Atypical Soundtrack Design

A second aspect that has been relevant in my Death Stranding experience is music. To me, music is one of the main aspects in life and in games as well. Almost all of my most memorable experiences with games, movies or series are highly tied to the music that was playing in that moment. I have a tendency to relate songs to experiences in life, to people and to game situations. I exercise this mostly as another source of fun as it gives me great pleasure to find a song with lyrics that fit perfectly the story or moment in a game I’m playing. Death Stranding however, is very particular on its way of using music and, therefore, I think it features an atypical soundtrack design.

GameSpot

Just like in a movie, musical moments in this game are carefully crafted by Kojima (or the designers in general). The game has, in my opinion, an incredible soundtrack. It introduced to me the wonderful band Low Roar which is right in the middle of my kind of favorite music but for some reason hadn’t appeared on my Spotify radar so far. And this incredible soundtrack is meant to be another character in the story. Key songs make their appearance in key moments to create a more deep and lasting memory of those events. “The first time I reached X place this song played…” “When Y happened to Z character this perfectly related song played and it was incredible” (even more so if we consider some end-game spoiler events). This is, of course, a very effective technique for people like me who enjoy relating songs with events. It means however, that all the rest of the playtime happens in absence of music (except for the diegetic music played by the structures, if customized that way).

Obviously the emotional impact of the first time we hear “Don’t be so Serious” would fade away if I played it 24-7 on every moment of my sometimes annoying travels. Also, I guess this aims to help getting a better immersion and a somewhat more realistic feel of the world. As someone in a GDC talk said, when we walk into a room in real life, no matter how dramatically we do it, an orchestral soundtrack doesn’t play that exact moment to enhance the experience (although it could and it would be awesome!)

wccftech

I learnt to live with this concept in another great game I experienced a couple of years ago: Zelda Breath of the Wild. A lot has been said about this masterpiece and I can only say I really love it. But something that disappointed many and certainly surprised me was the soundtrack choice. Previous titles of Zelda had such incredible soundtracks and memorable songs that it was hard for me to imagine a Zelda game with a soundtrack such as the one BOTW features. However, once you get immersed in that world and you really “breath the wild” it becomes apparent that this was the way to go. I don’t think the players could have felt the freedom and wildness of trekking or exploring such a vast world if a classic Zelda soundtrack had played during the whole time. This is not to say that BOTW doesn’t have great music tracks. Just like Death Stranding, the songs that are really present in the game are so good that they leave you wishing you could hear them in other moments as well, at least in my opinion.

I heard rumors about people eager to build mods for Death Stranding PC version that would include a music player to take with you at all times. I agree and also would love to have something like this, but I’m curious about how this would affect the overall experience.

Are there any memorable soundtracks you always go back to? Are there some games that would have been better without constant music?

Social Interaction: in-game vs. real-world

Some months ago the cyberbullying topic was very present in my mind because a Japanese female wrestler, Hanna Kimura, committed suicide after being attacked on social networks for her behavior in the Japanese reality show Terrace House. My husband and I had started watching said reality show on Netflix as a way of discovering more about Japanese culture, which I like a lot. We were watching the very same season that featured Hanna and were only some episodes behind when the news struck. We were very shocked about it and it felt really sad and bad to have been part of the “fan base” that created this toxic environment for someone reaching to that point where people wished her to be death an such…

Cyberbullying is something we as individuals know exists although sometimes it even surprises us when you encounter very aggressive people on Twitter or Facebook. However, we have never been the target of such hatred and have never been part of a community that actively practices it. That’s why it was such a shock to inadvertently being part of a community of viewers that created this kind of damage for someone we saw on tv a couple of weeks prior.

Communities as a mirror of games’ values

This abuse and aggressive behavior is, of course, very common among gaming communities. Part of the main reasons that the authors of this article mention as an interesting reason to create cozier games is the fact that “better” communities emerge from them. People are more considerate and nice with each other as they tend to extrapolate the main values the game requires to their online relationship with others.

Game Revolution – ”I Was Relentlessly Nice to Overwatch’s ‘Toxic’ Community and Here’s What Happened”

This, as everything in life, has exceptions and some well-known cozy games representatives sometimes have rotten apples. I’ve seen this with Animal Crossing. Being a new player in the franchise I haven’t experienced the other games and I also haven’t been part of the communities around them. Now I follow many Animal Crossing related twitter accounts and it has surprised me to see how there are some practices that really defeat the purpose of the game’s social aspect and go against every principle of a cozy community. Things such as: people visiting other islands just to destroy someone else’s “property”, scammers on twitter offering fake things or just attracting attention to insult AC players and, finally, the “experienced” players that know the franchise very deeply and constantly complain against how boring the events are, how Nintendo didn’t release “a complete game” delivering updates the players “deserved earlier” and many other things.

This just comes to show that the coziest of games can also attract toxic players. However, in my opinion, it’s always worth it to go the extra mile and make an effort to build a nicer community instead of just encouraging everyone to be jerks against each other.

I’m also part of a Death Stranding group on Facebook where the topic of toxic communities and highly competitive users has been mentioned more than once. People on that group are always amazed by the supportive and nice community the game generates and how everyone is there rooting for each other, never competing or bragging. As I mentioned, this is other of the key aspects about Cozy games according to the literature I’ve read and it’s another point to the Death Stranding as a cozy experience “crazy” theory.

