Critical Play: Walking Sims

For this critical play, I decided to play Journey on iOS, which is developed by thatgamecompany. Since walking sims are meant to be accessible to those who don’t normally game, I think the target audience ranges from young children to older adults. 

 I’ve never played a walking sim before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. The game begins with a character alone in the desert. There isn’t much instruction besides what the controls do. And so to figure out what to do, the player must start walking. After spotting only one thing in the distance, I decided to walk towards it. Upon arrival, “Journey” came up on the screen, and I knew that the game had begun. I think this was a good way of introducing the game mechanics. This opening scene allows the player to experience the controls and understand how the game’s narrative will advance.

As I continued playing, I learned what I had to do by walking and visiting different items. At first, I thought that I needed to visit the wooden posts in the sand. After nothing happened, I realized that they were not a part of the story. After walking for a while longer, I discovered an item that was glowing. This made me think that it would tell me what to do next. Instead, scarves appeared and I was able to fly. While the glowing item did not explicitly tell me what my next goal would be, I knew that I should be looking for glowing items.

The story unfolded by walking up to items or key areas. The game barely gives any instruction, so the player can only discover their abilities and goals by exploring and visiting everything in sight. Once something important is found, the story continues to unfold and the player learns something new. If the player tries to enter an inaccessible area, walking is impeded by a wind storm. I found this to be a useful mechanic since walking is the player’s way to advance. If you cannot walk somewhere, it means there is nothing there for you. 

Overall, I was intrigued by this walking sim. I was frustrated for a while because I felt nothing was happening, but this motivated me to keep walking and figure out what else is out there. I do, however, wish that they have provided some guidance when needed because I spent ~30 minutes wandering around, looking for the next clue. However, I think Journey succeeded in delivering the intended kinds of fun: narrative and discovery. There is no winning or losing in Journey. There also aren’t any puzzles to solve or opponents to beat. Journey just has beautiful graphics (see screenshot) and exploration.

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