‘Keep On Keeping On’: How a Game Got Me into Running
by Anchit Mishra
I’ve always been interested in sports and exercise, but a few years of neglect had left me physically unfit and dissatisfied with the shape I was in. While I used to play basketball in high school, even simple physical activities became tough once I started living a sedentary lifestyle. I weighed 105kg and was hardly able to even jog for 1km.
Today, I’ve come a long way — I run regularly, my health has improved, and I’ve also helped start a running club in Shun Hing College to encourage others to try out running as well.
I credit Death Stranding, a video game that inspired me to change and start running. Death Stranding was released in November 2019, and it could not have come out at a better time. It’s about a post-apocalyptic world where the player takes on the role of a man named Sam Porter Bridges, a deliveryman tasked with risking his life and transporting essential items across America. To rebuild the nation, he has to fight against supernatural forces, terrorists, and his past. And even though it sounds completely unrelated to the game’s plot, Death Stranding, to me, was my source of inspiration to start running.
Inside Death Stranding
The game’s core mechanic involves Sam carrying cargo of different weights and sizes on his back and walking/running/climbing across a diverse landscape, delivering items to people. The citizens of the country are trapped inside bunkers due to a major global disaster. The game’s aim, in a nutshell, is to cover enough ground and deliver enough essential items to cover all of America, effectively rebuilding the nation while also establishing a communications network to connect people all across the country. It might sound a little drab, but it’s the world that makes the traversal all so satisfying. Nonetheless, the game adds great depth to its movement mechanics and world design with elements from graphics, sound design, and game design.
Death Stranding’s visuals, especially those of its environments, are almost indistinguishable from real-life. The game’s world features actual 3D scans of places, such as Iceland, explaining the detail and realism seen in the game’s landscape. The various terrains aren’t just placed randomly but modelled after real locations. The weather effects and lighting further add to this illusion. They also play a major role in enhancing gameplay since different weather and lighting conditions provide additional challenges in traversing the world. Even the people roaming around in the game contribute to the real-life experience. These visual elements combine to make a game where almost every scene is photo-worthy and makes you want to step out in real life.
The game’s soundscape was arranged with great attention to the relevance and context, resulting in a different sound for every play. This has two major effects. Every landscape sounds realistic, including the sensation of loneliness present throughout the game world. The sounds of rustling leaves or water flowing through a narrow stream are the only sounds Sam hears as he walks alone for kilometres on end. This itself adds a musicality to the game, apart from the amazing soundtrack consisting of songs by the Icelandic band Low Roar.
The sound design also includes several minute details. If Sam has been walking for too long, he’ll start breathing heavily, or if he’s moving into snowy terrain, his breath will begin to quiver. All of this adds up to make a very convincing experience of navigating the game’s world. Even if the game resembled real-life visuals, it would hardly be convincing if generic audio clips were used for environmental sounds.
Finally, the game design brings all the previously described elements together with actual gameplay. Since the game mostly involves Sam walking alone, the world of Death Stranding is its own character. The game’s terrain isn’t diverse just to look fancy; each surface poses a different challenge to the player. For instance, grassy plains allow Sam to run through easily, but wet rocky slopes drain his stamina faster, forcing Sam to walk carefully and properly distribute weight on his back.
Each step taken in Death Stranding is deliberate and thoughtful — if you try to push forward on the joystick constantly, you will certainly fall and damage the cargo! And drawing from the mention of stamina and weight distribution, Sam must consider all of these factors and much more while completing a journey. Death Stranding’s game design is no light matter; you need to choose the most efficient/safe route to take and prepare items to carry accordingly.
Gaming and Running
These elements, combined with the performance by the actor portraying Sam (Norman Reedus), made Death Stranding an excellent inspiration for running. Throughout the game, Sam repeats a particular line during his lonely journey — ‘Keep on keeping on’. It’s kind of his motto; it’s the way he’s able to motivate himself despite the adversities he faces.
Before playing Death Stranding, I was planning a shift towards a more healthy lifestyle. However, I was still in the phase where I needed a source of motivation, a slight push to get the ball rolling. Death Stranding proved to be the push for me. Just the act of traversal in the game was enough to make me excited about starting with a running routine, taking a step towards getting fit.
When I went out for my first run, I remember being in pain and thinking of how people did this regularly. But I had already made up my mind, and there was a tiny hope of achieving the fabled runner’s high. So I decided to ‘keep on keeping on’. Inside my mind, I treated the act of running in real life in a similar way to the game, taking each step with a sense of initiative.
Eventually, 1km became 3km, and 3km soon became 5km. All the while, my body started getting accustomed to the act of running while my mind became stronger against the challenge of running. Sure, some minor hiccups occurred in between, such as an injury that forced me to rest for two weeks, but it was clear that I was getting stronger.
A month into my new routine, I ran 5–7km a run 4–5 times a week with no major issues. I even started looking forward to the next run every day. Amid a particularly hectic week, running provided me with just the form of meditation that Death Stranding’s gameplay promised in its virtual world.
No matter what was going on in life — a particularly demanding assignment, an upcoming presentation, or a hard test, when I went out to run, it was the act of running that occupied my mind. Coordinating my breathing, making sure my strides were efficient and pushing my limits each day were the only things I thought of, and this proved beneficial in more ways than one. It made the task of improving as a runner much more approachable and had a positive impact on my mental health; I found that going out for a run on the morning of an exam was often better for me than waking up to study for a few more hours. I had even achieved the runner’s high!
As of now, it has been a year since I started running. In that time, I have run over 650km and continue to run at least three times a week, covering 5–10km per run. My physical health has improved significantly; I have gone from weighing 105kg to 78kg, and day-to-day activities such as climbing up the hill to the Student Village feel much easier than before. I’ve also thought about taking my enthusiasm further, and starting the running club has been part of my attempt to encourage others to take up running. While I began by running alone and took inspiration from Sam, I believe that forming a community of runners also has many benefits. Some people might find it hard to go out alone and run regularly, and for them, the club aims to help them develop a routine. Others might find it too boring to run, and having people running with you may make it more fun. In the end, it’s all about working together to improve our health, and running provides one of the easiest ways to do so!
Anchit is a year 2 undergraduate student in the Computer Science program at HKU. He enjoys playing video games and analysing their technical design and themes to understand how they impact our day to day lives. Part of his undergraduate research also focuses on Human Computer Interaction, particularly on how technology can be used to extend the ‘immersiveness’ of mediums such as video-games, improve VR/AR, or even help people in the real world.