Critical Play: Walking Simulators

Journey is a computer, mobile and PlayStation based 1 player walking simulator game with beautiful designs and aesthetics. It is categorized as an ‘indie’, ‘adventure’ and ‘art’ focused game, developed by Thatgamecompany and published by Sony and Annapurna Interactive. There is no obvious target demographic for the game; rather, it appeals to anybody with an appreciation for adventure, discovery, and art.

In Journey, you play a hooded, unidentified character exploring a huge desert, gathering pieces of cloth from any ruins you come across. The game is a prime example of evocative space narrative due to the immersive landscape, inducing feelings of awe and discovery for the player from their surroundings and suggesting the existence of a lost civilization by the looks of the ruins.

It is also a good example of emergent narrative, since there is no direct narrative or story that the player has to follow—rather, the player’s choices along with a loose set of directions that are seamlessly incorporated in the story. This is done completely through imagery, with no worded instructions anywhere to be found. I think this is done extremely well, especially in the third level, when the flying cloth animals guide you and help you along the invisible path.

However, though I understand why there is no text (not detracting from the immersive experience), I think it would be helpful to have some instructions on a separate screen. Even if you go to settings, there are absolutely no or any worded guidance for what you should be doing, and it took me a while to figure out that there was a specific place I was supposed to go to. I also had to watch a video since I didn’t understand that cloth is automatically acquired and it should keep flying around. It wasn’t hard information for me to find, but by moving to another app to look up these rules, I lost even more of the immersive experience than I would have if the instructions were present on the application.

Overall, the game mechanics are very simple: players can move in any direction, adjust the camera perspective, jump (if enough cloth is acquired), and acquire cloth. However, because the game initially just plops you without direction, it leads to the dynamic of players exploring their surroundings and trying to determine what the game’s objective is. As such, the game produces the core aesthetic of discovery, but also incorporates aspects of sensation (calming music), fantasy (evocative space), narrative (emergent narrative), and submission, because the whole game is very calming and relatively mindless (other than the beginning learning barrier).

It’s very hard for me to say how Journey measures up to other games of its genre (walking sims) as I have not played any other walking sim games. But from what I can tell, Journey excels in its ability to immerse the player in its game environment, and also in the graphic design department. 10/10 would play again.


Here are screencaps I just find beautiful:


About the author

Leave a Reply

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