If you have any knowledge about Death Stranding at all, you ought to be familiar by now with the rather overt product placement throughout the game, particularly of the very brash-looking product Monster Energy Drink. It also seems like people haven't been making as big a fuss over it as would be expected, which just adds to its weirdness. Seriously, we should really talk about this. Death Stranding takes product placement to the next (uncomfortable) level, but Kojima seems to get a pass.
Kojima's latest big title is generally very strange, so on the one hand pulling this kind of move might not be entirely unexpected. However, this fourth-wall-breaking technique might be a bit too effective - too garish even for Kojima et al. That's certainly what some players feel, like Eric Kain from Forbes:
It’s . . . weird. I find it very immersion-breaking and a little gross.
It is evident that Kojima is no stranger to product placement in his games, and that he likes energy drinks. His Metal Gear franchise exhibits this in its frequent and shameless placement of products from popular brands such as Apple, Sony, and Doritos throughout its games. And then there's that Japanese commercial for Regain Energy Drink starring Metal Gear's Snake. So again, not entirely unexpected. But is that enough justification for having such jarring, immersion-breaking advertisements in a game that otherwise is so immersive in its ethereality and other-worldiness? No, and yes.
An interesting thought experiment is to imagine if this stunt was pulled by someone other than Kojima and his team, say, by EA or Take-Two Interactive. It's likely that in those cases, people would be utterly roasting them for slapping such blatant advertising on top of a $60 game. Somehow, when it's Hideo Kojima pulling the strings, many just chalk it up to his signature weirdness. Classic Kojima, and all that.
It's exactly that though - his act of string-pulling - that turns this whole argument on its head. Kojima is also well-known for his puppeteering and his apparent obsession with hidden messages and meanings (did someone say P.T.?). So what if this is yet another one of those cases? Perhaps it is a satire of itself, a nudge - or push, rather - towards the absurdity of consumerism or of the macho-man image for which Monster Energy is frequently representative of?
Monster Energy also appears to have quite the scandalous track record thanks to its association with health risks and a smattering of sexual harassment allegations against former vice president John Kenneally. In general, the company seems to be somewhat of a corporate bully, making it both a curious and a not-actually-that-surprising choice for this kind of in-your-face marketing. Still, some are left unconvinced:
Even so, the partnership with Monster Energy looks like a grotesque commercial imposition on an otherwise beautifully crafted game, seemingly motivated more by profit than by aesthetic considerations.
Perhaps it is too generous and naïve to consider all this to be a satirical commentary on the consumerist system at large more so than an act of surrendering to it. Regardless, it is yet another way that Kojima has drummed up mystery and ambiguity through his work.
Or maybe Death Stranding is just one big, incredibly obscure, massively-over-funded Monster Energy Drink advertisement.