The term “multiplayer gaming” often brings to mind images of someone playing round after round of “Halo” or “Call of Duty.” However, the multiplayer experience of “Journey” offers anything but the competitive nature of a first-person shooter. When players interact in the game’s world, the experience creates a connection, a bond with another player whose real name you never learn. By integrating one of the most unique multiplayer components of any recent game, “Journey” manages to evoke emotion and develop a sincere link in an unexpected way.
As you travel through the gorgeous deserts and haunting caverns of “Journey’s” world, you may come across another character identical to your own, traversing the lands on a similar trek. These other players are not computer-controlled — they are real-world players with whom you will randomly cross paths as you work to complete the same journey.
How you interact with these players is entirely up to you. While you cannot hurt one another, there is no obligation to interact or assist each other in any way. Ignoring other players is an option, but at the core of “Journey’s” design is a desire to make you feel compassion as you play. Ignoring them would cause you to miss one of the truly spectacular satisfactions the game provides.
Your genderless avatar in “Journey” can only accomplish a few actions — it can run, jump and chirp. The first two actions are familiar elements of any game, but the third, while initially strange, becomes one of the most fascinating tools at your disposal. Since the game forbids voice chatting with the players who come across your path, chirping is the only available means of communication.
If you decide to work alongside a fellow traveler, employing your chirp is essential to success. Because you can control the length of each cheep, falling into a rhythm and putting meaning behind these sounds becomes inevitable. You’ll emit a rapid succession of short chirps to call your companion’s attention. A long chirp will signal for them to follow. Patterns develop, and somewhere along the way you’ll have developed a language unique to you and the other player.
And here, “Journey” accomplishes something few games attempt and even fewer achieve — it helps you construct an emotional connection with another player. The adventure forces you to adapt to a new form of communication. Putting such effort into understanding another person forges a bond that, upon completion of your expedition, will have you yearning to yet again run through the sand with this nameless friend.
The subject matter of “Journey” and its artistic achievements further elevate the bond that develops. At the heart of this two-hour adventure is a narrative devoid of dialogue or defined characters. The meaning you derive from the gorgeous painted world in which the game places you is entirely determined by how you interpret the tale. But the overwhelming emotion that may hit some players is a surprising result from a medium most gamers consider to be replete with violence and adolescent tendencies.
In our daily lives, most of us seek to make connections — to not journey through life alone. These bonds give meaning to what we do every day because we accomplish it all for both ourselves and the people who matter most to us. If “Journey” succeeds in any way, it captures a life lived in only a few short hours. And if such a meaningful experience reflects what matters in real life, the game reveals its true beauty in the friendships it creates.
— Jonathon Dornbush
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