Recent pandemic times can be very hard for us in many aspects, like economical or social. The latter means we are isolated from each other, we keep the distance which affects mental health of many individuals. Isolation is generally an undesirable state. Being inspired by the current situation I have chosen two games which cover that topic in an unique way – Death Stranding and SOMA.
Can machines have feelings?
SOMA is a science fiction horror game from the makers of highly acclaimed Amnesia but it has a deeper meaning than a simple horror story. The protagonist, Simon, gets brain injured in a car crash in which also his girlfriend dies. The brain damage is so serious that it may kill him eventually so he decides to take part in an experimental therapy that might save his life. All he needs to do is to have his brain scanned. Sounds good but after the scan Simon wakes up in a mysterious underwater, abandoned facility a hundred years after. And in a different body.
While exploring the facility and trying to find the way out, he gets in touch with Catherine, one of the scientists that used to work in this place. Simon is eager to meet her in person only to find out she is actually an AI of some kind of a robot, as well as all the world above was wiped out in a sudden comet strike. Catherine used to be a human before, like the other employees of the station. The AI commanding the station systems, trying to save the remains of humanity in its own way, turned the employees into grotesque and deadly human-machine hybrids, and also uploaded the brain scans into random machines and devices, like it did to Simon and Catherine.
As we wander through dark, empty corridors of the devastated base at the bottom of the ocean, trying to evade the hostile creatures, besides fear we can feel emptiness and helplessness. The Greek term “soma” means “body” therefore the game raises the question of what defines us as human beings – body or mind. What does it mean to be human? Can machines have feelings? How can we preserve the mankind? That makes this production something more than a typical horror game. The minimalistic, suggestive soundtrack by Mikko Tarmia makes you feel scared and abandoned yet on the other hand makes you think about your existence. Unnerving, high-pitched drones combined with expanding, underwater-like sounds and emotional piano and synths are the perfect soundscape for being isolated and with no hope. The score is not one of these elaborate ones but it fits the gameplay and the game’s universe.
Death Stranding shows us how people are determined to rebuild that ruined world.
While SOMA tells us the story of the last human beings isolated from the ruins of the world and trying to escape, Death Stranding shows us how people are determined to rebuild that ruined world. This monumental production of Hideo Kojima depicts the story of isolation and survival but in more positive way than SOMA does. After some catastrophic events the whole country of the United States turns into inhospitable pile of rocks. In this world all the people are living underground, forced to hide from the dangerous creatures from the afterlife. They contact with each other only through holograms and only the ones who are brave enough to become the delivery men traverse that lifeless world.
One of them, Sam, is a deeply unhappy man. Feeling dead inside, haunted by trauma and nightmares from the past, unable to form relationships, never shaking hands since physical contact makes him suffer physically and mentally. Sent on a mission he never wanted to be, rarely speaking, he does what he has to do. He feels he belongs more to this empty world than to other people for the world is as empty as he is inside. Even while sleeping he suffers and cannot find peace.
The game tells us a lot about the human nature and shows us that we inevitably make our way towards extinction – The Sixth Extinction precisely. Wandering alone in silence, listening to the wind interrupted from time to time by peaceful, guitar songs is a very moving experience. The game portrays the state of isolation in a very suggestive way and even the afterlife called the Beach is a rather unsettling place instead of regular sunny beach. But Death Stranding gives us also hope, that the mankind will be reunited, thanks to Sam. He also will eventually find his piece of happiness. The epic score by Ludvig Forssell makes a great background for that story and universe. Analog synthesizers, dynamic battle themes, catchy melodies and beautifully scored cutscenes make Death Stranding a powerful experience. The calm pieces played when Sam sleeps deteriorate the feeling of isolation yet soothe the player’s heart.
Catchy melodies and beautifully scored cutscenes make Death Stranding a powerful experience.
Isolation and loneliness can be presented differently in video games, which can give us hope (like Death Stranding) or depression (like SOMA). Such themes are actual especially these days, when we have to deal with such feelings very often. The time of the epidemic may also be a fruitful time, perfect for expanding ideas and hobbies – for example playing good games.