Hideo Kojima. Where do I even start? An absolute visionary in his field, and one of the most clear-cut examples of why anyone should even take the “video games are art” discourse remotely seriously. Kojima is best known for his work on the Metal Gear Solid series, and some other stuff too, I think. I understand that I’m writing far outside of my area of expertise right now by taking another bold, daring step into the world of video game journalism, but hey, Full Disclosure? I got high as fuck and watched the game awards Death Stranding trailer and I figured out a lot of stuff. So let’s get into it.
Number 5 – Mads Mikkelson is actually Psycho Mantis, and Psycho Mantis actually has psychic powers
I wasn’t the only one who thought that the appearance of what was presumably Mads Mikkelson’s (Scandinavian Actor/Kojima’s crush) ‘Death Stranding’ character bore a striking resemblance to MGS1/MGSV icon Psycho Mantis. The spooky floating, the ill-fitting clothes, the mid-air T posing? It was all there. But I just may have been the only one who was able to make an even deeper connection on the Pepe Silvia corkboard of the mind – Mads Mikkelson/Mantis actually had psychic powers.
A bit of backstory may benefit the reader here. Just a few hours before the most recent Game Awards, I spent 2 hours in the local ER with a crippling cluster headache. Think Tetsuo in AKIRA. That bad. Anyway, while in the ER, I received valium, benadryl, AND dilauded intravenously. Needless to say, I was high as a fucking kite. I think this severely altered state may have allowed me some extra insight into Death Stranding that your average gamer simply doesn’t have. Full Disclosure? Mads Mikkelson is using his psychic powers to control the mind of Kojima, and has been since the MGS1 days. How else would he know how much Castlevania we had all collectively been playing back in the 90s, or whatever? Scary.
Number 4 – I don’t understand games anymore
This isn’t necessarily about Death Stranding, because no one fucking understands Death Stranding. Norman Reedus, who is playing himself in the game, has no idea what’s going on. Guillermo Del Toro, a master of obtuse fuckery, is just smiling and nodding along to Kojima’s capricious, terrifying visions, and Mads didn’t even know who Rihanna was when he stared in her Bitch Better Have My Money video. He was the bitch.
I don’t really understand games at all anymore. I don’t get the culture, I don’t get the lingo, the hip new slang. I feel like an outsider, despite the fact that pretty much half of my time in my formative years was spent gaming. I can’t tell you how many hours of Halo 3 this bitch logged. It was a lot. I used to read that magazine. Uh…. EGM? Or something. I was really into it. I even had council wars opinions, which, in hindsight, is fucking embarrassing. But now, I see these big awards shows, and I feel so… excluded. Especially when I’m sitting there completely off of my head on top level opiates, watching some guy clearly on blow rant about a game he made that looks like an SFM youtube poop. Maybe the real video games were the friends we made along the way. And maybe Death Stranding is the friends we won’t make along the way.
Number 3 – Norman Reedus has a fucking baby living inside of him
Please exercise caution and good judgement as you continue reading this edition of Coaches Corner, because this is where we take a step into some uncomfortable-yet-bold territory. This ain’t family friendly. This is like watching an NFL game where a guy suffers a life altering spinal injury and cheering regardless. This is the part where shit gets real.
Normas Reedus – Yes, the actual man and not his character, has an infant child living in his esophagus.
I understand this may sound ridiculous – How could a human male carry around a child, especially in his fucking throat? Well, through a combination of horrible medical atrocities and motion capture, we live in that reality. Have liberals gone too far this time? That’s not my call to make. All I know is that it must be really hard to act on The Walking Dead while Boss Baby is giving a thumbs up right next to your tonsils.
Number 2 – The Real Phantom Pain was the friends we didn’t make along the way.
The last game that Kojima made – Metal Gear Solid V – The Phantom Pain – is infamous for being unfinished and kind of shitty, despite having THE best stealth action hybrid gameplay ever. Eat shit, dishonored. But anyway, you know up there when I made that crack about things being or not being friends we may have made along the way? I realized while I was watching Death Stranding trailers while nodding off into an opiate induced coma that would make Lil Peep (RIP) do a double take that maybe MGSV was finished. Maybe the real ending was disappointment. Disappointment that we all feel, each and every day, in so many varying capacities. Death Stranding is meant to be a game about connections – ropes, instead of sticks, and maybe the ending of MGSV is meant to be about missed connections. Texts we didn’t reply to, falling outs we never talked over. Ex girlfriends or boyfriends who we never had closure with. A fucking MGS story that ended with a bad twist and nothing more, like we’re just supposed to run around Afghanistan killing people for fun like we didn’t find out we’re not actually Big Boss. It’s the little things that matter, and even the tiniest misstep can change everything forever.
Number 1 – Nothing on earth is more terrifying than losing your agency.
