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Words and Worlds: A Death Stranding Glossary

Writer and researcher Rafi Abdullah unpacks the in-game lexicon of Hideo Kojima's densely constructed video game world in this Death Stranding review.

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Character, Fragile Death Stranding video game, Kojima Productions

NPC, Fragile. Screenshot, Death Stranding, ©Kojima Productions

“Once there was an explosion.. ⁠A bang which gave rise to life as we know it. ⁠And then came the next explosion… ”

With that, the opening voiceover trails off and we are spawned to the initial setting of vast oceans and mountain valley landscapes. In a cinematic fashion, we are then introduced to Sam Porter, the protagonist of Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding ,[1] who enters the scene and becomes playable by way of an accident, specifically one where he crashes into Fragile, a non-playable character (NPC), whilst trying to flee from danger on a motorbike.


From there, we are taken through a set of starter menial tasks. These include long and arduous journeys traversing unfriendly and expansive terrains, just to locate and pick up cargoes, before delivering them to the game’s city centre. At the centre, we’re let in on the back story for the first time, as we learn about the events leading to the current timeline and the post-apocalyptic environment.


A few hours into the game, it became clearer to me, that to write a review attempting to encapsulate it would not only be an overly daunting and difficult task, but might quite likely be impossible [2] and almost Sisyphean. The game introduces too many fragmented concepts and ideas that do not tie together towards a coherent grand narrative. To that end, I thought it more suitable instead to put together an abbreviated glossary — similar to those found in gaming magazines and Fandom wikis .[3] The game is rife with symbolism, whether intentional or unintentional. As such, it lends itself appropriately to such a format, where lessons to be gleaned from it can be interspersed within such an index of terms.


Screengrab view of main protagonist, Sam Porter, delivering a corpse.

The main protagonist, Sam Porter, delivers a corpse. Screenshot, Death Stranding, ©Kojima Productions


Death Stranding: An Abbreviated Game Glossary


Aphenphosmphobia ⁠A condition that some, including the main protagonist Sam Porter, have that makes them inexplicably fearful of being touched, both literally and emotionally. This anxiety disorder exists in the real world .


Drawing from this, it would not be farfetched to think that the importance of connection is a key thrust and overarching premise in the game narrative. That perhaps staying connected is integral for a society to flourish or even survive.


We see the importance of connections in the game mechanism where players will find, in hindsight, how building bridges connecting two vast areas allows them to cover large grounds much faster. Once a player overcomes the resistance towards undertaking such laborious and resource-heavy tasks, they discover that other players are actually able to help them and pool resources.


It’s not a coincidence that Sam Porter’s allergy to touch gradually disappears as the player advances through the game, connecting and reuniting a fragmented nation.


The Beach ⁠The Beach refers to a liminal space between the living and the dead realm. Scenes that portray the area reveal an intertidal beach view, littered with the dead carcasses of marine life, most prominently those of whales. In fact, Hideo Kojima named the game after the phenomena of Cetacean stranding , also known as “beaching”, where whales, sometimes even in the masses, mysteriously strand themselves on land to die.


Beached Things (BTs) ⁠BTs are entities believed to be souls of those that are stranded in the realm of the living after the Death Stranding event. They are hostile towards living things and can cause massive explosions if they consume a living thing.


Bridge Baby (BB) ⁠Bridge Babies are rare infants that survive in their mother’s wombs although their mothers are in a comatose state for varying health reasons. They are removed via caesarean section in the hospital. They are housed in pods and used as “tools” for detecting beached things. They can do so because of their “unnatural” birth. Aside from the use of BBs as a game mechanic and plot device, I speculate that they’re also an allegory for how children are pure and capable of breaking curses and changing futures.


Screengrab view of a Bridge Baby (BB).

Bridge Baby (BB). Screenshot, Death Stranding, ©Kojima Productions


Chiralium ⁠An unknown variable. It’s speculated that chiralium belongs to a type of dark matter as old as the universe, coming from a dimension inaccessible to humans. However, it has been recorded that prolonged and extreme exposure to chiralium can impact a person’s physical and mental health. This deterioration can manifest into what in the game is called Chiral contamination, causing depression, suicidal thoughts, delusions and even death.


