Critical Play: Journey — It’s All About How You Walk (and Fly)

First released on the PS3 as an indie game, Journey became one of the most beloved games of all time and won the Game of the Year Award by Gametrailers in 2012. Many players regard Journey as an official statement from video games as the ninth form of art. The game’s aesthetics, simple yet beautifully presented graphics, and simple interaction mechanics make it feel like a museum walk. But unlike staring at paintings or artifacts, Journey utilizes the core elements of a video game to make the exploration fun with an emergent narrative adding meaning to the journey itself.

Journey’s Stunning Visual Design

Core Mechanics

Journey exemplifies a typical walking simulator by having a limited number of ways for the player to move and interact with the world. The player can choose to walk and occasionally fly after collecting energy orbs. The game is split into different levels representing deserts, snowy mountains, and oceans, utilizing the game’s limited assets fully. Since the beginning of the game, the player could see a giant mountain with a glowing hue on the far end of the horizon, giving the player a sense of direction and final destination without any vocal or written guidance. To progress through different areas, the player has to occasionally solve mini puzzles, adding a layer of challenge to the game.

Traveling Through the Desert

Types of Fun

Journey is first about discovery in a beautifully crafted world. The player will walk, slide, and fly across each area until reaching the mountain peak. Along the way, the player will encounter stunning architectures, paintings, and triggerable cutscenes scattered throughout the world to piece together an embedded story. It was always a pleasure for me to discover new things I could interact with whenever I found one.

Interactable Artifact

Journey also has a multiplayer component. During the Journey, you will have a chance to encounter another random player. Both players will then become companions until one leaves the game. While you may encounter many kinds of players, I felt a surprising amount of fellowship since the players I met tend to lead me through the game, pointing to me secretive places and artifacts.

Of Course, a Journey Doesn’t Have to be Alone

Narrative

Journey is a sandbox game in which players can choose to explore each area however they want, except for going through the cutscenes when transitioning between areas and interacting with certain paintings/artifacts. Everything is done with pure visuals, with no voice-over or elaborative writing. After playing through the game, I feel confident enough to say that the creators left plenty of room for players to piece together their own story by having almost no embedded narrative. To some extent, the pre-written narrative serves more to set the tone of the game. It is up to the players how they want to share their own journey.

Traveling Through the Deep Ocean (or darkness, depending on how you want your journey to be)

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Tony Jiang

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