I don’t really have anywhere else to put it, but I want to talk about my experience with the game Journey for PS3/PSN, since I just have so many feelings about it.
I’d like to start off saying that I have now played it through twice. The first time I played I wasn’t really sure what any goals or achievements were, and I didn’t really explore so much as aim to get to the mountain. Of course I was able to appreciate the breathtaking visuals and simplistic yet effective controls of this game, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I felt content to just wander in the directions it clued to me and follow directions accordingly. I was also immediately struck by the beauty and thrill of The Descent level, especially the wide horizontal shot of the setting sun as you surf through the open tunnel bridge, the bright orange and darkest purple color palette accentuating the beauty of the moment.
Then we get to The Tunnel level and I have a fright. I was travelling with a companion then, and was able to go a long ways into the tunnels already. But then the metal serpents appeared, and caught us, and then ate my scarf. It was terrifying, and my wander-mate left. At that point I was a bit too unnerved to continue for the day. When I’d picked it up again, I was sure that I knew how to avoid that happening again. And I did,a and I moved on. I met up with another, who stuck with me through The Temple until the end of the game, and it was so satisfying to walk into the blinding light at the top of the mountain as the orchestra faded. The journey through “heaven” was also quite beautiful, and I remember thinking that I should be enjoying the aesthetics of this level as well as nearing the end. The music especially was what made me love the ending. It just got louder and more dramatic as I made my way to the topmost edge so that I could be reborn. Going up those waterfalls was wonderful.
It wasn’t until my second playthrough that I realized the mechanics of the “reborn” aspect of this game.
I know that you becoming a shooting star during the credits and get to watch yourself travel back to the beginning to start your journey anew. I didn’t know that the wanderers you saw in the credits were actual players. I also never realized during the first play through that if you look up at the sky sometimes, you see a shooting star coming from the mountain, travelling back to the beginning of their journey, signaling someone somewhere in the world has finished the game and has been “reborn”. This particular aspect of the game really sets in me an appreciation for thatgamecompany’s ingenius way of creating a world about togetherness and community without actually forcing anybody to actually do anything with anybody.
My second time at The Bridge I was joined by a white cloaked player, the first that I’d seen in-game. I knew I had to hunt for the glowing symbols in order to get a white cloak for myself, but seeing another player with it was inspiring. All I could think of was that this player could see, based on the patterns on my cloak, that I was only on my second play through, and that they had decided to take my time to go through the process of getting me achievements and all the symbols and glyphs. Keep in mind that none of this was communicated. I never asked for that level of dedication and help, and yet as a veteran player, this white robed wanderer immediately jumped to help me. Through our time together, I was constantly filled with gratitude and joy as we travelled, a veteran and a newbie, mentor and student. Like a literal “hero’s journey” archetype. The wanderer led me all through the The Desert, knowing exactly where to go for the glyphs and symbols, as well as leading me to the hidden desert flower for the achievement. Thus it was especially saddening when my PS3 suddenly brought me, unwarned, back to the main PS3 menu. All I could think was that I had suddenly turned to sand, and that white robed wanderer was now alone, without no warning or goodbye. It was troubling, and I had rushed to log back in and get back to that point, but I did not find that player again.
For the most part, my path remained solitary after that as I found my way around the glyphs and symbols again (since when I had been logged out it had not saved anything). Having lost that white robed companion in such a tragic way, I felt even more alone as I travelled, mourning the loss of such good company. In a way, it reminded me again of the “hero’s journey” archetype, and how the student must lose and then surpass the mentor in some form or fashion. I certainly felt like I’d lost my mentor, my veteran companion, and that now I must journey alone to become a veteran myself. It all felt very poetic and meaningful.
My journey did not differ much in the form of how I felt about certain levels or events. I still really loved The Descent, and replayed it several times in a row before I was satisfied enough to move on. I also was determined to get every single glyph and symbol this time around so I could get those achievements. But the end of The Tunnel was definitely a tad different. Instead of carefully dodging and avoiding the last two metal serpents before reaching the altar, I ended up barreling through their path. It was terrifying, since I wasn’t sure if they’d be able to attack me and my scarf. But I was going pretty fast down the slope, and when I reached the end they had almost had me. But they were forced to dodge upward, which lit up the altar in a different, much more dramatic way. And in truth it felt much more satisfying to have been chased and then gotten away unscathed and see the temple come to life to protect me than to have mingled on the side, avoiding them entirely.
When I finally got to the The Mountain, it was daunting, since last time I had a companion with me. Now I was alone. The trek seemed even more perilous and isolating, and when I finally “died”, weary and worn and “old” (compared to when you start the journey and are “young” and full of energy and curiosity) I almost felt at peace. I had travelled so far, and had lived a small life that had made many friends and escaped many perils. When I fell in the snow, I began to understand what the game was saying. Friends (the other players) come and go, just like the white robed player, and I feel that even though this game has a universal story, it mostly relates to me in the way that it is a story of growing up and coming to terms with things you can’t control in life. All you can do is move on. And when I finally went to “heaven”, I was able to fully appreciate wat I’d went through to get there.
I keep going back to the “hero’s journey” archetype, but this second play through really reigned in that comparison for me. I found a mentor that was selfless and patient enough to walk me through getting all the achievements. Eventually we were torn apart through something neither of us could control, and I had to continue the journey on my own, to grow up and gain the rest of the symbols and glyphs through my own time and skill so that I myself could one day be the “mentor” for some other new player. And all these feelings, of purpose and strife and owning up to become my own person, came to me in the way of a video game.
So I’ve now done everything there is to do in the game, having received all the achievements except for one: to play again in a week. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do, and then I’ll have the maximum pattern on my cloak, and I will have emerged a fully fledged “adult” white robed wanderer. And I will find a “young” first time player and I will travel with them, and maybe they will encounter the same realization and feelings that my “mentor” had given me. This game is such a treasure, and has helped me to experience something I never thought I’d be able to recognize in myself.
So if you have the chance, please play this game. It isn’t about the destination, or the beauty of it all, or even the steps you take to get there. It’s how you feel after its done, and while you play. It’s about what it can possibly mean to you. And in that it is a work of art.