Critical Play: Walking Simulators

This week I played Journey, a walking simulator game created by Thatgamecompany and Santa Monica Studio in 2012. The game has a wide audience, and is primarily intended for individual players. The game does have and emphasis multi-player interaction, but such interaction is even more magical when happening among strangers, which will be elaborated later in the essay.

In Journey, each player plays an avatar that explore and advance in a multi-level game world with astounding visuals and soundtracks. The only kinds of action that player can take is either movement (with a few variations), and interact with other anonymous players with either a single shout or musical note. The goal is to advance in the game world and reach the final destination.

The game primarily involves the following kinds of fun: Sensory, Submission and Fellowship. First of all, the fabulous visuals and soundtracks provides intense and immersive sensory stimulation, provokes emotional response and really helps laying out the narrative. The immersive fantasy experience allows the players to forget about the real world and submit to the role play. Finally, the player may interact and communicate with other players. Although the communication is extremely restricted, it turns out that players are still (and arguably even more) able to form companionship and bond with total strangers, and collaborate on the journey.

The game is such a hallmark of walking simulator game, and differentiate itself from at least the following aspect: 1. The story is told without a single word, yet perfectly conveyed through carefully designed levels, visuals and soundtracks; 2. Rather than neglecting narrative completely or simply using interleaved narrative to provide context for game mechanics, for Journey, the Narrative is the Mechanics; 3. The game provides no conventional communication means such as text and voice chat, allowing only two kinds of actions to be signaled. Nevertheless, such design turns out to effectively facilitate collaboration between players, and, as an extra merit, also prevents abusive communication and trolling, which is a big problem for conventional communication system.

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