“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” -Don Williams, Jr. (1)
Ok friends, gather ’round. The time has come for us to talk about one of my personal fave and most inspirational games: Journey.
Ever since our early class discussions on Bogost’s numerous topics, Journey has naturally drifted back into my mind once more. Just a fair warning in advance: my love for this game is borderline unhealthy. I’ve lost track of how many times I have tried
forcing encouraging people to play this gem; if I could, I would buy each person a PS3 just so they could play this game (but alas I am a poor college student).
The basic premise of Journey involves the player controlling a small cloaked figure (commonly nicknamed as “red cloak”) through a journey to their final destination at the top of a mountain. The only controls given to the player are walk/run, jump, and call. At first glance the more “hard-core” gamers may tend to pass on this game, finding its objective to be more uneventful than adventurous. Yet as the title hints, it is not about the final destination but the voyage itself that makes the game; and this concept is crafted flawlessly through the dynamic combo of art and empathy.
Right off the bat, the art of the game is what immediately catches the player’s eye. The moment the opening credits appear on screen, the gamer is immersed into a world of art. Beautifully-rendered scenes of shifting sand dunes complete with detailed sand particles glittering under the digital rays of the sun is enough alone to take your breath away. The more the story progresses and the further you delve into the game, the more extensive the scenery becomes.
The settings and landscapes of the game are astounding, but at the same time it raises the question: why go through all this effort? Is it to merely push the envelope in gaming graphics? One possible reason can relate back to the ideas of Bogost, where Journey‘s art is a work of proceduralism. The levels within the game are programmed to happen one after another in fluid development without back tracking to a previous level. But as the name indicates, Journey is not about who finishes first but what is experienced; by presenting players with an extensive world of gorgeous detailed scenery, the land becomes a gamer’s playground. They are encouraged to explore the nooks and crannies of a new land as they are prone to missing out on hidden items/events if on progresses too fast within a level. The game then allows the player to truly take their journey into their own hands and choose how they wish to experience the game.
Of course, the art throughout Journey is also simply for aesthetic purposes. A gamer can not travel anywhere within the game without being greeting by a new elaborate imagery–even the embroidery on the character’s cloak is so intricately designed! Journey aims for the player to connect with the game entirely from beginning to end, and the aesthetic properties definitely promote this intention. The more a gamer connects with the video game itself, the more meaningful their adventure becomes.
This level of empathy towards the game is moreso instilled through the game’s co-op capability. During a journey, you have the chance of running into another gamer. Players can opt to explore levels together, charge one another’s power levels, and even work together to find secret items. The only catch: you can not talk. Instead, your only form of communication is your “call” control, which allows you to send a single “chirp” from your avatar. By almost completely stripping your ability to speak, the game creates a new sense of identity for both you and the “other” gamer–the opposite player becomes just as much a stranger to you as you are to them.
The lack of speaking may seem awkward at first, but if you can master it the experience is that much more exciting. The two of you can work together to overcome puzzles and larger monsters that block your path. Working together with a partner, especially without knowing who or where they come from, allows you to empathize to both your red cloak avatar and your partner’s. The journey you two create is an experience in itself. The player does not have to interact and travel with another gamer, however. It is not mandatory for completing the game; if a person wishes to leave you behind while you try to escape the clutches of the enemy, that is completely up to them. What only results is another new experience during your travel.
Whatever the journey is like for a person, the game falls back on its important message of living in the moment. The game also promotes other life lessons in the game, like how does one finish a journey–both in and outside the game? Should you go at it alone or have a buddy help you along, even if they are a stranger? And what happens after the journey? The dynamic duo of art and empathy elements within the game further allows these ideas to remain with the player long after the game is over. But finishing Journey does not mean that the game is completely, but rather a new journey has just begun.