There’s a reason I write about video games of all things. In fact, there are as many reasons as there are ways games can completely reimagine themselves and give you an experience other mediums can only dream of giving you. If you’ve read my stories before, you know the journey my journalism takes you on: to convince you that games are brilliant, how a certain title demonstrates a new breed of brilliance and how the medium in general is evolving into the greatest modern form of human expression and storytelling in the world.
I get it. That’s a bold claim to make, but if any game was the perfect example of the brilliance I speak of: it’s Journey. Deep. Personal. Profound, and the industry’s first purely spiritual experience.
The focus of Journey‘s studio, THATGAMECOMPANY, has always been on what games can make you feel and how deeply and subtly they can affect you with powerful imagery and emotional soundscapes to explore.
The industry’s first purely spiritual experience.
In Journey, you are a faceless cloaked figure in the middle of a desert and you never know what your true purpose is the entire game. A single word is never spoken. A single direction is never given. But within the first few moments, as you make your way over the first sand dune, you see a bright light on a mountain-top and you feel like you’ve been given a clue.
The gameplay mechanics are very simple: You can run or hold down a button to gracefully soar into the air; the longer you scarf, the higher you can soar, which grows over time. That’s it.
So how did this game manage to give me one of the most self-reflective experiences of my life? Truly, it’s a challenge to try and describe all of what you see before you reach the mountaintop, for most of the surreal landscapes you travel through don’t make a lot of sense on paper: swimming into the sky by singing to seaweed-like creatures made of tapestry in a heavy water-like light that you enter after walking into a desert canyon… that sort of thing.
However the feelings the game evokes in you speak to your heart with emotions that can only be described as universal: A need for answers. Discovered relationships. Moments of meaning and sentiment. Proud feats of accomplishment and reflection on how far you’ve come. Fear. Uncertainty. Loneliness. Loss…
As you near the end, you begin to realize what the whole journey meant to you. It becomes a powerful symbol of internal transformation and self-realization, as your unspoken curiosities, motivations, ambitions and struggles define why you’re making it. The entire experience becomes an enigma for that mysterious motivation that drives any human being to climb to their “light on the mountaintop” until death claims them.
Journey is an experience about faith, struggle, fear and hope; and your scarf, a symbol of the lessons you’ve learned and the wisdom you’ve nurtured in life and how it has granted you the ability to reach greater heights.
Journey even ingeniously incorporates a mechanic that represents the people that come and go in our lives: the intersection of journeys. For as you’re playing the game online, you can encounter another player from somewhere in the world, who you can only speak to in music-like notes. (Do we ever truly understand each other?) Indeed, while we’re all bound on the same journey that we may even share at points, in the end, we only ever understand our own internal life.
In this game’s beautiful but strikingly desolate and beautiful world, these strangers are what make the game feel truly meaningful. (Like the people we love?) For in the most human way, you become attached to the players you meet… only to loose each other at some point, and be on your own once again, only to meet another…
In time, my companions started to understand me in how I timed by notes with my actions. While slowly treading through a blizzard, we would stay close and warm each other to quicken our step. When we sang to each other while soaring, we would lift each other even higher, etc.
Some people I met never got as far as I did. Others traveled long distances with me only to go their own way and never be seen again, Some committed to staying with me until the very end. Or in other play-throughs, I found myself alone in my final hours. I even heard stories of players that would make it the top of the mountain and just wait for their partners to make it there with them. Powerful.
Journey is only a two hour game, but within those two hours you experience a lifetime’s worth of memories that can change how you see the significance of your own life, and every moment in it.
You’ll be saddened when your journey, like life, ends so soon, but you’ll feel like in the end, unexpected things will define it in greater ways. Indeed, it’ll make you realize that the mysteries it brings to light about human existence may be even greater than the one waiting for you on the mountaintop.