Journey, by Thatgamecompany, is a poem rather than a story and an emotional journey rather than a cerebral one. It does not have depth, which I associate with story and character development. In depth’s place, it has ambiance — and that’s important, too. If you don’t own the game, you need only watch a few minutes on the Internet to see that the cinematics are stunning.
The gameplay is varied enough to entertain for a couple of hours — all it takes to beat the game. Breathless moments of flight, sliding down sand dunes as music speeds up to match your movements, exploring dark tunnels and climbing a snowy mountain… This game is filled with experiences and locales that evoke a sense of wonder in the player. But Journey forces nothing on you. Instead, it asks you to bring meaning to the game. If you don’t, you’re in for a dull ride.
If you play online, you may stumble across one other player at a time and journey with him or her, though communication is limited mainly to touching robes — helping each other and never hindering. And should you need to vocalize, you can make your character shout with the press of a button and let your cry play in harmony with the game’s music.
The game feels to me like a final journey before death, but it could just as easily be a story of redemption or triumph or conquering fears, or a simple tale that rewards curiosity with quiet adventure. If you’ve recently experienced an emotional trauma, this game — wordless and combat-less as it is — gives you plenty of breathing room to feel it and, if you let it, experience a sort of catharsis. I found myself remembering the death of someone close to me and appreciated the chance to transcend grief — something I brought to the game, which is what Journey requires the player to do in order to enjoy it, I think.
It’s similar to instances when you share an experience with someone but, years later, remember it in different colors than your companion does. Somehow you each feel very differently about it. Similarly, every player will experience Journey in a very personal way. Some will remember pure wonder, some caution or trepidation, some calm relaxation and others energetic joy.
As when you meditate, playing this game gives your mind space to wander, but you can also achieve true quiet by calming your mind for the duration of the game. And that’s what makes Journey so touching: It gives, but it also leaves room for you to give something to the game, too.
I imagine each playthrough will be unique for me as I think, feel and remember different things. And the next time I feel overwhelmed with troubles and need a mental or emotional break, I can see myself turning to this game for a meditative escape.