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break those chains that bind you

maura @ 10:38 pm

Last weekend I finally got back to Journey, one of the Playstation 3 games we got for xmas (along with the PS3 itself). I played most of the way through on Saturday night then finished it Monday. It was amazing, incredible — the reviews are all spot-on, the awards well-deserved.

You play as a gender-neutral person (yay!), plopped down in a desert with a huge mountain in the distance. The game essentially involves walking through what you gradually realize is a ruined city to get to the mountain. There are small challenges to figure out along the way which allow you to progress, but the game is more about the atmosphere — visual, audio, your movement — than solving puzzles. It’s absolutely gorgeous: time progresses from morning to night throughout your journey and the colors shift accordingly. You can walk along the sand (or slide down hills, which is delightful!) but also, sometimes, fly — the amount of time spent flying is determined by how long your scarf is. Finding glyphs on each level lengthens your scarf, and flying cloth creatures of various sorts, some incredibly playful, recharge it.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Journey is that the Playstation’s network pairs you up with another player in real time if enough other people are playing (though you never encounter more than one at a time). I knew about this feature beforehand so it didn’t surprise me when it happened, though it was interesting to see what happened to *my* gameplay when it did. The first time I encountered another player, yo was nearly to the end of solving a puzzle to activate what was needed to move to the next level. I found myself slightly annoyed — I hadn’t had the opportunity to move about and explore everything on that level, and I wanted to hit some of those switches too before moving on. So I exited out of the game and came back in, then progressed through the level the way *I* wanted to. As it turns out, another player joined me again, but this time I’d been in that space for long enough that I was ready to move on, and we crossed to the next level together.

The random other person in your gamespace but not in your living room mechanic is so interesting. It’s a highly meditative game, and even with another player there’s no way to talk or really communicate. I won’t spoil anything by saying that there are times in the game when it’s really, really helpful to have someone else there, when it’s advantageous to be paired rather than alone. But Journey begins, and ends, with solo play. A nice touch at the end is that before the credits run the screen displays the usernames of all of the other players you encountered during your game.

In many ways the real measure of how much I like a game is how soon I think about playing it again once I’ve finished. I think Journey is the first game ever in which I knew I’d play again soon even as the credits were rolling. Throughout your travels the game gives you little clues about what’s happened in that place, though I found them to be fairly opaque on my first playthrough. Gus started playing almost immediately after I finished, and watching him has made many things clear. I’m absolutely looking forward to playing it again. It’s beautiful and sad and amazing, really pushes videogames (especially console games) in some interesting directions.

Lest we leave this post on too much of a reverent note, a funny story: of course the very next day Gus had found the Journey wiki where he could do all the obsessive research he could stomach, just like any child of a librarian/academic would. Jonathan suggested he ask a question on the wiki’s forums about the lyrics for Open Arms, which had both of us old folks giggling while the youngster looked confused. And then we had to remind Gus that Journey is the music playing at the beginning of Tron Legacy when Flynn’s son powers up the video arcade. And then we felt really, really old.

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4 comments on “break those chains that bind you”

Anne (21 March 2013 at 10:50 pm)

That’s funny because the absolute first thing that popped into my sorry old head when I saw the word “Journey” was, well, Journey. And then I read a bit and thought oh no, this is not the same thing. Then I read a bit more and thought, oh, well, kinda it is.

Anne (21 March 2013 at 10:53 pm)

Also: I am just a dork about games (and not in a good way) in that I only play the mind-numbing kind like Bejeweled.

However, we do have this obsessive person in the house who seems to have finally given up (in that he hasn’t asked in awhile) his dream to build a mine (!) in the backyard.

Seriously, we had to explain many times and in all different ways WHY people do not just build mines the way they might erect play equipment or install a bug-zapper or splurge for a pool.

maura (24 March 2013 at 10:10 am)

Ha, the Minecraft obsession is kind of crazy. It ebbs and flows with Gus — right now he’s into this one mod that’s all about animal husbandry. He’s constantly telling us about how many goats and ostriches he has, it’s hilarious.

Anne (26 March 2013 at 10:40 am)

In Minecraft, one may own a sheep. Max accidentally let his friend’s sheep escape. I love 7th grade boy drama :-) (no actually it wasn’t a huge deal).

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