This post contains spoilers for the video game Journey.
It’s interesting. Ever since I started to make games, I seem to have less and less will and time to actually play games. I heard that as you know all the smoke and mirrors behind creating a game, you easily become bored while playing a game, or you start to pick it apart, analyzing it piece by piece, instead of just relaxing and letting yourself become immersed by the game itself. I guess you lose your childlike curiosity in a way, you expect more from a game when you know how much hard work that goes into making it. You build your own presumptions on how games should work, and it’s easy to say “I saw this trick a million times before”.
With all this in mind I started to play Journey at work yesterday. I borrowed our gaming room at Tarsier and turned down the lights, thinking I would give it 30 minutes or something, before I had to run home and get to my drawing lesson.
Two hours later I finished the game and sat staring at the white screen in front of me, moved in a way no video game has ever moved me before. I quickly wiped away my tears and hoped no one had seen them. I guess you can’t explain a video game in words, just as little as you can explain architecture with a dance, or a painting with music.
For two hours I had been the visitor in a strange world, full of wonders. A place I didn’t understand, but that accepted me as a temporary tourist. I had met a complete stranger in the desert, and together we had traveled this world without a word. The game contains no text or voice, and you can’t chat with the random player that you are paired with. When my co-op partner showed up I was suspicious at first, but as the game progressed she helped me, showed me how to play, how to fly and guided me in the blizzard. I had the most emotional moment in my gaming life together with a complete stranger. And I guess that’s really the reason it impacted me so much. When we don’t have all the facts or can’t get the whole picture we project our own feelings and story onto it. To me the other player really was another traveler in Journey, because there was nothing there to break the immersion. Nothing like a voice over Skype screaming LOL or a chat log full of derp. She truly was a creature in this hot and sun-drenched world, not another human.
There was only us, trying to find our way trough the desert, climbing up the elusive mountain, struggling in the freezing blizzard. Together.
As we entered the bright light together I stood still for a while, turned around and looked back at this strange world, my anonymous co-player pushing into the light before me. I instinctively knew we had probably reached the end of our journey and the game. Together we had experienced this strange and amazing world, without words traveling, playing and dancing. I knew that it would never be the same again. I could always play this game again, but you only get one chance to experience something for the first time. And as humans we have a tendency to compare all experiences of something to that very special first one. I don’t want to do that. I want my experience with Journey to be this one and only one. When I started playing a video game a late afternoon having no expectations, and ending up with strange tears in my eyes, almost forgetting about my drawing lesson, truly immersed for the first time in years. I want that impression to be what I took away from playing Journey.
I had almost forgot video games are able to craft something like this. Something that moves you this much. That makes you forget about the real world. That brings long forgotten memories to life and lets you for a few hours step into a completely different time and space.
If someone ever tells me video games can’t be art I will punch them in the face (then I’ll make them play Journey).