Spoiler Alert - My Journey
Spoiler Alert - My Journey
Warning: Potential spoilers ahead. If you intend on playing Journey, it’s best you do so without outside information.
At the Floppy, our policy is to not read other reviews, and attempt to avoid others’ opinions before we welcome brainstorming and debate. It keeps us from getting lazy. So I had no way of being sure, but suspected many of Journey’s moments were purposeful. Subtly engineered to feel personal, and special, despite their uniform commonality.
But no one Journey is the same, and after finally reading a few other accounts of playthroughs, one moment in particular of mine seems
unique. In fact, most specifically crafted moments hover around those early stages, nudging newbies toward the basic discoveries. As the game progresses, it defies its own linearity to become more individual - and I can’t decide which part I find more brilliant.
In the Floppy we payed special attention to the progression of how Journey tricks you into doing, and feeling, what they want - the key being movement speed. Your first few steps are designed to conjure worry: “I see that landmark in the distance, but do I really have to walk through this whole desert at a snail’s pace?” And when you’re over the hill, voila - pressing forward initiates a near effortless slide down the hill.
Suddenly, this game seems to be “about” moving around quickly. Gamers are trained to look for gameplay, and that’s seemingly Journey’s
“point”. It uses our years of learning the basic language of video games against us, sneaking its true purpose into our experience while we’re still focused on how to “win”.
When you’re used to sand surfing and graceful flight, why settle for slow amble? Why stay landborne at all? You’re fast becoming a pro at maximising your maneuverability when the opportunity for infinite flight comes along: in the form of a partner.
At that point, even those averse to socialising in games stop to raise a brow. Staunch relaxation gamers, looking for escape. Single-player fundamentalists. Bob, from sales. Cindy, the policewoman. Members of the nine-to-five conglomerate who deal with people so much all day they can’t wait to shed all manner of etiquette. “Okay, Journey”, they say. “I’ll play it your way.”
And why not? It’s not like you have to communicate. It’s convenience masked as a mute sidekick. One faceless robe staring into another with the mutual understanding that this fellow traveller is my ticket to aerial grace.
And with that, Thatgamecompany has pulled a sandy hood over your eyes. Social apathy makes way for unexpected emotion, and before long you embrace the friendship like a little kid who didn’t want to get in the bath, but now doesn’t want to get out.
You’ll share it all together - the beautiful scenery, the exploration, the pleasantly unchallenging puzzles...
But the good times don’t last forever. Just as your aquatic-like frolicking highlighted the care-free exploration, slowly trudging
through the more lifeless environments represents a struggle. The (actually, quite minimal) inconvenience of a forced slow walk into
heavy winds is a shared hardship. And nothing builds a bond like shared hardship.
Of course, there’s more than an unfriendly wind out to get you in this game. Colossal automatons, lurking in the deep, are your biggest threat. If those playful carpets before were your neighbourly dolphins, these are surely some form of oversized, predatory whale shark. Great Whites of the great golden sands.
Unbeknownst to you, however, you’re never in any real danger. The worst that can happen is losing some of the potency of your carefree
flight. But when that leviathan gobbles up the magical scarf you’ve been extending all game, it’s still heartbreaking to see your
maneuverability - this world’s version of status - devastated. And by that point the two of you together have run the full gamut of good times, and hard times.
You’ve entered into a silent agreement. When one is hurt, or delayed, you wait. Sure, it’s polite - but also, what’s the point in continuing alone? And while nursing your wound after that monster attack, seeing your mute comrade hustle back for you makes it seem like worry, regardless of the real motive.
Aww. You came back for me, bro. Hang on - this area doesn’t even let me charge you. Well. Bless your little heart.
Up till this point, I’m willing to bet that - as personal and unique these experiences felt - this is what most people went though. A
testament to Thatgamecompany’s ability to engineer emotion. But what happened next... I’m not so sure.
At the end, it became clear I wasn't going to make it to the top. So I turned my lethargic pace towards my companion, who had somehow drifted several metres away. All of a sudden, my definition of “winning” had changed. The top of the mountain mocked me - but it would be alright, if I could just die next to my companion. There wasn't much time left. But just as I got close enough to see more of my friend than a silhouette, I could make out that it wasn't just me - we were walking
towards each other.
And then I collapsed.
Was that special moment also a result of Thatgamecompany’s masterful craft? I look forward to finding out. I wasn’t even aware how often companions were switched on me - you’re presented with their usernames at the end - thinking I had two, maybe three players beside me. It was five. Others have reported even larger discrepancies, and this means I was oblivious of another important fact: leaving your companion alone for too long means you’ll likely never see each other again.
If you don’t care, you don’t have to take notice. It’s not intrusive. But as I’ve shown, the act of playing the game tricks you into caring. I suspect the only ones sceptical of its ability to generate emotion are those who haven’t played. And those moments with your silent partner are even more special with the knowledge that so much as turning the corner could mean another dip into the sentimental glory hole that is Journey’s matchmaking.
So to these, my fellow travellers, and (assumedly) now white robed masters of the desert - you are strangers to me, yet we shared
something special. Here’s to you:
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Thu 05 Apr 12, 9:30amYug
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