Journey: A Complex Personal Experiance, with Strangers!

As thatgamecompany’s last title, Journey is an accumulation of experience taken, focused, and concentrated into a two hour long dream. It is a game that strives to be more than a game, and as per the intentions of this blog, speaks to the heart of what I believe games can become. As always, this is your spoiler warning.

Journey is not a “gamey” game. There’s no HUD, no stat menu, no acquisition of better equipment, no competition, and no failure. So is it really a game? Ay, there’s the rub, and I argue it is. There’s a defined goal, a set of abilities, and definite obsicles that impede your progress. That being said, you will never see a “game over” screen. The journey is the focus of the game, and to interrupt that focus breaks the trance the game casts you into.

This trance is cast in no small thanks to Austin Wintory, the creator of Journey‘s soundtrack. The argument can be made that without his help Journey would not be half as evocative as it is. The soundtrack truly makes the experience and Mr. Wintory deserves his due credit. (The soundtrack is available on iTunes and the CD comes out soon, I highly suggest you check it out.)

Journey speaks volumes for art style in games, and proves that style and artistry can trump realism any day. No matter how many dust particles your graphics engine can portray in a single frame, you can still be outdone by simple vivid expression. Scenes like this in Journey literally made me gasp. However lacking it is in realism the beauty of the scene, particularly in motion, cannot be denied.

So what is Journey about? Well aside from the obvious focus of the JOURNEY itself, there’s the theme of companionship versus solitude. I’ve heard it argued that Journey might as well be a single player game, I vehemently disagree. Journey is not just a game about a destination and how you get there, it’s a game about chance encounters and the choice of companionship. With an internet connection you will at random run into other players identical to you. You don’t know who they are or where they’re from, and you can’t speak to them. Your only form of communication are audio/visual chirps of manipulable loudness, and your on screen movement. The only benefit of partnership is being able to recharge each others flying ability, the extent of which only serves to quicken your pace. So why is the desire to tag along so strong?

Much like a person’s relationship to their pet, the lack of communication removes all pretense and assumptions. With religion, language, and culture removed, there is little to bar us from welcoming a companion. Removing any ability to hinder each other also prevents the prevelance of trolls who might delight in finding victims to annoy. So in this enviroment, do we welcome a companion or seek to journey alone? Our answer is a comment on the human condition, and for any game to be able to provide an opportunity to reflect on the human condition is a testiment to what games can do. Which again, is exactly what this blog is about.

Journey is a very visceral symbolic representation of any journey we can take, life and death perhaps being the most apt of all. If I were to surmise the feeling of the game in a single word it would be: Ascension. From the spiritual to the physical, the feeling of rising to meet a goal is conceptualized in the very literal manifestation of “climbing the mountain.”

Any truly good story has a moment of reflection – be it the character is brought to the brink of death, or finds a long lost object, or is just about to achieve victory. The end of Journey does just that, and because of the metaphorical nature of the game, it provokes within us a moment of reflection. This I think is what gives the game its power. We all have desires we want to achieve, on our own or with someone by our side. The creators were smart to provide no answer to the end of the story, because frankly there’s no way they could live up to the build up the game provides. What we the players all envision is personal, and by letting the answer at the top of the mountain remain unanswered we can all hold on to our own interpretations; and in a way, we can all be right.

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Posted on July 23, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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