Rant 25- Journey

So, my roommate and I have been debating the merits of the game Journey recently, and I thought I'd share my perspective with the internet. Essentially, he did not find it a compelling experience, while I found it one of the most profoundly moving games I've ever played. I suspect that the biggest difference (aside from personality differences) was that he chose to play offline, while I played it online, as it is intended.

For those who don't know, Journey is a multiplayer game, but not in the traditional sense. You're playing through the story, and then another person will be there, without any introduction. You'll find them on the other side of a dune, or they'll walk around a corner, or you'll turn the camera and there they are. You know NOTHING about this player, not even their name. All you have in terms of communication is your "chime" ability, where you sing a single note and a symbol unique to you appears, highlighted by a glowing circle.

These nameless second players can help you accomplish goals and regenerate jumping, but the main impact that I observed was much more subtle. Knowing that another person is journeying with you changes the tone of the game. By sharing the experience you find yourself more invested in it.

As an example, there is a part of the game (perhaps halfway through) where you are suddenly attacked in a dark cave-like room. Up until this point you have been utterly invincible, growing more powerful with each level. The attack throws you off kilter (literally) and reduces your scarf, which dictates your ability to jump. If you're in the zone, this is a rattling moment. The rules just changed, and they did not change in your favor.

When this happened to me and my companion the first time, our reaction was completely unscripted: we began to chime. The other player would chime twice, and I would chime twice in answer. Shaken, afraid, and small, we sought each other out like children lost in the woods. It was a striking moment for me, because such an event is inherently unscriptable. Sure, the developers set the situation up, but we voluntarily and organically acted it out. We didn't need to turn and find each other, we could have continued playing the game and probably run back into each other, but instead we chose to seek out the comfort of each other's company before continuing on, together.

When my roommate got to that part, he let out a "Whoa hey now" in suprise, and then continued playing. He didn't have a nameless friend to turn to for comfort, and so he couldn't have experienced the game the same way I did.

This is why I liked Journey so much. It gave me an experience that I haven't had before in a game. It made me feel like a small kid again, calling out to my siblings in the dark. Don't get me wrong, this is a bad feeling (no one likes feeling scared), but it's moving, and that more than we can say for most games.