Sticks and Ropes.

August 26, 2019

Death Stranding is an upcoming cinematic game from famed game director Hideo Kojima, designer of the renowned Metal Gear series. The trailers for Death Stranding have been surreal, dark, cryptic, and heavily feature a naked Norman Reedus and a gloved Guillermo del Toro. Weird, but intriguing.

Last year, in an interview with IGN Kojima hinted at some of the themes that will appear in Death Stranding. This for me was where the game got really interesting. Kojima references two short stories by Kōbō Abe.

In this short story, Abe states that the first tool mankind created is a stick, he states that the stick is the first tool that mankind created to put distance between himself and bad things — to protect himself. He states that the second tool mankind created is a rope. A rope is a tool used to secure things that are important to you. Most of your tools in action games are sticks. You punch or you shoot or you kick. The communication is always through these sticks, I want people to be connected not through sticks, but through what would be the equivalent of ropes.

This is an incredible observation. Most games are about fighting off bad guys. Creating divisions and putting distance between yourself and bad things. “Bad things” in video games usually mean objectives and outcomes that don’t explicitly benefit your avatar. I don’t think I’ve realized how much video games reinforce self-centeredness and self-preservation. It’s your story, you’re the hero, attack whatever isn’t on your team and gets in your way.

Desperate to glean more from this concept, I found an English translation of a Spanish translation of the original Japanese version of Abe’s short story “Stick”. It’s a surreal story where a man falls from building and while falling turns into a stick. Two students and their teacher then come around to analyze and cast judgement on this stick and its utility.

This is a heavy concept for me. Sticks and ropes. Am I a “stick” or a “rope”? Am I one that binds people together or one that creates division and bruises?

I’ve started thinking about sticks and ropes a lot in regards my online interactions. Regretfully, I see places where I’ve acted more like a stick when a rope was the better tool for the job. I am not perfect at this, but I’ve been working on tempering some of my reactions and criticisms before becoming a stick. Trying to be more mindful about what I get upset about and feel the need to criticize, but that’s hard in a world where our real-world society is being divided.

Last week I finished read a sociology book called Uncivil Agreement that explores political partisanship. I recommend listening to the You Are Not So Smart podcast version before diving into the academic book version, but the major theme is that our (American) society is being socially sorted by our two party political system and we are becoming more and more partisan. And partisans willfully create misunderstanding, ignore facts, snowball enmity, and seek to dehumanize the other side. Rattlers versus Eagles, Red versus Blue. The outlook, according to the book, is somewhat grim and the division will likely continue until a great resetting event occurs or a “cross-cutting” group of moderate identities can flourish to combat polarization.

Like the two students in the story analyzing the fallen man, I’ve started seeing other people as either sticks or ropes. Is this person creating division by firing words into a crowd? Or are they trying to create connections and bind people together? Are they only seeking to bind together the in-group to make a bigger stick? Or are they crossing the divide? Viewing people through this dichotomy is somewhat eye opening and beginning to shape my feelings of people and communities.

I want people to be connected not through sticks, but through what would be the equivalent of ropes.

Back to video games… I’m excited to play through Death Stranding. I don’t own a PlayStation, never have, but will probably buy one just for this game. That’s an expensive curiosity, but I’m that desperate explore this concept more.