Vision: Journey

Platform: PS3
Developer: Thatgamecompany

“They-and he-cared about one thing; this fusion of their mentalities oriented their attention on the hill, the climb, the need to ascend. Step by step it evolved, so slowly as to be nearly imperceptible. But it was there. Higher, he thought as stones rattled downward under his feet. Today we are higher than yesterday, and tomorrow-he, the compound figure of Wilbur Mercer, glanced up to view the ascent ahead. Impossible to make out the end. Too far. But it would come.”

In Philip K. Dick’s book; Do androids dream of electric sheep? (Blade runner) a robed image of Wilbur Mercer was virtually assumed through an empathy box. Scrambling upwards amidst desolate burning sands, his ambition, always the same; ascend the top of a mountain, every step taunted under the supervision of the towering peak.

His struggle is cruel and suppressive, but despite his ordeal, he perseveres relentlessly.

When Thatgamecompany announced details of their fourth game; journey, Mercers image burned in my mind, but uncomfortably so. It deliberated something too incongruous with TGC’s mantra.
Cruel doesn’t exactly fit in with TGC’s previous visions;

Flow: an underwater ballet dance about evolution and Flower: a carnival of light and colour, the rejuvenation of earth. They were love letters to nature and creation, exuding calmness and relaxation.

Journey is a linear, undeviating adventure, mirroring Mercers aim of transcending a distant peak. It is inevitable that you will reach the summit, but not in the same way as I or anyone else will. I have been craving to shout about my experience since its conclusion; the locations, the friendships and the revelations, but it feels inappropriate. It is a betrayal not only to those who have not yet made the voyage but also to the vision itself, it should be discovered, not pre-empted. In a perfect world, TGC would have released the game without any promotion whatsoever, no screenshots or videos, because any information dilutes the experience, the less you know about Journey, the better.

Many reviewers will talk about its intricacies, but as much as I want to, I am not going to do that, it really is detrimental to what is an intensely personal experience.

How can I convey what Journey is like without revealing anything?

By its emotional content and the feelings it generated. This is my unique Journey in note form, as it happened from start to finish:

Resplendent, playful, strain, restricted, arduous, solitude, calm, intruder, competitor, claustrophobic, irritating, accomplishment, vivacious, mystery, guidance, friendship, love, fear, insignificance, unyielding, defiance, elated, captivated, pious, virtuous, astonishing, superlative, euphoric, celestial, perfect.

None of those emotions or events were produced from incoherent controls or level design, there are some very traditional gameplay elements in effect but the execution of these are flawless and innovative. After Journeys completion I was left in an indeterminate state, videogames are capable of crafting intimate experiences but I had not felt them as a cohesive whole before.
I have never pushed an analogue stick with such ferocity, at one point realizing there was no need but my body still urged towards the mountains summit, my mind was lost in the ether.

When a next generation console is launched, there are promises of the future. What you habitually receive however are the same games as the preceding generation, just with updated graphics. Journey fulfils this promise not graphically or phonically (which are remarkable); but through something that has never been made before. Something that left me staring at the screen long after the credits rolled. I have always thought this interactive medium was restricted by its vocabulary, primarily because of the words; game, fun and play. Journey is fun, but the question of whether a game is fun or not should not be the epitome of this medium. At times it resonates with Mercers passage, feeling cruel and claustrophobic, at times transcending into the heights of spirituality. Journeys gift is that it eradicates the label of fun and delivers myriad feelings not associated with a videogame.

Jenova Chen and his team are visionaries, calling Journey a game is erroneous; this is an interactive vision in its purest form, directly entrenched from their minds into your hands.

There was a time when consoles were shipped with pre built-in games; Journey must be etched onto the hard drive of every PS3 produced. This should be the first experience that everyone has of Sony’s own empathy box.

The new language of videogames

The purpose of my writing is to lionize the videogame and its future.

This will be achieved by promoting content for the advancement of the medium, through neoteric thinking and innovation. My aim is to present experiences that we have not played before; alternatives to the oversaturated genres we have wallowed in for too long, games that challenge perceptions, which can enlighten the ignorant as well as the conversant.

Some of these experiences will look atypical; not fitting politely into the mould of what we call a traditional videogame. They may not be cohesive under our current mode of evaluation either, which rates experiences by their control mechanics rather than emotional content. This interactive medium is important socially, culturally and academically, it should not be viewed as a mere disposable toy or as a scapegoat for the ignorant.

I respect that a lot of people have no desire to look beneath the surface; to many, games are just a convenient escape and nothing more.

Please try to understand though: this is a medium that other modes cannot replicate; one that offers an abundance of opportunities. Videogames are conduits of expression and instruments of ideas; they stand as benefactors of creative thoughts. This creativity needs to be supported, unhindered and not supressed or pigeonholed.

The book, the song and the film are widely respected channels of ideas but they are generally passive experiences. As a user your interaction does not alter the course of the content, you watch, listen or read with the option of stopping or continuing. With videogames we can have direct influence inside of those ideas, creating, touching and manipulating them in a way that generates visceral expressive content. There may be a linear path towards a final goal, but that path can be deviated from and played with.

The criteria for selecting the games I present revolves around one element; they must offer something original, either through interaction or by innovating; aesthetically, phonically or through subject matter.

Progress does not come from repeating the same things over and over again; it comes from experimentation and risk taking with a high degree of failure. The games I present will not be criticised for their attempts to innovate, especially because they might not play or look as good as other games. They will be commended for their struggles to forge new paths, because this is how the medium moves forward, through trial and error, it grows through innovators and not by plagiarism or imitation.

In addition to the content and ideas I present I will introduce a new term instead of videogame; one that encompasses more than the current vocabulary we use.

This term is: Interactive visions (or visions for short)

My reasoning behind this phrase will be examined more in depth in another post, but I feel that it simply conveys the essence of the medium without placing restrictions on what or who it is for.

I hope to challenge our perceptions of what a videogame is, what they can do and what they can be. It is important to open up debates as to what this medium is capable of, and what they could be like in the future.

Thank you for joining me.