Death Stranding’s America is dotted with thousands, possibly even millions, of player-made structures that can make the post-apocalyptic expanse less dangerous and also less lonely—perhaps even welcoming. These structures have a social media-inspired system that lets you click a “like” button on them. And I am determined to favorite them all as much as possible.
I’m in love with Death Stranding’s user interface. Its slight, angled lines and numbers, soothing digital chirps, and tightly nested menus make me want to click through every part of it, like I’m snuggling with my cat, every button press a gentle pet that elicits an equally gentle purr. But while most of the interface is economical and utilitarian, intended to help with logistics like equipment management and map navigation, the system for liking other players’ creations offers you a short window of time to let loose. When you come upon a structure, you can smash the trackpad button as many times as you want within a specific time limit, spreading good vibes throughout the country’s haunted heartland.
I wasn’t exactly sure why I felt so compelled to like the first survey tower I encountered as many times as I did. Likes don’t pay the rent. They do provide bonus points to the player on the receiving end, but not on mine. Likes simply go out into the void, potentially bringing a smile to someone else’s face and boosting their stat sheet, a stranger I’ll never meet and who will only ever know me as that weirdo who’s apparently prone to thumb spasms.
Except I’m not alone. Reading through the game’s subreddit, it’s clear that spamming the like button is a widespread obsession. “Has anyone else been spamming the hell outta the likes button?” wrote one poster. “I’ll stop everything I’m doing and then smash that button like I’m fighting a boss on Gamboy Zelda.” The practice has spawned memes, and even a mini-meta competition. As Sam Porter’s level increases, so does the window of time for pressing the like button. Players 60 and above have mentioned getting between 500 and 700 likes in during one attempt. I’m sure some players have found ways to go even higher.
The game seems to even encourage this sort of gratuity by inflating the number of likes that register per button press the faster you hit it. The abundance of likes flowing back and forth should make each of them feel less meaningful. If I’m dolling out upwards of 100 likes at a time, how do I gauge the difference between getting 15 likes on one of my ladders versus 1,500? And yet the effect feels magnified by this sort of largess rather than diminished.
Rather than simply giving out token likes out of a sense of guilt and obligation, trying to maximize likes shows that I really care. Instead of a ghostly acknowledgement from halfway across the continent, it’s like shooting up a barrage of fireworks that spell out, “You there, I see you and what you did! Right on!”
For years now, people have been telling me to smash that like button on social media. It’s easy, they remind me, and goes a long way toward helping them gain exposure, the necessary ingredient for growing an audience. Maybe some small fraction of that audience will actually pay them money. But even if that mechanism for nourishing the body never materializes, at least there will be thumbs up for the soul.
One way to look at this arrangement is that the economic conditions that gave rise to it blow. One way to look at Death Stranding is that no matter how grim and macabre the world becomes, people whatever tools they have at their disposal, no matter how weird or broken, for spreading the love however they can.