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.
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.
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.
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?