I find myself riding the train more often than most do, I’d imagine. Although, to be fair, as antiquated as rail transit is, it’s a bleak, rumbling reality for many. Commuter rail and passenger rail are two very different things, and it’s a juxtaposition I could write at length about – but I won’t. This particular day I was riding local rail, and I had boarded at the very first stop, and I was all alone in the back of my cabin, and I was cold. I am always cold. The soft, cradle like rocking of the commuter rail and the dead, early February suburban scenery lulled me to sleep quite quickly, though to be fair, I hadn’t slept since the morning prior. With headphones wrapped around my ears, any conversations that may have taken place as the train traveled along were completely muted to me. Who knows what potentially life-changing idle chats of varying profanity were taking place around me as I dreamt? I certainly don’t. Looking back on it, I feel a strange sense of misplaced misfortune at what discussion I may or may not have missed, but I suppose that dwelling on it would be just as pointless as bringing it up in the first place is.
To the adept dreamer, even the simplest mid-morning flights of fancy can cause double the problems they ever had the potential to solve. Far gone to me are any of the simple dreams permeating the consciousness of the average afternoon nap. When I was younger, I had a recurring nightmare that I was slowly, and as if through waist-high syrup, walking down the upstairs hall in my childhood home, from my bedroom towards my parents bedroom. When I finally reached my parents bedroom door, I would reach for the knob, and then find myself right back at the other end of the hall, where I had begun my trek.
The endless journey down that nine-or-so feet of hallway space was accompanied by my constant attempts to scream for help with the same urgency as a man with IBS might seek a toilet in an unfamiliar place. Unfortunately, those screams – that were, in my head, ear-shatteringly loud – failed to find their way from the very depths of the fear made manifest in the pits of my lungs to my gaping, gnashing mouth. My voice, or rather, lack thereof, sputtered and cracked and croaked, and instead of the desperate plea to whoever was behind that far door to please, please, please, please god wake me up, all I, or anyone else, could have heard was the breathy, hoarse death rattle escaping from the deflated chest of the shambling corpse my mind was so staunchly anchored in.
The next thing I remember hearing after slouching up against the cabin window and drifting off was an unfortunately distinct voice asking an equally unfortunate question – one that had no business being asked on public transit, and one with no socially acceptable answer – “Do you believe in a God?”
The asker of one such taboo question was a man seated directly in front of me – a man who, after only a split second of my groggy, not-yet-awake-but-certainly-no-longer-asleep assessment of character, was proudly wearing a garish, gilded badge of arrogance on his oversized, glistening forehead. (As arrogant men often do.)
Everything about the man’s comically grotesque presentation of himself – which was, undoubtedly, curated with the same care as a collection of priceless gemstones – screamed “I think I am operating on a level several tiers above anyone and everyone around me. Also, I have a graduate degree. I know you didn’t ask, but I thought I’d tell you” more loudly than I had ever even tried to, even the worst of my walks down the dream hallway. The luggage he carried with him was certainly at least twice as expensive as my entire outfit, and that, coupled with the fact that he would rhetorically question the faith of complete strangers on public transit, said more about his “character” than I could ever hope to.
Another dream that consistently followed me throughout my childhood sleep was much more surreal, but equally as terrifying. In this dream, I was standing in the center of my bedroom, bathed in a soft, warm red glow – the exact same color and temperature of light one might find at the reptile house in a zoo. After a few moments of standing and light-bathing, a woman dressed head to toe in shawls, scarves, and ornate golden jewellery would fling the bedroom door open and dash across the room to me. Each time, without fail, she would grab me by the ankle, spin me around like an Olympic throwing hammer, and toss me headfirst into my bedroom closet. To this day, I still have absolutely no idea what that dream could’ve possibly meant, why it continues to frighten me so much, or really, if it ever meant anything at all.
I removed my headphones almost immediately after I’d heard the question. I looked slowly from the asker across the cabin to his target. I briefly met eyes with a man about my own age, very clearly a college student of some sort. With my eyes I said to him “Please, just ignore him.”, and with his eyes he replied “What? I’m sorry, I don’t know how to communicate with looks.” The student turned towards the faith-questioner and replied to him. I’m not exactly certain how he replied, because the moment I realized the student was going to entertain this level of discomfort in public, I was more focused on tuning the entire conversation out.
Unfortunately, I would have no such luck. The conversation between these two was so infuriatingly frustrating that it demanded attention in the very same way that listening to your mother yell at your younger siblings does – You feel awkward and ashamed for even hearing it, but for once, it’s a welcome relief to not be the target of whatever issue has been so drastically blown out of proportion. It was like listening to the play-by-play of a great heavyweight fight, except each punch also effected your own sensibilities. It was a clinical display of how not to speak to people, and a wonderful micro-chasm of the faults of conversational English as a whole.