Chiral Contamination ⁠Being contaminated can cause one to develop heightened destructive impulses towards the self and others. In extreme cases, the effects of impaired judgement and memory can cause characters to develop an irrational obsession with their professions. Such a mannerism is displayed by a class of bloodthirsty rogue porters that would go to extreme lengths — stealing and killing for cargo — just to satisfy their inexplicable desire for task fulfilment and success in their jobs. Here, chilarium can be taken as an allegory for capital (financial, social and cultural).


It’s also easy to interpret Chiral contamination as Kojima’s attempt in painting a portrait of our contemporary neoliberal landscape. There is a clear parallel with hustle culture where overworking is glorified as a marker of success .


Screengrab view of Fragile crying as an allergic reaction to Chiralium.

Fragile crying as an allergic reaction to Chiralium. Screenshot, Death Stranding, ©Kojima Productions


Chiral Network ⁠The in-game communication system, akin to the internet, that connects the disparate and fractured communities in the game world. Although, named after the chiralium, the network does not involve any use of it.


Chiralgram ⁠The universe’s version of a hologram, made possible by the chiral network.


Cryptobiote ⁠An ancient species of bug. Consuming them allows humans to temporarily resist the effects of timefall.


Screengrab view of Fragile consuming a Cryptobiote.

Fragile consuming a Cryptobiote. Screenshot, Death Stranding, ©Kojima Productions


Death Stranding ⁠The fourth major explosion after the big bang. A core event in the game universe that although not detailed explicitly, is understood as having caused a major rupture in the Earth, fracturing the world.


Timefall ⁠Timefall refers to a type of hail or rainfall that accelerates time for anything it comes into contact with. In an early sequence , an NPC character who finds himself pinned under a heavy vehicle during an episode of timefall turns into an aged old man within mere seconds due to exposure of heavy pouring. Timefall is indicative of how alien and otherworldly phenomena, here inferred as technology, can present itself as a double-edged sword. Although its effects are catastrophic to humans, some farmers in the game have taken advantage of its effects to grow crops rapidly. Timefall seems to also be a core concept that steers the character designs and the decision to deck all the characters in techwear .


Screengrab view of main protagonist, Sam Porter, all decked out in technical wear.

Main protagonist, Sam Porter, in technical wear. Screenshot, Death Stranding, ©Kojima Productions


Endgame


The game is undoubtedly divisive, with many critics calling it extremely pretentious while many others regard it as a masterpiece . It is undeniable however that Kojima’s foray was an attempt at reinventing game mechanics. The game subverts preconceived ideas of what an open-world game is and reimagines the logics of reward and incentive systems prevalent in game design. If anything, the game forces us — by being unpleasant, unrewarding, and unsatisfying on purpose — to remove our expectations for video games to be an unadulterated space devoid of confrontations, and to challenge the idea that a video game should only serve as an escapist fantasy. [4]


Screengrab view of the vast landscape and setting of the game.

The vast landscape and setting of the game. Screenshot, Death Stranding, ©Kojima Productions




  • 1.

    Death Stranding is a console game developed by Kojima Productions and directed by the renowned game writer Hideo Kojima in 2019. The divisive and polarising game is regarded as an action-adventure role-playing game (RPG) but has been labelled as genre-defying due to its unique gameplay that deviates from traditional RPG game mechanics.

  • 2.

    Futurasound Productions, a YouTube channel that dabbles in game review videos, had found it limiting to review the entire game’s premise and thrust with a single video, and over the course of a year, continually produced more and more long-form video reviews of the game.

  • 3.

    Fandom is an encyclopaedic website that hosts devotee-created content that pertains to a particular film, tv show or game.

  • 4.

    Gordon Calleja, “Digital Games and Escapism”, Games and Culture, 2010.

Artists and Contributors

 Rafi Abdullah picture

Rafi Abdullah

Rafi Abdullah is a cultural worker working within research, writing and curation. His interests lies broadly in contemporary art vis-à-vis the politics of aesthetics, with a current focus on thinking through cultural institutions as ‘dis-imagination machines’. He was a participant in the curatorial workshops, Staging and the Exhibition (2018) hosted by Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) Singapore in partnership with the Department of Visual Culture, Goldsmiths University of London; as well as the Workshops for Emerging Arts Professionals (2020) hosted by Para Site, Hong Kong. He most recently curated Poor Imagination (2019) at Sullivan+Strumpf, and continues to live and work in Singapore. www.rafiabdullah.com