Critical Play #4: Journey

For this week’s critical play, I played “Journey”, specifically the version offered for iPad Pro. Journey is an indie adventure walking simulator, which was co-developed by Thatgamecompany and Santa Monica Studio, published by Sony Computer Entertainment, and directed by Jenova Chen. The game was originally released only for PlayStation3 in 2012, before being released on many other platforms over the subsequent years. I played the game for about an hour and a half and was able to better understand the logic behind walking simulators.

These were the formal elements of the iPad Pro version of Journey:

  • Players: This version of the game was single-player, and only had one main character anyways.
  • Objectives/Goals: The goal seems to be to continue exploring the world, using the red cloths to help you jump/fly and to help you travel father in the world and further the story.
  • Actions: The player has three main controls: walking around, jumping/flying and another action button that interacts with the ruins/symbols but doesn’t have a specific name. The player can also rotate their perspective.
  • Boundaries: The game itself doesn’t seem to end right away, so the only boundary is between the player and separating themselves from the device.
  • Design Conflict: For a game that is supposed to be simple and free-flowing, the initial learning curve took longer that expected, taking me almost twenty minutes to even understand what I was supposed to do. This goes against the idea of a walking simulator being easy to start and navigate freely.
  • Interesting Elements: The most interesting point to me was that there was no tutorial or backstory provided when starting the story. There wasn’t even an explanation for the controls or arrows and other UI elements to hint at where the character should go to begin. I thought it was especially interesting given the lack of text and dialogue, and how everything really was just left to the user to understand.
  • From my short play session, I didn’t pick up on any specifics in terms of outcome, path/story, rules, rounds, or other game elements we’ve discussed previously.

Outside of the formal elements, walking allowed the story to create and live a life of its own. This game didn’t even have a tutorial, really leaving everything up to the player (even figuring out controls). As the user was able to walk across the desert and explore the different obstacles, gathering red fabric to fly along the way, our curiosity led the way. The walking itself allowed us to feel time breaks between the sections, letting our mind wander to the possibilities. Walking combined with the 3D nature of the game also provided for an immersive experience where we could look at the entire world from whichever perspective we chose. Overall, walking was the main experience and played on our curiosity to allow us to explore, create a narrative of our own in our mind, and imagine what was to come as we continued to walk.

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