PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Games

My Mechanical Journey With 'Journey'

All games are simulations. They use the cold, pure logic of mechanical systems to create warm emotional connections.

All games are simulations. They use the cold, pure logic of mechanical systems to create warm emotional connections. It’s all a wonderful kind of manipulation, and when it works, it feels like magic. Journey is a great example of this kind of game, one that works its magic on the player whether we want it or not by reinforcing a certain thought process over and over again until the player unwittingly agrees to go along with it.

When I started Journey I didn’t want a cooperative experience: I actively avoided other people, I got angry at the mere sight of them, I didn’t want them solving my puzzles or showing me the way, yet by the end of the game I found myself chirping frantically for my lost companion, hoping he’d return.

It all stems from the scarf. You can only jump when your scarf is glowing, and you have to collect floating pieces of cloth to make it glow. That, or stand next to another player. This is all there is to Journey, at least in terms of cooperative gameplay. Making our scarf glow, giving us the ability to jump, is the only mechanic that the game uses to encourage a bond between players, anything more than this stems from the players themselves. If you don’t want to interact with people, there’s nothing else in the game that pushes you towards doing so. You don’t have to show them around, you don’t have to follow them, you don’t have to help them solve puzzles, you don’t have to let them solve puzzles for you, and I went through a majority of the game as a curmudgeon. And the game let me.

The final level has you scaling a snowy mountain, and the biting chill eats away at your glowing scarf until it no longer glows and you can no longer jump. It’s an excellent way of relating the pain of the cold to the player, but more importantly it takes away what has been, until now, our most important form of movement. This loss is devastating, especially coming after a sequence in which you’re essentially flying up a spire with an unlimited ability to jump. So you can’t jump, your walking animation is slowed when moving through snow, and then you have to hide from a flying creature that will eat what little is left of your scarf. Everything about this sequence is designed to make you feel weak -- unless you’re with another player.

This is when the game turned for me. I met a companion just as we started the climb, and we stuck together the whole way so our scarves never stopped glowing. It should be noted that this part of the game is not a platformer. It never demands that you jump at any point (since you can’t jump if you’re alone) so we never needed our glowing scarves, but it was still reassuring to know that I had that ability. The game was able to evoke a sense of pain, support, and reassurance through a single mechanic.

But what I find it most interesting is that this mechanic only worked for me after the game threatened to take it away. So much of Journey is about giving you a sense of freedom, the ability to float and fly and explore as if you were in a dream, but this exaggerated reality is not new in games. It’s quite common. To experience it here was nothing special. It felt no more magical than hopping on the jet bike in Saints Row: The Third. But when the game tried to take that freedom away, and I still found a way to hang onto it, in however limited a fashion, that limited ability suddenly felt more freeing than it had before, even though I never actually used it.

It’s all matter of context. When the game gave me freedom, I didn’t care. When the game took away my freedom, then I cared. This is an example of one of the more powerful illusions games can create by virtue of their interactivity. The mere existence of an ability is enough to change the way we think. We don’t have to use it, we don’t have to need it, we don’t even have to want it, but the simple knowledge that it exists is enough to evoke an emotional reaction.

The emotional experiment of Journey that so many others have praised fell flat for me most of the time, but it saved itself in the end by changing its focus from provoking the standard gaming emotions of empowerment and wonder to provoking the more subtle emotions of safety and reassurance. I couldn’t resist.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.