Editor’s note: And we’re back! C Nge’s Death Unstranding series picks up from a brief hiatus with an ode to the ordinary toil that brings extraordinary satisfaction. If you’re new to this series, click here to start from Entry One.

Channeling Norman Reedus, the Everyman

By: C Nge

Game chapters completed: 14

Hideo Kojima hit the jackpot when he cast Norman Reedus as Sam Porter Bridges, the taciturn protagonist in Death Stranding (DS).

Best known for his role as Daryl Dixon in AMC’s long-running hit TV series, The Walking Dead, Reedus is as average Joe as you can go. Unkempt, gruff, and a little rough around the edges, he is the kind of guy you won’t look twice at if you pass him on the street. But if you hang with him long enough, he grows on you. He has that special Everyman quality that makes him the perfect avatar for a game about an ordinary porter doing his job, and doing it doggedly well.

Kojima Productions
Norman “Everyday Badass” Reedus as Sam Porter Bridges

As Sam in DS, Reedus’ reticence is fitting for a job that requires little to no verbal communication. All he does is take and fulfill delivery orders from clients at various dispersed locations across a post-apocalyptic America. It is a lonely job, but it seems tailored for someone with aphenphosmphobia—Sam’s unique condition of not liking to be touched.

Since all his clients live in underground shelters, most of the encounters he has are with their holograms; even then, as they thank him for delivering their parcels in pristine condition or praise how much he can carry, Sam remains tight-lipped. His body language, however, could not be clearer: ‘I’m a professional and I don’t need praise to get things done.’

While there’s no denying Sam is good at his job— although how good he gets is very much dependent on the player’s patience and skills—I never really get the sense that he loves being a porter. Perhaps I am projecting onto him my own experience of transporting heavy and bulky packages to hard-to-reach locales in DS. My mind knows I’m only playing a game but my body often feels tired loading, balancing, and trudging cargo across unforgiving terrain. The immersive quality of the game concretises my experience of being Sam Porter—even his last name epitomises how Sam and his line of work are indivisible.

DS approximates the travails of a profession so authentically, I find myself cursing when I stumble, yelling when I drop cargo, and raging when my cargo gets damaged. Since delivering is not a side quest in DS but a core game mechanic, like it or not I have to ‘keep on keeping on’—no wonder this is a common refrain at delivery terminals. I have also learned to laugh at my stupidity, impatience, and clumsiness, and to embrace my myriad weaknesses while channeling Norman Reedus’ characteristic insouciance.

Nonetheless, when I reach my destination to smiles, praises, and likes, I feel a sudden surge of job satisfaction. In short, I hate what I do but I somehow find joy in doing it—sounds a lot like life for a lot of us.

All the same, Sam may not say much to others, but he does love to talk to and even berate himself—”Eyes open, dumbass!” Sometimes you get words of encouragement when he falters—”Get it together man!”—or rage-quit phrases when he’s dropped a ton of cargo into yet another crevasse—”I’m fucking done!”—or pithy aphorisms when his mettle is tested—”Patience is a virtue, I guess.” More often than not, it’s just the mundane, inconsequential things you say to yourself when there’s no one to talk to.

All in a day’s work

Like Sam, I, too, mutter to myself along my delivery journey and god forbid anyone tries to tap me on the shoulder IRL when I am balancing my load in-game! Over time, I begin to understand Sam’s aversion to being touched and I empathise with his vocal reserve. The game demands every ounce of my energy and talking just messes with my laser focus on the tasks at hand.

The only time I really rest is when I manage to find a private room, where Sam can take a sorely needed break from his exertions. This is an underground space where Sam can recharge his blood stores and batteries for his equipment, relax, replenish his fluids, and relieve himself. I know of players who hate going into private rooms because they have no interest in seeing Norman Reedus sleep, shower, and shit. The first time’s a charm but not the second, third, fourth, and fifth. 

"When I reach my destination to smiles, praises, and likes, I feel a sudden surge of job satisfaction. In short, I hate what I do but I somehow find joy in doing it—sounds like life for a lot of us." #DeathStranding Click To Tweet

But Kojima never lets you skip private rooms entirely. The game often prompts you to rest when you are exhausted or when you have pushed yourself too hard, and the max capacity of your stamina bar has dwindled due to traversing in harsh terrain, notably in the mountain region (more about this region in the next entry). You can snooze on the go—take a quick nap while seated, with all your cargo still strapped to your back—but you cannot fully recharge your stamina this way. Also, within each private room resides the potential reveal of a cutscene, which is the only way the larger story progresses; this is a carrot few players will want to pass up.

