Critical Play: Walking Simulator – Journey


Journey is a “walking simulator” adventure game developed by Thatgamecompany and published for PlayStation 3 by Sony in 2012 before being fully expanded to mobile platforms in 2019. I would imagine its target audience is inquisitive puzzle solvers of all ages.

Formal Elements

The set up of the formal elements are interesting in that beyond vague hints to a target mountain (see in screenshot below) in the distance, the objectives, rules, and procedures aren’t immediately apparent to the player at the onset of the game. This creates game dynamics and behaviors motivated less by strategy and more by inquisition. The player is essentially to walk around the desert as a cloaked figure without any haptic cues (at least on IOS) to explore the terrain and possible objects to interact with that might reveal something more about the game. As the player walks through the desert and interacts with cloths that provide interesting abilities (e.g. flight) they start to unlock new terrains/regions and progress towards the mountain. With each progression, a little more of the embedded narrative is revealed through cut scenes and what I assume are animated cave drawings (see below). It becomes clear then that there is an underlying story and motivation for the cloak figure and by continuing to explore the desert, the player will be rewarded with incremental revelations of the backstory.


Core Aesthetics 

In that regard, discovery and narrative are core aesthetics of the game. The mechanics, sound, and space design support an immersive experience where you truly feel lost on multiple levels: 1) lost in the desert from the perspective of the character you’re playing as, and 2) lost as the player with much clue about what to do. Beyond discovering the embedded backstory, the player is also discovering how to play the game in real time.

I found that it was quite successful in these core aesthetics because despite time-boxing the activity, I wanted to continue playing to     see what would happen now that I could ride new pillow looking pieces of cloth that appeared to be alive. I wanted to know who the figure cloaked in white was and how the story would unfold. I would love to see how the sound design expands in future cut scenes between terrains. I feel given there are no words/no text, this is the best area to build more sentimentality in the embedded narrative.

About the author

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.