Saturday, October 29, 2022

Pandemic Games - Death Stranding and Xenoblade Chronicles 3

After I finished Xenoblade Chronicles 3, I picked up Death Stranding and was surprised that I went straight from one pandemic game into another. Both games are are about reconnecting splintered communities, although they approach the subject very differently. 

Death Stranding came out November 2019, about a month before COVID-19 was identified. The timeline is a little ambiguous, but the deadly "Stranding" which left people... stranded... happened within living memory for many of the characters.  Your job is not to fix the problem, but live within it by basically plugging a bunch of communities back into the internet. You very rarely see people face to face. They are buried deep in bunkers, and you will almost never be in the room with more than 1 person at the same time.  

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 came out July 2022, almost three years into the pandemic. The inciting incident that sets the plot into the motion was so long ago it is forgotten to history and the "new normal" is an endless murderous battle royale grind that everyone believes to be either the only system available or the best system possible.

It's hard not to look at these two games and see shifting attitudes towards the pandemic in them. In Death Stranding, technology is hopeful. You are using it to "Make America Whole Again." In XBC, you are a Luddite smashing clocks as fast as you can. The Death Stranding is a little magical, a mystical connection with the afterlife, which is never fully explained and came out of nowhere. In Xenoblade, the world is a system intentionally set up to benefit the elite who literally feast upon our deaths. Most cynically, Death Stranding occasionally treats Sam as a gig worker sent into unbearably dangerous conditions. In Xenoblade, the danger of the world is just something everyone takes for granted. The level 50 dinosaur tromping around the level 12 area is unremarkable. Even playing Death Stranding in 2022, I barely picked up on the gig worker critique - of course we sacrifice people to do dangerous jobs for no pay. That's just life now. Hasn't it always been?

3 years of perspective doesn't only bring cynicism. In Xenoblade, you see communities change and grow. People leave their home colonies, visit other places, learn and come back home with new knowledge. They overcome distrust of each other and make new things together. In Death Stranding, one person does that. Once. The other times people leave are in a body bag. You spend almost the entire time by yourself. In Xenoblade, you travel with your friends. You are never alone. Maybe one thing we have learned in the past three years is that our governments won't care for us, but other people still might.