I’m proud to say I have never needed such carrots. 

Unlike serious Sam on the job, Sam in his private room is a different man altogether. He winks and gestures, he cracks me up with his facial contortions, he ooohs and aaahs in front of the mirror, and he coos at Lou, the Bridge Baby (BB) usually strapped to Sam’s chest but who enjoys his own special BB rack when in the private room.

For me, the private room is a space that humanises Sam and brings us up close and personal to the man who plays him. Norman Reedus and Sam are one and the same in this intimate space where the porter uniform is dispensed with, bodily secretions are extracted and stored, and we get to (literally) let our hair down.

Gameplay screenshot
Letting it all hang out

DS also simulates the sensation of unwinding when we get home after a long day at work. While listening to the tunes we unlocked by progressing in the game, we can read up on the history and origins of our post-death stranding landscape, its people, their culture and stories. Sadly, there is not a lot of entertainment in this new world but there sure is a lot of reading to be done, if you so choose.

For me, in all honesty, I spend a lot of time watching Norman Reedus naked. This was achieved simply by getting him to take a shower. I get a kick out of making Sam shower a lot because I remembered how Daryl Dixon never bathed in The Walking Dead and always trudged around looking like a grimy, bedraggled puppy. Finally, it seemed like DS would give me the power to give Sam the clean-up Daryl deserved. 

Despite his peace-loving personality, Sam does occasionally engage in long bouts of fighting BTs—supernatural entities who like to suck their enemies into a pool of gooey black tar. He would be filthy after such battles, with inky splotches all over his body, including traces of blood and debris. If I did not seem inclined to have him washed, Sam would gesture to his armpits and then point to the shower stall, while giving me a dirty look (pun intended). 

Partial nudity in this video. You’re welcome, readers.

Suffice to say, showering Sam/Norman/Daryl became the first thing I did in most private rooms we visited. Every shower cutscene carefully avoided showing us Sam’s genitals but the rest of his body would be visible.

The interesting thing about Sam’s body is that he does not have the physique of a body builder nor that of a six-packed superhero. His torso is sturdy and bulky, but lacks the kind of muscular definition aimed at soliciting visual pleasure. His thighs and calves are brawny, and his legs are preternaturally red from excessive ambulation. Also, if you make him walk long enough in deep snow, his fingers and toes look painfully frostbitten.

In sum, Sam has the body to be expected of a man carrying maximum loads of up to 330kg, while walking hundreds of kilometers, scaling rocky inclines and mountain slopes, in all weather conditions. This is the body of a man who has been through hell and back, and seeing him naked is a way to connect with his trials and tribulations. The camera would linger on the red backpack strap marks on his shoulders, evidence of the punishing loads I made him carry. I could also see bruises from falls and fights, as well as handprints from when BTs touched him. The longer I played the game, more handprints appeared and the redder and angrier the red marks and welts became.

"This is the body of a man who has been through hell and back, and seeing him naked is a way to connect with his trials and tribulations. " #DeathStranding Click To Tweet

It is refreshing to watch a shower sequence that is neither gratuitous nor designed to titillate. More importantly, gazing at Sam’s body renewed my respect and appreciation for his labours because his body is a palpable manifestation of his physical and mental fortitude.

In the end, Sam might not say a lot, but his body speaks volumes.

Kojima Productions
The job takes a toe on Sam

Recently, I was at a party where the topic of DS came up  in a conversation. An acquaintance—who confessed he put in about five hours into DS before calling it quits—pooh-poohed the game as being “a glorified porter simulator”. He emphasised the words “glorified porter” in a manner that seemed to suggest these were two words that should never go together. After all, who usually attains glory in AAA games? Soldiers, samurai, mythological Gods, monster slayers, comic book superheroes, robot mercenaries—sure. Porters, truck drivers, construction workers, babysitters—not so much.

Gameplay screenshot
This trophy is for all baby-rockers out there

Yet this is precisely why I love DS. It is a game that glorifies the commoners, the blue-collar workers, and the custodians of cargo among us. It is a game that is not ashamed to embrace the figure of Everyman who finds meaning in the underappreciated tasks that others take for granted. Above all, it is a game that so celebrates the labours of such nondescript workers that it invites you to share the load, drop the talk, and most especially, walk the walk.

So is this a game about a glorified porter? HELL YEAH! And about damn time too.

____

End of Entry Four. More coming soon.

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