Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-05-20 17:56:31
One Amazing Journey
When playing Journey (PS3) for the first time, I must have gotten lucky. Different people have different reactions to Journey, but of the people who say that they don't see what the fuss is all about, the majority of them, as far as I have encountered, say that it is because they didn't meet up with a good partner. I can fully understand why this might result in certain people not enjoying their time playing the game - Journey is beautiful, but playing it by yourself is a lonely affair, and other than being a nice-looking adventure, there probably isn't that much else to it.
But, for me, playing the game with another human being - a complete stranger, no less, based on the game's unique form of interaction - was an utterly emotional experience. While in the case of many of these types of game there is a tendency to give in to hyperbole and exaggerate how profound they can be, Journey is one of the few games that lived up to the expectations that I had of it in my mind. I remember on my first playthrough my partner joined me after a couple of chapters. We first met while zooming down the golden sand dunes. They were ahead of me, and I don't think they had realised I was there. When I caught up with them I ended up taking the lead, and they spent the rest of the game following in my footsteps.
It was glorious. I didn't know the player whatsoever, but we definitely shared a bond. I have a feeling that it was their first playthrough as well, because we got stuck at the same bits. Whenever we got separated, such as when we were attacked by the large monsters in the latter part of the game, we would frantically run over to one another, all the while hammering our communicative buttons; a wordless cry to make sure that we were both okay. As we progressed through the quest, we remained together as if glued to the hip; at the end of chapters we sat together, and the moment gameplay resumed we clung to one another again.
At the end of the game, while nearing the top of the mountain, we glided together. At one point we were separated, given the enormous amount of freedom in the latter part of the game, but when we reunited there was an immense sense of relief. And then, while braving the wind and sleet as we reached the very top of the mountain, we were both instinctively pressing the button to talk to one another, as if to say goodbye. As things faded to white and we passed through the narrow passage, fusing into one, I didn't honestly want to deal with the harsh reality of never interacting with that stranger again. It was incredibly emotional, and difficult to put into words.
I imagine that Journey only truly hits hard when it works. The game undoubtedly suffers if you have people in your session who aren't interested in staying close to you. However, if, like me, you get lucky and spend your session looking out for another player, nurturing each other, following one another and, finally, saying goodbye, you will find that Journey is one of the most cathartic and melancholy games around. As a social experiment, it is a formidable example of the creative and interactive potential of video games. When Journey succeeds, it is a ride unlike any other.