Growing up, I was very much teetering on the edge of the 'outer loop' of video games. I knew roughly what was what, but along with most people was really only ever introduced to things through advertising or by what was popular. From this my primary understanding of the point of video games were that they were nothing more than expensive time wasters that, if you didn't like loud noises, bright colours or violence, then it wasn't for you. Knowing what I know now I can very much see why people are so hostile towards gaming as they only really receive one side of the story. It's like an iceberg - those who don't know where to look are left with a fraction of the big picture, when there is in fact so much more that lurks underneath. Nobody ever told me about indie games as a child, and there appeared to be no other options that the big companies that churn out content every few months, and as someone with a lack of knowledge into what else is out there you wouldn't know where to begin looking for these kind of games. The world of gaming is vast and at times overwhelming, especially for a beginner, so naturally it helps to have a guide to lead you down the paths that you would normally be afraid to tread. It seems as well that it is not a widely known fact that video games can also be considered an art form. The blend of imagery, technology, music and interactivity was never something that was explored in great detail in the games I knew as a child. All of this is probably a significant reason as to why I lost interest in gaming when I did, as it felt like there was very much a limit and, at times, reaching this limit was a pointless feat. Picking up on gaming again I was still scared to tread into the infinite void of indie games/unknown titles, but my first accidental discovery ended up being a game that would change my perspective on video gaming forever.
My first memories playing Journey will always be a pleasant one. Firstly, it was the first game I properly played on the PS4 when we bought it. We'd wanted it for so long and saved for ages, so finally being able to test it out with this brand new game (well, new to me anyway) was something so exciting that I truly felt like a child at Christmas. I was shocked - I'd never come across a game like this before? This was at a time where I hadn't picked up a PlayStation controller in many years, so I was panicking at how bad I was going to be at shooting/aiming before it eventually got better. But this game had none of that. This game had no enemies, no weapons, hell, it didn't even have any dialogue! I found myself slipping into this game quickly and easily, and it was nice for once to not feel so intimidated.
This goes into my other reason as to why my initial memories with this game are so positive, it's because it pretty much threw me for a loop. I don't want to say it was like a lightbulb moment, the heavens open and angelic music plays as I have a sudden epiphany, but I was certainly sitting there in awe as I made my way through. It didn't take me long before I realised that this game was going to be one of my favourites, and it was great to discover that so many other people I knew had played and loved it too.
In my honest opinion, there is nothing quite as prominent as the art of visual storytelling and Journey is basically a perfect example of how to do it well. Having done a degree in scriptwriting, at times it feels like writers rely too much on the complexity of their stories - everything has to have an underlying meaning, a twist, a turn. At times you can barely see the wood for the trees as it turns into a competition as to who can confuse the audience the most. But it's important to understand that not everything has to be super complex all the time, and at points there is nothing more refreshing that going back to the bare basics. Journey is about going on a journey. That's it. You overcome some struggles along the way but in the end the main objective is to get from point A to point B. This allows for a much more enjoyable playing experience however as you get to actually enjoy your environment rather than trying to figure out what's going on. Not to say that games with complex stories aren't good, it's just great to have a change of pace every now and again.
The simplicity of Journey also stretches into its design and does so in a way that it creates this stunning, open environment. The game is set in a desert and you navigate your way around via context clues from structures, buildings and the landscape. The setting allows for a beautiful monochromatic colour scheme that is synonymous of the desert - golds, yellows, oranges etc. It feels warm, inviting and grand, the dunes stretching out in front of you as far as the eye can see. These colours are also reflected in the 'main character' as it were, a genderless robed figure that moves about the sand as an ice dancer would in a rink. It wears a terracotta hood which is accompanied by a long, gold scarf that grows and glows as you make progress throughout the game. These complimenting colours make you believe that you belong in this desert, that it is a part of who you are, and this is cleverly contrasted later on in the game. As you're getting closer to your destination you first must scale a snowy mountain. Here the warmth of your character feels alien and it struggles to make its way up the mountain as the snow piles on top of it. Strangely it's quite an emotional moment, both as you're unsure how the situation is going to play out but mostly because it's a signifier of how far you've come from the warmth of your home.
The main character has no face, no voice and no name yet you find yourself connecting with it as you travel on, projecting yourself onto this blank canvas as if you were actually there. It's a bold move to have a character you can't really 'relate' to; often characters of this type are given some kind of backstory or narration, describing where they came from or what their mission is, but in Journey you get nothing. You're simply plonked in the middle of the desert with this random figure and are expected to work everything out on your own. It's powerful, and works extremely well.
After finishing this game I was left dumbfounded. This game only takes about 1.5 - 2hrs to complete so I was able to finish it in a single session, but even if it were longer I don't think I would have stopped playing until it were done. It sounds like I'm over exaggerating as to how much this game affected me but it's honestly true. I found myself afterwards looking at the reviews online (something I never do) and it was nothing but positivity. Even after searching long and hard I couldn't find anything bad. It seemed as if people had had the same reaction to it as I did and instantly just fell in love with it. It also received the title of '5th best PS3 game of all time,' which is a big deal for an indie game, and it's not hard to see why. It treats gaming as art, and art as gaming - the two working in harmony to create something that is both beautiful and fun.
Journey showed me just how broad the video game spectrum can be, and introduced a style of game that had previously remained unseen or unheard of to me. It is in no way a big, flashy, in-your-face kind of game and yet has received some of the greatest reviews out of any game in recent memory. Journey doesn't care if you're an expert, a beginner, or have never picked up a controller before, it exists simply to be your adventure. Since playing the game I have branched out and started looking at other indie game titles and compiling a long list of ones I'd like to play and I'm excited to get going.
There are going to be a lot of game titles that I'd recommend people to play if they haven't already but this is by far at the top of the list. Please, for your own benefit, if you haven't yet experienced the wonder that is Journey, then I very much suggest that you do.