It goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway: science fiction is weird. Oftentimes it's so weird you either can't explain it, or it wasn't meant to be explained in the first place. As is the case with Death Stranding and the unusual focus on babies, of which a prop had nearly barred Kojima from entering the country, no one quite understands their meaning or origin. The science fiction genre uses a whole variety of tropes with children in order to broaden the scope and add intensity to the story. Babies alone have been countlessly represented; just look at the imagery in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In a similar capacity, Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding utilizes babies in representing specific ideas about life and meaning, which go far deeper into realms unimaginable. Set within a post-apocalyptic world occupied by extradimensional beings, called BTs (commonly theorized as "Beached Things" by the fandom), the upcoming title is slated to be more than just a game. It's an experience, one reminiscent of the P.T. craze of 2014, but far more epic.
At the very center of the game, much like the womb, resides what are called "Bridge Babies." Acting as a special cognitive awareness, these babies are typically displayed within a sack, or egg-like pod, which attaches to the character and operates the so-called "shoulder-flower-device." When the character strays too close to BTs, or vice versa, the device will light up and squawk in warning. This is only the bare bones of their involvement, as a large part of Death Stranding's story deals with connection (parent/child), strands (umbilical cords/cetacean stranding), and reality itself (life/death).
If we follow what Kojima said in his social media post following the release date reveal, it's not too difficult to discern what the babies represent:
"People have created "Walls" and become accustomed to living in isolation."
Connection is at the very center of the game, as expressed in a number of different ways, whether it be represented through time (connection to our former selves), as love (family and friends), or spatially (connection to reality). Even Kojima's brilliant use of death as a gameplay mechanic showcases rebirth as a literal journey to another world, called Hades. Your survival relies on your Bridge Baby, which itself is a connection to the other side.
A heavy influence on Kojima and Death Stranding has been Kobo Abe's short stories, "The Rope" and "The Stick." Similar to the game's own expression of connection, the rope is viewed as a binding mechanism by the protagonist, while the stick is represented as both a tool and a weapon. Though these concepts and analogies may seem trivial, to Kojima they ring loud with a nuanced perspective and an understanding of duality. In an interview from 2016, Kojima states:
"A strand in psychology is often used to refer to ties or chains...There's a Japanese author I am a huge fan of called Kobo Abe. He has a short novel called 'Rope' in which he makes a definition, a statement: the first tool mankind made was a stick...It's a weapon. The next tool created by mankind was rope. The rope is not to keep away bad things..."
Paralleling the stick and rope from the story, Kojima wants us to look at death and babies in the same context: one as a tool, or a weapon, the other as a force, or binding that which roots us within reality.
The babies also have meaning to the characters, as Gamescom's most recent trailers have shown. In the Deadman spotlight, we get our most detailed look at the ways in which the babies operate and, more specifically, how Sam came to possess one. As a blending of horror, science fiction, stealth and action, Death Stranding will lean toward parental roleplaying, as well. The babies may be far more important to the characters than we yet realize. If the baby dies, we may go with it. Just look at the convexed nature of MAMA's relationship with her baby as opposed to that of Sam's.
The very first teaser has been the only other footage to showcase a BT baby, besides the recently unveiled MAMA spotlight trailer. Opening to Sam's simultaneously astonished and mortified expression as a black handprint crawls across the ceiling, the newest look into Death Stranding drove home this dichotomy of life and death as well as the theme of connection even in the face of strange circumstances. MAMA explains it best herself: "She's my daughter and I'm her MAMA." That's all that needs to be said.
We also learn from that same trailer that Bridge Babies are born on the "other side" - stillborn - and are connected to their mothers beyond death, thereby rendering them capable of processing the ethereal properties from Hades. Sam's Bridge Baby acts as this very tool, navigating the player through the dark and unforgiving terrain unscathed. Some fans have gone so far as to hypothesize the baby is a clone of the player, acting as a respawn mechanic, but I beg to differ.
I think the bridge babies go far deeper into the relatively unknown realm of Hades. As I said previously, the game's primary focus is death - more specifically, one's connection to life and the very "ropes" that bind us to the living world. It's a completely new way of representing death in science fiction storytelling. Life and death themselves are blended into the very form and makeup of the Bridge Baby, showing just how deep Kojima intends on going with his newest project. Some fans have even speculated the game as an allegory for Kojima's separation with Konami, but again I'm thinking it's far more complex than that.
While there's still plenty more to unpack and divulge concerning the immense underbelly of tropes in Death Stranding, I find the most spectacular of all is connection. As the release date nears, keep this theme in mind. It's important for us all to stay connected, not solely to the world around us but to the people in our lives, as well. Be mindful of this. Allocate an equal amount of time to being sociable and active as much as you do toward gaming.
Most importantly, though, watch out for the BTs.