Why Journey is so Important

By Ryan Winslett in Infinite Ammo
Friday, March 16, 2012 at 11:00 am

 

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Journey released on the PlayStation Network this week and, by now, you've likely heard quite a bit of praise being tossed around over developer ThatGameCompany's latest hit. The Metacritic score is stellar, Joystick Division's own James Hawkins adored itand, come December, Journey is likely to garner quite a bit of Game of the Year chatter.

But while everyone lauds the beautiful graphics, engaging presentation, tight controls and sweeping score, one of Journey's best characteristics is being overlooked; namely how uniquely "video game" it is.


What truly makes Journey worth talking about is not just the sum of its parts, but the fact that the experience it offers could not be achieved in any other medium. Unlike the vast majority of its peers, Journey is exclusively video game, through and through.

 

One of the things I like most about Journey is that it reminded me that video games are capable of telling their own stories, in their own way. Most AAA, big-budget titles would work just as well as either a film or a novel. Take out all of those long segments of running, jumping and shooting (or just trim them down to a few minutes here and there), and you're left with a product that would feel right at home on the silver screen or the printed page. Not so, for Journey.

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Journey is one of those rare video game experiences that evokes a deep emotional response (or 12) and demands further consideration/discussion long after the credits roll. It does this without the use of contemporary storytelling devices in a game that lasts just two hours, features the simplest of objectives, minimal control options and not a lick of dialogue. But while our input is limited, it is absolutely essential in creating a connection between us players and the story being told.


While other developers try to capture the feel of a Hollywood blockbuster or epic fantasy novel, ThatGameCompany took the road less traveled; opting instead to create a product whose success is utterly dependent on its medium.


Journey's minimalistic aspects add up to create a world that, if you will pardon the cliché, has to be experienced to be understood. Because of its open-ended nature, what Journey means ultimately depends on what you, the player, take away from it.

 

And as I have stated, I find it hard to imagine this particular experience could work unless said player is putting something into it themselves. You are the one who has to go on this quest. You are the one who has to make the decisions, explore the world, befriend a total stranger and climb to the top of a mountain where a mysterious light has set the sky on fire. Simply reading about it or watching it unfold before you would not have the same effect. Journey as a film or short story simply would not work.

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​Whether or not video games are straying too far from their roots has been a hot topic as of late. Some developers bemoan the use of cutscenes for hindering the feel of playing a video game while others actively strive to capture another medium's experience, going so far as to tout their game as being the "closest you've ever come to playing an action movie."

 

That's actually one of the things I love most about video games: They offer such an amazing variety. I don't fall on either side of the fence here. I'm fine with cutscene-heavy adventures like the Uncharted series or more ambiguous mind-benders like Limbo. Rather than trying to limit what video games should be, I prefer to celebrate what they are and what they can be (So long as the finished product is worth celebrating, that is).


But while I enjoy the types of games that have become more commonplace these days --the ones that borrow more heavily from other forms of entertainment-- it's certainly nice to be reminded from time to time just what makes video games so unique. Journey does that in a big way. It shows us that some stories can't be told unless you come in with a controller in hand, willing to give as much as you're going to get.


Infinite Ammo is a weekly column by Ryan Winslett about video games, the industry that make them and the people who play them. He can be stalked via his blog at staticechoes.com and followed on Twitter @RyanWinslett.

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