranding, and Spider-Man, too have expansive, sprawling open worlds that can be traveled. Within Spider-Man you have a beautiful, photo-realistic recreation of Spidey’s New York City – more specifically, Manhattan – that you can walk, run, or sling-and-swing around. In Death Stranding, there are the mountains, valleys, and broken cities of post-Stranding America to traverse, as you connect those different cities together.
Both games have Photo Modes that allow for the player to pause the action and make photographs within the world – even during the cinematic cut scenes. Each mode has its own configuration options but both have aperture, exposure, and focus options so with the exception of shutter and film-speed, to some degree at least, we have semi-manual control within the world.
In the run-up to Christmas, I began a second play through of Death Stranding. This time, my character would not only be a Porter keeping people connected. He would now also be a documentary photographer. In his travels, he will document the post-Stranding world.
Avoiding spoilers, I may occasionally add some of the photographs taken on here. I’ll keep them apart from the real photographs, of course, but this may add an additional, creative angle on a game that is now very close to my heart.
Oh, and to learn more about Death Stranding, you could do worse than listen to the first of the two episodes that the Earwolf podcast “How Did This Get Played?” has dedicated to it. That was my entry into the world, and it may be yours too.
Keep on keeping on.