Every game is a social game

Finally, for me, games have always been a source of social interaction even when they are single player completely offline. And this is because I’ve always shared the gaming experience with my family. First, it was my sister who has always liked to sit next to me, watch as I play and help with strategies and plans to solve puzzles and such. At some point my father and mother were also involved, as the jokes and experiences we live in games have always trascended to the rest of our life and those who are close to us cannot ignore that fact. Right now my mom is part of the key audience together with my sister. I normally play story-heavy RPG or ARPG games that are completely suitable to be shared as a movie. My mom and sister would sit next to me and we would comment the events in the game as if it were a very long and interactive (for me) movie. During quarantine, this became a streaming where Death Stranding is the star and we get amazed together by the surprising plot twists and exciting events that occur (even if it’s with a little delay or lag).

Characters and specially main characters always become part of our family, we joke about them in different moments of life, love some more than others, sometimes someone even loves the villains or hates one of the main party characters. Now, my husband is also part of the jokes and the events that occur in each game are always part of the daily conversation equivalent to the “how was your day” dynamic.

This way of sharing games is just another instance of the more common statement about a game only being fun when played with friends or online. In the end it’s not always about the literal social interaction in games, but how you perceive it or generate it outside of them.

MMORPGs use this to their advantage a lot. Just to quote an example, I remember how Maple Story had a very notorious social aspect where people would go online only to sit on a chair in the middle of a city and talk to their friends or meet new people. Leveling up or completing quests was completely irrelevant to them.

All that meta gaming has always been part of the experience for me where memorable in-game events always become a strong experience that me and my family share. This is another aspect in which games become a social and sometimes even bonding experiences depending of the type of player you are.

Social Coziness in Games

As I mentioned in previous posts, lately I have been interested in the topic of Cozy Games and coziness in general. At the same time, I have been actively playing two games: Death Stranding and Animal Crossing. While these activities could appear almost ironic and hugely different from one another, I have been surprised to discover how they do not differ that much.

Coziness Using Social Mechanics

It’s a given fact that Death Stranding doesn’t emphasizes or centers around coziness. If we consider the main ideas behind Tanya Short’s bible on Cozy Games, most of the points that prevent a game from giving that vibe are present in Kojima-san’s latest creation. There are very few safe spots or places the player could feel like home, most of the environment is always dangerous, and things only tend to get worse the more we continue advancing on the story.

However, there is another aspect on this that has caught my attention: the subtle social interactions that the game promotes. It’s not a MMO game, nor a multiplayer game, in fact you (almost) never see another soul while travelling through the vast and barren locations, however the game has its own techniques to always make you feel supported by the rest of players. It uses a system based on “likes” and the world has turned into some kind of huge social network where even the dopamine generated by the social approval of the rest has its own name. And for those of us who are not such fans of social networks this may sound a little ridiculous, however the effects this has in the gameplay are very interesting and set the mood for the creation of very wholesome communities many cozy games could envy.

Polygon

Just like in Animal Crossing, an important part of the daily routine is socializing with your neighbors and building the best island for them (and for you), Death Stranding encourages you to establish connections with other mostly anonymous players and build in-game structures that will eventually make the road less painful for the others (and for you as well). One of these days I spent most of my playtime building the ultimate zip line network to connect all the last location preppers (trying hard no to spoiler here). This meant a lot of time and effort, many very annoying fallings on Sam’s part and BB’s crying but when it was finished it was totally worth it. And, ironically, the feeling I got when I traversed the difficult terrains mostly flying through endless zip lines was remarkably similar to the one I get when I finally finish fulfilling my Animal Crossing’s island vision.

Reddit

These social interactions are obviously highly encouraged by the game, which gifts you “likes” (one of the game’s most desirable collectibles) every time other players follow your paths, use your structures or deliver cargo you lost on a dreadful BT encounter. That awesome feeling of being useful and approved by a lot of strangers that during their playtime will be grateful for your contributions as you are of the ones that built some roads before you, is another kind of reward not directly related to the story or your progress in it but arguably equally important.

Anonymous Social Interactions

This kind of social interactions has greatly interested me ever since I played Journey. I tried this game with no prior information or investigation about it, and therefore my first playthrough was a complete exploration and discovery experience, I met some people along the way and up to the last moment I was completely sure those people where NPCs carefully placed there by the developers. When the credits rolled in and the list of other players, I met along the way appeared it was a complete experience changer for me. Now, after having made some research on the topic, this feeling reminds me of the concept of Kishoutenketsu, the narrative technique where one of the steps is about the Surprise or Twist element. There are great resources (such as this and of course this) that explain this thoroughly but one of the definitions states that the surprise element is meant to provoke a different point of view on all the story retroactively. Learning that the other characters I saw along the way were real people, and their support to finishing each level was someone else’s legit effort to help me/us, was really what I remember most fondly about this great game.

Softpedia

I feel Death Stranding implements this is a AAA kind of way, with a lot more content to support the concept but aspiring to reach the same emotional connection.

There is something very human about being alone in a dystopic world working to make it a better place for the rest. Regardless of the real motivations of the main character, many players (me among them) make it their personal mission to finish building ALL of the roads, fixing every useful structure and making the world a better place not only in a figurative way but also for the other human being that is experiencing the same as you.

Are these unusual social interactions something that evoke coziness for you when playing a game? Are there other fundamentally anti-cozy games you feel at home with?