Spoilers for Journey follow. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I’d heard about Journey‘s innovative multiplayer feature, of course; it was impossible to follow video game news in 2012 without reading about how your Journey journey can be peppered with silent, anonymous companions who are pursuing the same quest as you. You can’t talk to them, but you can see them, jump with them, and share an adventure together.
I also read — and ignored — Kirk’s tip for starting Journey. Thank god.
But other than that, I had no idea what Journey — the critically acclaimed PS3 game that I played last night for the first time — would be like. It was probably for the best.
See, during my first few moments with the game, I didn’t really care about anything that was happening. It was pretty, sure, and the music was lovely, and I started to worry that this was one of those pieces of Fine Art that I wouldn’t get at all. I’d be the one guy who just DIDN’T GET IT, and I’d have to admit to the world that yes, OK, I didn’t like Journey, so keep your fucking art games, I’m going to play more StarCraft II. But I stuck with the game, mostly because I knew it was short. I slid in the sand and crawled through the tunnels and jumped my way through the giant mystical temple, wondering what I was doing and why I was doing it.
Then, as I arrived at the snowy hills, I ran into someone. Another red-robed wanderer. Maybe it was a 16-year-old teenage boy from the midwest, taking a break in between marathon Call of Duty sessions. Maybe it was a sixty-year-old woman whose son convinced her that she had to try Journey because it’s not like all those other games with the blood and the violence and the guns. I don’t know.
This person, whoever it was, made a musical note appear over his head. I paused for a second. Then I responded with my own musical note. He — or she, or whatever — started walking. I followed.
And as the two of us climbed the mountain, watching our robed adventurers push against frigid gusts of wind and terrifying snowfalls, we stuck together. When I was smacked down by a dragon, he turned back to get me. When I fell down the cliff, he waited for me to get back up. We were partners and companions. We wanted to stick together, no matter what.
Then we died.
My partner was first to go. He keeled over in the snow and collapsed. Soon I felt my robed warrior doing the same. I hammered the X button, trying to get him to keep going. It didn’t work. Everything went white.
When I woke up, I was on top of the mountain. My companion was next to me. And we were soaring! Soaring through the air, like red and gold phoenixes with wonderfully intricate scarves. And when I fell behind, when I accidentally dropped under the mountain and fell into a glitch and had to reset the game in order to continue, I felt like I had lost something. Lost someone.
So I fought my way back through the snow and made it to the summit once again, where I found a new partner. Or maybe it was the old partner. I don’t know. We flew together and soared together and made our way to the top of the mountain, where we were enveloped by a bright light. And the last thing I saw, before the end credits began to play and I was taken back to start my journey all over again, was an image of two silhouettes, framed by light, standing next to one another as if they’d never be apart again.
That’s when something strange happened. That’s when I *got* Journey. I want to say I felt something profound, even though “I felt something profound” sounds like I’m writing some bullshit college essay about how volunteering at a soup kitchen taught me how to appreciate life. I’ll say it anyway. I felt something profound.
In the real world, we are constantly hurting one another. We are wired to talk shit and bully and be angry and throw hateful words at the people we love, even when we don’t mean to. We can’t help ourselves. Journey, using nothing but a desert and a mountain and a few musical notes, strips away that malice and creates a world where any two human beings can find comfort not in each other’s personality, but in each other’s presence. Journey shows us that when the cards are all down, we as human beings will always stick together. We’ll walk with one another. We’ll wait around if someone’s left behind. And when the words are gone, we’ll sing musical notes if we have to, because it’s in our nature to be together, always, no matter what happens, no matter what screens separate us, whether we’re best friends or just strangers sharing an adventure together.
I started off Journey alone. I’m glad I finished it with someone else.