Journey is a single or multiplayer video game developed by Jenova Chen and thatgamecompany in 2012. The game begins in a vast desert with a mountain far in the distance. The player is dressed in a robe that appears ritualistic and the ultimate goal is to make the pilgrimage to that distant mountain. During the game, a player may cross paths with other players dressed in the same robes who are also on the same journey. Despite being a multiplayer game, Journey does not display usernames nor does it provide an in-game messaging system like traditional Internet connected games. At this point, you may choose to continue on your journey with this person or continue alone. Each player you encounter can only become a companion. There is no person-to-person conflict or competition programmed into gameplay. The only form of communication that can be made is a form of singing. The singing, also referred to as a chirp, helps each player move forward in the game. The chirp of an anonymous player charges pieces of dull cloth you collect throughout the journey into a new red fabric that advances you to a new level. These pieces of ragged cloth are remnants of an ancient civilization that once thrived in this desert. Each player learns of this past civilization throughout their journey, while also learning about themselves and their purpose in life.
Journey is quite the anomaly for mainstream gaming. Journey has no score and no competition. Its story does not involve itself with violence. In fact, the characters were even designed without arms to further symbolize the lack of weapon handling. This exclusion of common gaming attributes was highly calculated. Jenova Chen and thatgamecompany create experimental games and their goal with Journey was to create a new emotional gaming experience. They believe a wide spectrum of emotions have been missing from our gaming experiences. Chen explained:
“I started to realize there is an emotion missing in the modern society, and of course missing in the online console games. It is the feeling of not knowing, a sense of wonder, a sense of awe, at the fact that you don’t understand, at the fact that you are so small and you are not empowered. And so our focus for Journey was to make the player feel small and to feel wonder, so when they run into each other in an online environment, rather than thinking about how am I supposed to use my gun on the other player, we wanted them to feel a connection to another player.” (2012, Mar. 12) Game Designer Jenova Chen On The Art Behind His “Journey”
Chen’s intent has been well received. Laura Parker from The New Yorker says of the game:
“This kind of purity of form is at odds with most contemporary games. As the gaming industry has increasingly come to resemble Hollywood in its pursuit of guaranteed blockbuster franchises, the titles that dominate the sales charts—the shooters and the sports games—are designed to trigger the kind of escapism that rarely invites contemplation or self-reflection. Few games are willing to stray from familiar territory, and even fewer do so successfully. By delighting critics and smashing sales records, Journey, a weird game from an unconventional game-development studio, joins the small pantheon of titles to have done both with ease.” Parker, Laura (2013, August 5) A Journey To Make Video Games Into Art
The pure connection to another player is the end goal of the Journey experience. Chen aims for players to find unique connections to other online players through companionship and collaboration. Chen hoped that these human connections along with the epic desert journey would invite a new meditative experience where players could self-reflect about their own life. This meditative experience begins from the moment you launch the game. The landscape of the game feels larger than life and the score composed by Austin Wintory is breathtaking. It perfectly encapsulates the feelings Chen describes, as well as the many fans that have raved about the game. The scenes of the lost civilization are beautifully haunting. Chen has miraculously created a brand new world, that somehow feels connected to your past.
Untraditional game design is not a new venture for Chen. It has been the philosophy of his company from its birth in 2006. All his games are meant to break the stigma of the mainstream game. In 2009, Chen and thatgamecompany developed another game that received a widely positive response from the gaming community. The game is called Flower and won “Best Independent Game” at the Spike Video Game Awards that year. In this game, the player moves through different landscapes collecting flower petals. The player pushes these petals through the air with their controls by effecting the wind’s movement in various ways. Through the collection of petals, you help various landscapes regrow their greenery so they may flourish again. Like Journey, the musical composition of Flower is beautiful and dynamic. It responds to the player’s gameplay and reflects the various moods of the story. Chen also implemented many of the same ideas in the two games. Flower does not include any text or speech and it also aims to promote emotions that are normally not evoked in traditional game play. One large difference is Flowers connection with nature. The game is to evoke positive emotions about interacting with the environment, both natural and urban, through the different experiences the game creates. At the end of the day, Flower is an introspective experience with our natural environment. Journey too is about a personal experience, but ultimately is about person-to-person connections.
Untraditional gaming experiences seem to becoming more widely available. What initially comes to mind is Brent Watanabe’s San Andreas Streaming Deer Cam. This game immediately put the Internet in a frenzy when released in March 2016. Watanabe modified Grand Theft Auto V: San Andreas to create a deer wandering through the San Andreas landscape. It is currently streaming online as a live video-feed. This game feels similar to Journey in a lot of ways. Although the deer may be attacked by computer simulated players during the generative feed, Grand Theft Auto’s original violent context is completely removed from personal gameplay. The deer’s journey is mesmerizing as you contemplate his path and origins. It is also a sort of multi-player game due to its existence online. At any moment you could be watching the feed with any number of others around the world, which draws you in that much more. This self-reflective act that is “playing” San Andreas Streaming Deer Cam is exactly the goal of Chen’s Journey game. Both experiences are simultaneously involved in mainstream gaming, but also far removed. This is a difficult area to arrive to and even more difficult to succeed in. Both artists triumph.
- Journey was initially released by Sony Computer Entertainment for PlayStation 3 on March 13th, 2012. It was re-released for PlayStation 4 on July 21st, 2015.