I suppose a common thread connecting the hallway and the shawled woman dreams was one of having my own agency stripped from me. Perhaps that is why I was so scared. The hallway was at least traditionally frightening. Not being able to speak, despite your very best efforts, is symbolic of something, I’m sure. A strange woman draped in antique store clothing tossing you into a closet isn’t a common fear, I’m pretty sure. These two dreams repeated over and over, every night without fail, for over a decade. Eventually, I just learned to ignore them.
The student and the man’s master class on how to be the most insufferable you can possibly be with the least amount of effort became a flash of guilty pleasure for me. The man who had asked if the student believed in higher powers was apparently not satisfied in the least with his answer, because he continued to throw quasi-philosophical talking points at him like one would throw darts at their drunk friends’ head at a bachelor party. The student masterfully managed to entire ignore everything the man said while at the same time appearing to be heavily invested in the conversation. Instead of parrying the intro to ethics essay questions, the student spoke at length about the screenplay he was writing. The student tried to talk about the plot and what made his vision special, but only managed to namedrop famous directors. The man he was speaking at did just as good of a job as ignoring his script-writing fantasies as he did the mans’ theology. The entire exchange quickly became something similar to watching two people play tennis, except they were turned away from each other and serving the ball against a wall over and over, and then returning the ricochets, and there was a crowd gathered there to watch them not-play each other, but that crowd was actually all individually reading a book.
The only thing missing from this oddly specific and inapplicable-to-any-other-situation analogy was a scorekeeper, and so I decided to make my train trip a bit more interesting. The first one of them who even vaguely engaged in a real discussion with one of the other’s talking points would be the winner.
As I grew older, and learned more and more about dreaming, the hallway and the woman faded in both intensity and frequency. I found myself pleased to see the woman, and instead of cowering in fear, I greet her as one would an old friend. As I trekked down that dark hallway, I found my steps just a bit lighter, and my voice gradually grew louder until I could calmly ask to be woken up – and then, in turn, wake up refreshed and relieved instead of exhausted and terrified.
Another dream soon rose to take center stage in the cavalcade of my recurring nightmares – this one with absolutely no founding in what is logically scary, yet this one invoking the strongest and most visceral terror of them all. In this dream, I am inside a globe – or, at the very least, starting at the inside of a convex surface – a curved outward flat plain. Everything I can see is the exact same shade of matte dark grey – even if I look down to where my body should, I only see a flat, matte grey curved surface. The only break in my field of vision comes in the form of a thin black line that runs the distance of my field of vision, forming an interior circumference marker around my person. To this day, even thinking about those dreams (which have long since passed) evokes a strong mixture of fear, nausea, and contempt in the very pit of my being. Perhaps the stupidity of it adds to why I find it so horrifying. Nothing so simple and without reason should be able to invoke such a base reaction, and perhaps the fact that it does perpetuates it in getting worse.
After five stops of my silent scorekeeping – five stops of the impossible tennis match – someone had finally won. The man had idly asked the student if he knew what “Predetermination” was, and the student had responded in kind, now asking sincere and rapid fire questions on the subject. All at once, the white noise of their chatter died down around me. The murky, indistinguishable fog of their “communication” was bisected instantly by a sharp back-and-forth which all conversation should entail (to a degree). I briefly considered telling the student he had won, but thought better of it. There’s really no need to have such an unnecessary and uncomfortable conversation on public transit, after all.
Another similarity that tied those three dreams together was a very specific and alien type of fear, a type of fear drenched in panic and mistrust, that even occasionally flirted with rage and indignation. A fear that to this day I can still not pinpoint exactly, but a fear that shares a psychological border with a fear of the “Other”. A fear of losing my voice. A fear of losing my agency. A fear of “them” – They being those who could possibly take it from me.
After the two men had finally begun to speak like regular human beings, I put my headphones back on and slouched back up against the cabin window. I still had several stops to go before mine, and I was still very, very tired. A distinct shadow is the one cast by an overpass – in this case, specifically, a train bridge. A normal shadow can be a place of rest, respite, or concealment, whereas this particular breed of shadow is a place where only liminal things can take place – but as above the train carries the ghosts of the old world’s destiny, along with the commuters and freight and the weight of the average-to-okay veneer upon the faces of us all, so below is a feeling that is exactly the same in tone and texture as the sound rushed, panicked footfalls make upon fresh snow on concrete.
In the very same (lack of) voice I used to scream for help in, they chant, yell, scream and shout – the same hoarse rattle, but this time, from the outside, and with power. The same gushing of air from a sudden opening, and the same croaking gurgle that accompanies a permanent and unwanted loss of agency.
Anyway, that’s why Death Stranding is gonna kick ass when it comes out in like, 3 years or whatever.