30th December 2012 14:46:00
Digital Game of the Year 2012
At a bustling city restaurant over a table crammed with food and drink one of my friend interjects in a conversation I am having on gaming and asks, “...but, can games be as meaningful as a book, are they as useful at conveying morals and life lessons as books or films?” It’s a conversation that is nearly as old as the medium itself and while we want to be able to clearly and definitively put the debate to rest, if we are honest with ourselves we will have to admit that ours is a difficult case to make. However, much like other expressive mediums there comes a point, an isolated moment when we get to glimpse the purity and perfection of what can be achieved. For me Journey is that point, the exception that we yearn to be the rule, the sublime distillation of interaction and experience. There could be a danger to overstate the importance of Journey, a possibility of getting carried away on a tide of critical praise but here it is absolutely deserving of hyperbole and every accolade is hard won. Journey, it has to be said, is not for everyone as it is simple, short and will affect people very differently or perhaps not at all, but for what it signifies it deserves to be played by every gamer.
With a penchant for the slightly obscure thatgamecompany have made a name for themselves by constantly offering something fresh for gamers amidst he usual deluge of cover based war shooters. Where many games are an interactive ride that tries to dazzle you with bombast, instead Journey reaches out to give you an actual experience. You have no character name, no goal dictated to you and two button commands to interact with your world. This is not lazy design but design brought back to its core elements, stripped bare of anything that doesn't add to the experience. The world of Journey is a beautifully desolate place, subtle hints at an ancient culture are littered throughout and a few hieroglyphics here and they flesh out this world better than hours of nonsensical dialogue or banal plot-twists.
The masterstroke in all of this is the multiplayer, or more appropriately, the ambient multiplayer. There is no voice chat when you encounter another player, there is no name given and the only means of communication is via the 'sing' button that releases a single note. You cannot call for help, you cannot point out an area of interest but you rely on developing your own form of shorthand with each new person. It feels as though it should be restrictive but it is liberating, communication becomes something pure, something properly useful and devoid of any obscenities or agression. This approach to communication helps players develop a proper relationship, where teamwork is not necessary but desired and come the end of the game you will have a feeling you have just played something truly special.
This is Jenova Chen's masterpiece, a perfect marrying of design, concept and execution.