Journey is a really incredible game
So I have to explain this experience right now before it fades from my memory.
I lobbed home from work this evening and resumed a game on PS4 called ‘Journey’.
Journey is a simple but really beautiful game, where you control a strange cloaked figure that is travelling through a beautiful landscape to a distant mountain. The soundscape is serene, there is no dialogue, you rarely interact with other creatures save for an assortment of friendly flying creatures that are also made of cloth. You really need to play it to understand how zen it is, but there you go — it’s a nice way to calm down.
The genius of this game, though, is the online component. You see, as you move through your journey, and all of its stunning settings, you might encounter another player on a journey. Somewhere in the world.
The game has no mechanism for talking, there are no names on screen. There is no way to communicate, other than tapping the circle button and making a chime sound. Close proximity between two players charges a magic ability to fly for brief periods — it’s really quite lovely. But you don’t know who that player is, and you can’t communicate beyond the chime. You chime flurries, you move around each other, it’s nice. But totally rudimentary.
So this was the second time I’ve played journey through. It’s possible to play in one sitting, but it’d be a long sitting, so you come back to your journey from time to time. The other night I encountered someone in some sandy ruins. They clearly couldn’t figure out how to move to the next region, and I tried to show them, but they didn’t understand. I went on my way.
Last night I encountered someone in a dark area underground, and we navigated out together, avoiding vast metal monsters that knocked us aside and depleted our magic. The next stage was a vast structure that fills with glowing energy as you progress higher and higher. They got lost moving through the tower.
I played on until I arrived at the hardest part of journey: a bleak canyon filled with snow. It’s tough and exhausting, because progress is slowed by blizzards. I returned to it tonight.
I battled through the horrible blizzard, making my way to a crack in a giant wall of rock that opens into a snowscape guarded by the metal creatures. Here I met another person on a journey. We chimed at each other, and then began the horrible trek together. We darted for cover in small shelters, at one point we got blasted by a creature. We chimed to heal each other, we pushed on as the cold slowed our avatars down. We made our way past the monsters, and onto the final leg of this journey.
This phase of Journey is intense — and the first time I played it I wasn’t sure what was happening. Your character is pushing forward into a snow storm, climbing a steep slope towards the glowing light at the top of the mountain. But as you push on, the avatar slows down, your controls become less responsive, and eventually your character collapses. It’s totally demoralising.
This time, I had my random friend with me though. Staying close to each other, chiming moral support from time to time, we pushed up the mountain. On we went, never straying from each other, slowing down, getting colder. My friend collapsed before I did, but I was a step behind, so both our avatars fell in a heap.
The screen whites out.
Then a row of white figures appear and raise your character from the ground, and send you flying towards the light. The screen flushes with colour and you are transported from the desolate snow realm to a lush, vibrant, spectacular world of waterfalls, trees, cloth-animals and light.
And as this happened, flying alongside me was my friend! Through this massive moment in the game, we didn’t lose track of each other! I can’t explain how difficult this is in Journey, because the move between ‘levels’ is long, and you don’t really wait around.
So on we fly, through this beautiful scenery, making our way higher and higher across sunlit carpets of light, surrounded by flying cloth creatures, and then across a sunbeam I land on the final path, facing the giant pillar of light. I turned around and waited, and sure enough my friend arrives. We start jumping, spinning around each other, chiming, and then gradually make our way towards the light — the end of the game.
As we get closer, we walk side by side, occasionally chiming as the screen fills and our characters walk into the distance. It is just WONDERFUL.
Right now I feel elated. What a powerful sensation created by a video game!
There was this mystifying, humbling, awe inspiring moment where you connected with a person — you have no idea where in the world they are from, what they look like, whether they are a man or a woman. They’re just another soul on a beautiful journey, and for a moment you are on that journey together. We just happened to meet towards the end, walked with each other during this traumatic and terrifying experience, and I think gave each other reassurance and strength — even though it’s just a game. And we stuck with each other right to the very end and walked together side by side. Isn’t it just a wonderful metaphor for life? We meet, travel together, then leave?
And isn’t it beautiful that there’s some common thread to humanity that this game taps into? That there is some fundamental part of our nature — our social selves — that recognises another person as someone who is also on the same journey…life!
Afterwards I had a message on my PlayStation account:
Someone out there, who I will likely never meet — and if I did I wouldn’t know them — had the same experience that I did.