This is my Journey story, which was originally published at subtlestone.com. The feelings that I have for this game remain unchanged in the months that have passed since I last played it.
I just downloaded and completed thatgamecompany‘s Journey. I am at a loss of words to convey what I have just witnessed, and that only silence can embody my feelings about this game. Let’s just say that I was slack-jawed for most of the experience.
Jenova Chen has been pretty vocal about his company’s goal to expand the range of emotions that video games can convey, and for the most part, he has been dismissed as pretentious by the mainstream gaming community. The studio’s 2009 game, Flower, took a stab at this aspiration pretty admirably, but nonetheless was remembered more for its incredible visuals rather than its emotional resonance. With Journey, the studio finally makes good on the promise that it made to the medium years ago: the game has achieved an elusive ideal for art, it effectively communicates emotions and feelings through a universal language transcending cultural and linguistic boundaries.
Okay, that sounded really pretentious, but bear with me. Typically, games that resonate emotionally with me do so through their characters and story (Mass Effect/Red Dead Redemption), and this narratological approach to emotioneering is respectable, taking cues from humanity’s tradition of storytelling that goes way back to the days of Sophocles and Ancient Greece. However, this approach is limited by one’s cultural and temporal context, show Oedipus Rex to a modern teenager and he will be bored stiff immediately, take a fifth grader to the MOMA and the art she’ll hate it, the art will fail to connect with the person’s soul. What Journey does so admirably is use color, music, animation, art, and controls as a vehicle for emotion, thereby transcending cultural and age barriers to touch souls regardless of context. Much like the developer’s previous game, Journeyenters uncharted territory by making the player feel meditative, contemplative, and spiritual. Its an elusive emotional aesthetic that few games dare to tread, and throughout the game’s brief two hours, I experienced a range of feelings I would have never expected from a non-narratological game, even one wherein you can’t die: fear, suspense, sadness, joy, wonder, and even that highest of emotions, love.
Love you ask? The game’s nuanced and unique use of multiplayer conveys themes of companionship and piety like no narratological game can. Other players are encountered in the game’s world anonymously, no interface identifiers, no voice chat and not even floating names. The only way to emote in the game is to “sing” to other players using the circle button. In essence, you must
communicate to the nameless other players without words, speech or signs. This lack of verbal communication forces you to speak to other players using an universal language of compassion. Although one is given the opportunity to abandon his companions and complete his journey alone, why do so? Humans are social animals, and one is instantly drawn to help, recharge, accompany, and see through his companion through every stage of the journey, not through some arbitrary multiplayer scoreboard, but just to be a good person and have someone to share the experience of playing the game with. I could have completed the game faster by going at the quest alone, but I did not want to, simply because I was compelled to have someone accompany me and share the emotional journey that is Journey. Somehow, I feel that I have become a better, more sympathetic person by playing this game with others.
tl;dr, Journey matters, through ludic constructs alone, it touches the player’s soul and sets it on an adventure.