Videogames…Stop Making Me Feel Things
Late last year I wrote our “Coming in 2012” article that culminated with my declaration that Journey from thatgamecompany was my most anticipated title of the early gaming season. After playing through it the other day I know without a shadow of a doubt that it was the right choice. Journey has come at a very interesting time of my life. I am getting married in a month and just this past week started writing my vows. Now, I am pretty good at expressing my feelings but having to actually write them down gave me pause and made me choose very measured and thoughtful words when deciding what to say to my future wife. It made me think about many things: promises made and kept, future and past mistakes and most importantly life, death and all the small moments in between. Journey is about all those things and more, and this is what has both drawn me to it and has also made it one of my all-time favorite games
Jenova Chen, one of the founders of thatgamecompany, once said in an interview that every game they make revolves around evoking a feeling. Journey seems like the personification of that statement.
You start off in the desert as a cloaked figure and you can’t speak, but have the ability to make audible “chirps”. These chirps not only are necessary to snag cloth (which when illuminated in your scarf gives you the ability to fly) but also symbolizes your character in the world. You go from stage to stage adding more cloth to your scarf while exploring all these extraordinarily beautiful vistas. Journey has some of the best art direction ever put into a game. People thought that the sand in the last Uncharted game was amazing but Journey uses it in such smart and interesting ways that it blows you away. The movement, the lighting and sound all combine to make a feast for all of your senses.
Your main objective is to get to this mountain in the distance. None of this is explained explicitly but you are drawn to the beacon of light that it’s emitting. I don’t want to ruin any of your 2-hour gameplay experience so I’m glossing over it here but I will tell you about the part of the game I found most intriguing: its multiplayer aspect.
Multiplayer is amazing and done in a very interesting way. There are no lobbies and you can’t invite your friends to explore with you. At first hearing about this I was doubtful that I would want to play that part of the game but after having played it now 5 times through, I’ve found the multiplayer to be its most rewarding and compelling component. You may find yourself in a stage and see another person off in the distance. You can decide to go with that person and continue your quest or pay them no attention at all, the decision is all up to you. If you choose to take someone along, you engage in this audible ping pong of chirps and leaps. I found that every time I played with someone, the experience was different. My first couple of play-throughs had me in the role of explorer/student–my companion would help me recharge my scarf and lead me to hidden glyphs and areas. In the later bunch of play-throughs the roles seem to be reversed and I would be the one leading people to all the hidden spots in a stage. I found that there was a very clear balance between letting the person experience the game for themselves and guiding them to things that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. That was what kept me coming back over and over again: the feeling like I was an entity of that world. I felt like I was an usher to all the magnificent sights and sounds that the game had to offer. My experiences being with another person and wondering if they had the same emotions during certain parts was exhilarating.
The gameplay is simple, the graphical fidelity is both void of clutter and also filled with gorgeous visual density. Journey’s soundtrack is delightful, whimsical and poignant; the texture it adds envelopes you and gives you an appreciation of the orchestral score.
I want to personally thank Jenova Chen, Kellee Santiago, thatgamecompany and Sony for being extremely brave for bringing a game like this to market. Their commitment to making games that leave you with both something to talk about and require emotional investment is something that I believe gaming sorely needs. The payoff at the end of the game not only wrapped up an amazing experience but also left me feeling like there was some hope that our gaming medium can do more than provide XP boosts, leaderboard climbing and braggadocio behavior. That it can be used to resurface feelings that humanize us and bring us all closer as people.
Journey is now in my list of all-time favorite games. I implore you to play this game, share your experiences with your friends of all stripes–gamers and non-gamers–and although it’s short, take time within the gamespace to enjoy the hard work and courage it took to get this game made.
If you’ve played it, please leave me a comment. I would love to hear from you.