If you’ve read my blog much or know me at all you know I am interested in the nature of games: how they work, how they impact people and how different elements of a game impact the player & develop the overall experience. Because of this the game Journey has been recommended to me more than a few times. This week, after buying the soundtrack I finally got around to updating my PS3, signing up for PSN, and buying the game. I did this on Friday, a typically harried day and didn’t have time to turn of the PS3 and TV so all Shabbat long I saw the “download complete” image on the screen whenever I went into the downstairs room. So, even though I should be focusing on cleaning, after Shabbat I decided to sit down and play the game.
I have read a review, not that long ago where a parent and their child both played through the game and the parent found it profound and the child had found it “a waste of 2 hours”. Having played it myself now I understand why the difference. The play through of the game is relatively short – about two hours – which is good because the impact comes from the whole experience, or rather the whole experience plus what you bring to it. The game play is also very simple but simple games can often be quite deep, as is the case with Journey.
So with that cryptic beginning, lets talk a bit about the game. (n.b. I will be describing a lot of my journey – I’m not sure if this counts as a spoiler (since your journey will be different) but I thought it right to put a “pseudo spoiler alert” here.)
To start you press start to “Begin a new Journey”. You are brought into the world and you learn the first of the controls – looking around. Once they are sure you have the lay of the land your character stands up and you begin the Journey. You are in a vast desert, the winds blowing, the music haunting and you see the destination ahead – the great mountain. You begin walking and as you find landmarks you can gain a few abilities – a longer fly, an assisted jump, (and probably something else that I didn’t pick up on this Journey through.) And that is the game – you wander, explore, activate things, occasionally building parts of the environment to get through the journey, a bit of danger, and those you meet on the Journey. With that you would think it to be a pretty boring game, but, I’m sure with the help with the amazing soundtrack, the game takes on the experience of a meditative/introspective/spiritual journey, perhaps a bit of a vision quest. As you gain abilities your garments change slightly. When you meet the first person you react and follow or ignore or play with that person. There is no text but your “powers” also make sounds and auras of light and with each person I met I found that we both used that as both a “Hi!” or “Come over here” or even a visual indicator to help you come along.
When I lost track of my first companion I felt a sense of loss – no doubt influenced by my own experiences of loss. Finding the next person was an excitement and realization that we meet different people on our Journeys and the roles we play change. With each person that I encountered the interactions were different. Some waited to help me, some I would double back to help, some just said hi and then went on to their own journey, just like those we encounter in life.
There was a particularly dark area and I lost nearly all of my power ups and was sure this was “my end”, reminding me of darker points in my life, and when I found a power up it was like “Yes there is still hope.” Along the way there were visions where you saw hints to what was to come, and where you were on the Journey. As you played and became familiar with the symbols and forms you would notice things like “Oh another person is coming into the game.” – as you saw the visual for a new Journey. Or if you were near your journeying partner your extended flight would recharge by their proximity, reminding me of how when you are with a partner there is a support that does not exist when you are alone. At some points it seems that it is expected that there will be a companion (judging by the visions). And there were great “little lessons” like when I fell down from the path and was sure I had to go twice the distance now, but it had actually led me to a shortcut and I was ahead of where I would have been with my previous forward and back.
Ultimately I reached the end part of the Journey. Although I hadn’t gotten all of the power abilities (less decoration than at least one of my companions) it had been enough to complete the journey. Even though I no longer had all the abilities I had gained on the journey, it also was enough to complete the journey. In the end it a joyous last bit of the journey – more than what has been lost has be returned and you go on, alone, to the end to light and as you finish and the screen goes to white and the credits roll you see that the end of this journey takes you to the beginning of the next.
At the very end of the credits, you see the names of those who were your companions on the journey. Each was silent except for the melodic fluting and yet each added meaning to the journey through how you interpret the experience from your own journey thus far through life.