Critical Play: Journey


For this critical play, I played “Journey”, created by thatgamecompany. Journey is a walking game that allows the player to embark on an anonymous adventure as a figure cloaked in red, under the guidance of a god-like figure coated in white, in a mysterious world, including miles of burning, sprawling desert and secret underground caves, as well as snowy mountain tops guarded by hostile machine monsters.



This game could be played on various platforms, including iOS, ps3, ps4, and pc. I chose to play on pc for this critical play. I feel the target audience for this game would be gamers seeking a relaxed, meditative experience, enjoying the delicateness of visual design as well as good music, having less interest in hard challenges and combat systems, since the major types of fun of the game are discovery, sensory pleasure as well as submission. The Discovery goal is facilitated by the rapidly changing landscapes and constant appearance of cloth creatures, as well as the “you can go everywhere” mechanism. The player could go in all directions in all sorts of landscapes. The sensory pleasure is conveyed through the minimalist design and usage of bright, high contrast color. These visually pleasant scenes make me want to screenshot every single moment.

Even though the goal to reach the mountain top exists, the game is not about reaching this goal. “Journey” is about the journey itself, in which you make attempts to soar in the wind, engage with cute cloth creatures, and get a slight rush of adrenaline when confronted with the mechanical monsters that would not kill you and are easily avoidable. After the player reaches the mountain top, they will be turned into a shooting star and brought back to the starting point, rebirth, and start the game all over again. The deemphasizing of the goal through the cycles of rebirth in gameplay makes the game less a quest, but more a past-time pleasurable experience.



I’m not sure if the game should be characterized as “enacting stories” or “embedded narratives.” The narrative of the game unveils as the player continues the journey, which is quite simple, depicting the avatar of the gamer as a hero who frees the cloth creatures along the way against the imprisonment of mechanical monsters. The hero dies before reaching the final mountain top, and is reincarnated into a shooting star and brought to life again by the gods. Given there are no dialogues, the narrative emerges as the game proceeds, which is a very refreshing experience. I enter the game expecting to just walk around, but discover that there’s something more to this game when entering the desert place with locked up cloth creatures. This moment of realization brings a huge surprise to my gameplay. 



However, there are several worries I have for the game. The game does not have a “save/load” function, and if one wants to enjoy the full journey, he/she needs approximately 3 hours to finish one run.

For return players who enter the world with full knowledge of the narrative, and just want to casually chill in the beautiful world waiting for chances to run into strangers, this might be the most reasonable choice, but for the first time player who really wants to know the story and does not have an empty 3-hour time slot, the mechanism of the game could make things really hard. Another thing I want to bring up is the replayability of the game. After a whole run, I feel I’m already very familiar with the major elements of the game, and my only regret is that I did not get to run into another player in my journey. I might want a bigger incitement for me to reopen the game, since I’m already acquainted with the sequence of scenes and possible challenges along the way. Also, I feel that the instructions for certain operations right now might be too simplistic for the gamers to understand when they are playing the game for the first time, including using control to “fly” and using the space bar to gather cloth around you. In my own gameplay, I only get to be acquainted with the operation when entering the underground. I feel a good design change might be keeping the current simplistic design, but adding a small “i” somewhere on the screen during the tutorial, allowing the gamers to click for more information concerning the key actions they can take in the game.

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