By Neil Merrett
Journey, first published on Playstation 3 in 2012, Thatgamecompany
The idea that a videogame can provide some sort of spiritual or transcendental experience shouldn’t really be such a stretch.
For millions, if not billions of people around the world, games frequently provide out of body experiences, allowing players to step, almost literally, into another person. If not always empathetically, games allow us to engage with worlds from unknown, alien viewpoints.
They allow us to build increasingly complex worlds, albeit it ones of still limited sophistication to the planet around us.
Videogames can also bring disparate individuals together in congregation. Granted this is often done just to simulate killing one another and rubbing your arse on the virtual corpse of conquered foes. Sometimes we might even get apologies from strangers on this.
Not the hero we wanted but the hero we deserved pic.twitter.com/T9rpN4XPqA
— Squad Muscle™ (@KimoForce) November 14, 2016
But these factors alone do not a religious or spiritual experience make.
While there is the immediate satisfaction of cruising through the air in a title like Overwatch, picking off a target from the sky with a perfectly targeted rocket, the sense of elation it provides is not necessarily a sense of spiritual epiphany, even on a consecutive kill-streak.
Yet in the way that some will turn to music, film, or dance for some form of enlightenment, the very concept of games has huge potential to allow us to tackle more existential questions of who we are and the reason of why we may or may not be on the planet for.
However, the answers to such questions do not always lie in the complex. Sometimes, we can learn about ourselves and purpose in more simple experiences.
Journey, initially released on the Playstation3 before being ported with a fresh graphical sheen on to its successor console, is in part a game of walking and gliding towards distant horizons just for the sake of the new and unknown. You see an enigmatic, ethereal mountain in the distance, it is therefore seemingly your objective.
Beyond a few simple onscreen instructions, and a single button to blurt out an unknown chime-like language, it is for the player to come to some sort of understanding of what they are doing in the game, who they are and what the world is. You head for the mountain and hope for the best.
As gamers, players are traditionally guided through games with prompts, instructions and clear narrative on what is wrong or right. There are bars or indicators for energy or when you may be nearing death, as well as clear guides on the limits of your abilities.
Issues such as physical limits and abilities are not provided on screen, but discovered and understood mainly through the player’s own experiences in the game.
Are you man, woman, or something else entirely? What is the meaning of the strange changing robes that adorn the character and change throughout the game? Is this some form of energy and power, or purely for decoration?
What of the isolated players that you come across choose to assist or ignore upon your journey with no means of communication other than a few chimes and a sense of direction.
The game leaves you to make your own conclusions, and to say anything more would seemingly remove the purpose of the game itself.
It is a truly alien experience of skiing down dunes and gliding with wondrous origami-like beings and occasional online companions to share it with, as if you are a new born discovering a strange new world and abilities for the first time.
You step out into the world knowing nothing of your purpose or what may lie behind the mysterious lights and peaks. You are simply there to seek wonder, excitement, and perhaps some cool sword or machine gun or peril along the way.
Journey, as its simplistic, perhaps enigmatic title suggests, gives the player an utterly simple and human goal, to move forward and discover, soaking in the utterly unique visuals and soundtrack.
Any purpose that you may find from that point as as a result of the player’s seemingly clueless wondering is your own
As we head into an unknown and potentially unprecedented new year that for many could herald a very real, alien new world, there are worse messages to give a person than to keep pressing on until the end, embracing wonder, fear, beauty and snazzy knitwear as we go.