Norman Reedus’ character in Death Stranding, Sam Porter Bridges, is said to suffer from a condition called aphenphosmphobia. While it’s clear there is something bothering Sam, the name of the condition itself is only mentioned in passing, so if you didn’t catch it, it can be easy to pass off as part of the larger fictional world-building.
But it isn’t a fictional condition. Aphenphosmphobia is a real phobia, and as you play through Death Stranding, it becomes more clear how it affects Sam, where he might have developed it, and how it fits into the themes and motifs of the story. We won’t spoil that for you now, but we can explain the meaning of aphenphosmphobia, and what it is.
What Is Aphenphosmphobia? Symptoms and Causes
Aphenphosmphobia is a phobia, or extreme and irrational fear, of intimacy. That includes physical touch, which is why Sam reels from hugs or even simple handshakes in Death Stranding. But it is also a fear of “emotional bonds,” according to a website called Phobia Guru. Symptoms of Aphenphosmphobia range from increased heart rate to physical pain in reaction to intimacy–a literal “fight or flight” response.
It’s important that Sam, the one who fears developing bonds with other humans, is the one tasked with forging bonds across Death Stranding’s fractured America. It becomes part of his emotional development as a character, but it’s also an interesting starting place for the player, who might begin their journey unsure of how to affect change in the game’s world right away or if the connections they’re tasked with making will really matter. One of the causes of Aphenphosmphobia is an intense fear of abandonment, which translates into a reluctance to start relationships for fear they will eventually crumble. That becomes thematically important in Death Stranding.
“Reconnecting America” sounds like a monumental task, but as our Death Stranding review puts it, the type of human connection required for that is Death Stranding’s most “remarkable achievement.”
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