How I Ruined Journey

I recently finished playing Journey and it wasn’t  great. The thing is, it should have been; I just ruined the experience. How? I did two things completely wrong: 1) I played it like a game, and 2) I stopped playing for an extended period and came back to it. Now I know what you’re thinking: how did you not complete it in a single sitting? The answer to that, is I played it like a game.

Initially I was entranced watching my brave adventurer slide across dunes, chirruping excitedly at everything that wasn’t sand. When I was joined by someone else, our interactions as we twirled in a synchronised dance of exploration seemed magical. Each new unveiling of the ideogrammatically recorded history of the society whose ruins through which I now glided answered old questions and raised some more, and I hunted on a self-determined quest to have the grandest scarf in all the land.

Each new environment seemed more enchanting than the last, and so it was a surprise to encounter a foe capable of causing harm. The snake-like mechanical creatures writhing menacingly through the air caused a little concern and a cautious approach. Despite my best attempts at avoiding discovery, I was caught mid-mad-dash by the mechanised monstrosity, my lovely scarf shredded to perhaps half its former glorious length.

Depression began to set in, and a short time later I was joined by another traveller whose luxurious, flowing, scarf mocked me. It was obviously possible to evade the soldered serpent, and I had been unsuccessful. I mourned my scarf. At that point I considered trying again, but I was far enough past the point that it seemed counter productive, so ever onward I trudged. My companion and I sung our way through to the snow, where we used our melodious calls to press on through the harsh cold winds.

And soon the threat of death slithered above once again. Staying against the hills we avoided its unblinking gaze and hurried to the small doorway that led to safety. Half way there, an angry light swept over us, and it was all I could do to watch as my colleague bore the brunt of the creature’s wrath. He’d had such a beautiful scarf.

Alone I went on, and in the real world it was getting late, and I was getting tired. Work tomorrow. Sleepy. All that. So I stopped playing and went to bed.

When I came back to the game I was back at the start of the snow level that saw the demise of my previous erstwhile companion – somehow the game had not saved my progress where I thought it had. And when I attempted to sneak by unnoticed, I failed. Right then, anger was all I felt, so I quit and restarted the level. After all, I’d seen the results of successful avoidance – a scarf about which bards would write sonnets – so it must be possible. But no matter how I tried I couldn’t seem to get by unscathed.

This was my first mistake.

I got annoyed enough that I turned the game off and didn’t return until over a month later.

This was my second mistake.

By then I was playing on half-remembered emotions and a hazy recollection of the history I had learned. This time I vowed to play through no matter what, and sure enough I passed through the portal with only the barest indication of any neck-oriented accoutrement remaining. It wasn’t much longer until I realised my worry over the magical material was for naught, and a short time later the game was over.

I’d not had enough time to reorient myself within the world, to delve again into its mystery, and as a result I was left feeling not much of anything. I didn’t feel as though it was a bad game, but neither was I able to associate with the wonder felt by other players. Had I played all in a single sitting however, and not unnecessarily attributed an importance to an object which ultimately held no meaning, I get the feeling I would have enjoyed the entire experience much more. I tried to play Journey as a game, with goals, and scores, making my avatar in the world as powerful as the world would allow (the way I play every game), when really I should have played Journey as… well, a journey.

But then again maybe this is part of the experience too. Perhaps the journey I experienced is exactly how it should have happened for me; that it acted as a reflection of my approach to games, and this is just one of the myriad experiences that engaged players the world over.

It was a magnificent scarf.

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~ by accurateobservation on November 16, 2012.

5 Responses to “How I Ruined Journey”

  1. It was indeed a magnificent scarf. It’s astonishing how much of an emotional attachment the game led me to attach to something so simple. I think it’s because the scarf is also liberating: the longer it is, the higher I can jump, and the longer float, until I can almost fly. Its loss—the first time especially—is so sudden and unexpected, avoidable perhaps, but only with the knowledge of hindsight. In one moment I’ve lost my freedom of movement; I’ve lost the delight in its billowing and the pride I felt for finding all the bits that made it longer; but worst of all I’ve lost my innocence: I now realise that this beautiful world can hurt me, it can take away from me something that I love. That’s what really hurts.

    • Beautifully said. Underlying my sense of immediate loss was the (then) unanswered question of future loss. How many pieces of scarf would I miss now that my movement was so restricted? Would I be unable to reach areas revealing more of the world history because I couldn’t fly high or far enough? It was that unknown that also kept me restarting, over and over, to try and get the “perfect” outcome.

  2. This is definitely part of the experience. In Journey, everything is transient – neither the tokens you collect nor the companions you meet persist beyond the length of a single playthrough except as memories (and cheevos, I guess). But within that span, the scarves and jump tokens serve as a simple resource which can be gained, lost, sought, mourned, obsessed over, flaunted, or envied. In the context of what appears to be a grand life/resurrection analogy it functions of wealth, power, or any of those earthly things that “you can’t take with you”. The more of it you have, the freer you are to move and act, but if they are the only thing in the game that can be acquired and managed, they are also the only thing that can be lost.

    (I actually wrote about this on my blog in a post called ‘The Political Uses of Fear’, but somehow I didn’t want to introduce myself by just blowing my own trumpet I guess??)

    My own experience with the scarves was very different. I stuck with one person for most of the game and prior to the Worm section we’d made a game of boosting each other to the highest places we could, testing the limits of the game’s environment. But when I realised what the first Worm had ripped away from me I felt as great a sense of loss as I ever felt in a videogame. Suddenly I was huddling very close to my companion as if she could protect me (and to be fair she could refill my jump meter). I was actually scared she’d abandon me, and felt guilty for slowing her down. To her credit she stuck with me to the end, where your scarf gets ripped away.

    By having the inverse experience, you’ve made even clearer the message of the game that attachment to ownership and power are temporary and potentially very sorrowful. You bought into the acquisitive paradigm of material wealth and in doing so deadened your soul to the joys of life. You are a sacrificial lamb whose unfortunate sickness helps everyone else understand the game’s meaning more fully – our cautionary Scrooge. Only for you, Christmas will never come.

    (that said, another thing I potentially compared the scarves to was mental health…which would make you an unfortunate victim who was just never able to get back on his feet. Um…sorry about that. My condolences.)

    • The analogous link to life and material goods also can’t be ignored, I think. As you say, like wealth in our humble lives, more of it can mean more choice and freedom, but at the end what does all this accumulation mean? All my effort collecting, even had it not been taken from me, would have amounted to the same thing. To consider this in reflection as the result of “playing a game” is, to me, pretty special – even if the experience itself wasn’t the one I desired for myself.

  3. Absolutely – and of course I’m being slightly facetious, as, given adurdin’s comments above, the game doesn’t invite you to look down on accumulation as such. The pleasure players take in those billowing scarves and in the flight they confer is genuine. It’s just that, in the end, it will all go up in smoke.

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