The wholesome — if rather familiar — meme of “Death Stranding.”
Many have written to me about the impressive new Kojima/Sony hit “Death Stranding” — likely to be Game of the Year. All of them commented on the “obvious connection” to one of my most beloved works. Nor are they alone. Many reviewers remarked on a family — or clone — resemblance, like this clever one from a Malaysian zine, and many more listed below.
Before I comment, let’s link you to the game’s extended, dramatic and lavishly done trailer. It’s well worth your time. Judge for yourself whether to come back and discuss my dilemma.
Homage or Coincidence, or worse?
Death Stranding revolves around a ‘deliveryman’ with the task of re-establishing communication between isolated towns and villages in order to restore a dispersed, scattered America, and eventually a shattered, post-apocalyptic world. It seems entertaining, vivid, and even inspiring. Though yes, the Postman connection is obvious as soon as you read a review or blurb, let alone actually play, even down to specific passages of dialogue!
To be clear, I am not a litigious kind of guy. In the past I shrugged off how Halo and many other games used concepts that are at least somewhat “mine.” Just one rather blatant example: uplifting dolphins to speak and fly in space. I considered having a word with folks at BioWare concerning their Mass Effect franchise, wherein ‘Salarians’ ‘uplift’ several species to sapience, without even trying to disguise the terminology! Well, not much, compared to my ‘solarians’ who claim to have uplifted humanity. Another blatant connection I’ve never mentioned till now, despite urging from fans: Fallout New Vegas (FNV) owes a lot to The Postman as well — your post-apocalyptic character is a courier for the Mojave Express message-delivery service. Right.
There are some honorable beings in gaming. Steve Jackson has always paid royalties on GURPS Uplift and the Eclipse Phase guys bought me dinner along with copies of all their excellent game books. Over the years, I’ve been cheap to buy-off with simple things, like acknowledgement and a boost to the source material for it all — my novels.
Should I be miffed that so few even try? Frankly, I am tired of “homages” without even marginal efforts at basic courtesy. My Hollywood agent has joined those suggesting that perhaps this time enough is enough, especially for a giga-hit like Death Stranding.
Look, I understand the art of ripoff. You change enough attributes to say your “new” thing is entirely independent and deny ever having seen the source material… though this one is so blatant…
To be clear, the law doesn’t care much about denials that an infringer ever “read the original,” or if the scores of creative participants in a mega creation just happen to have never heard of Kevin Costner’s famous film. As implausible as is that excuse, it actually does not matter, in legal terms. Not when fully a third of all reviews mention The Postman and either Kevin Costner or me. Hence, I have to wonder if the legal folks at Sony have pondered the likely reaction of Warner Brothers, just down the road?
Already I am hearing murmurs among my own fans and eventheir remote acquaintances rationalizing: “If Play Station can steal from Brin, then I’ll pirate from Play Station!”
Don’t do that. Live according to the spirit that the book and film and game teach — citizenship. Fight for civilization.
Reviews that mention the obvious
Here’s a clip from one of many mentions.
“You play as Sam Bridges, a man who in a post-apocalyptic world deliveries packages across the country and is caught up in a revolution to help reunite America. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever read David Brin’s novel, or seen the 1997 Kevin Costner film, The Postman, this shares a similar premise. The only difference of course would be the supernatural elements. Sam is literally walking from the east coast to the west coast, linking settlements along the way…” by Adam Beck in Hardcore Gamer.
And the ‘Postman’ connection is clear to this reviewer…
…and this one where Royce Wilson says: “In essence, it’s the same premise as David Brin’s excellent 1985 science fiction book The Postman (a personal favourite of mine) and the 1997 Kevin Costner film based on it.”
…and this review from Collider.com: “It’s essentially The Postman, with Reedus in the Kevin Costner role.”
…and this one from Venture Beat: “Along the way, Sam is going to run into a lot of trouble, like Kevin Costner in The Postman.”
…and this one from Forbes.com.
On Inverse, Corey Plante is blunt: “Nobody seems to realize that the game’s creator Hideo Kojima has totally stolen his elevator pitch from an under-appreciated Kevin Costner from 1997 called the Postman…”
Meanwhile, others, such as this video on The Washington Post, make the connection overwhelmingly implicit — “Death Stranding” is one of the oddest, and one of the best, games of 2019.
On Twitter, Jesse Cox notes that “it’s just a very abstract Kojima style telling of the 1997 Kevin Costner film The Postman.…and this from The Washington Post: ‘Death Stranding’ game review: A stunning achievement that requires effort to truly appreciate. And that’s just the surface sampling, of course. (Feel free to write in, if you come come across other reviews that make the connection explicitly. But isn’t that plenty?)
== Is anything to be done? ==
Okay, let’s put ourselves in their shoes. Suppose that maybe someone at Sony wanted to give me a nod and toss me a little bone. Problem is that they’re caught in a bind. “Shall we approach Brin to make an honorable deal that will benefit him a little… maybe a tiny share but mostly benefiting from credit? … Or will he be unreasonable, and by approaching him at all will we expose ourselves to be sued?” Hence the default to choosing the most-dishonorable path.
On the other hand, would an approach by a neutral third party, sounding me out, have hurt? I might have responded with: “Here’s your chance to do the right thing. With a tiny share and “inspired by The Postman” links, you could get a public relations boost. We could work something out informally, without anyone admitting anything. The alternative might be a public relations black eye… or worse.”
I’m open to arguments. And sure, I am busy in a dozen directions, I’m easily distracted.
On the other hand… maybe like my cloned-copied hero, it’s time to take a stand.