The first time I played Journey was about 2 years ago. Having recently re-acquired a PS3, I sat down with the mind to play through this game so many had praised. I had a pretty good gist of what it was going in - I already understood the base multiplayer mechanic, I could figure out what the game was generally about (I mean, come on, it is the actual name of the damn thing.) I spent roughly 2 hours going from start to finish, collecting multiple scarf pieces and wandering through various locations. I met plenty of souls along the way - though about half way through, it became a purely solo experience for the rest of the game. I made it to the end, watched the credits and put it down.
Ok, it was quite pretty, the movement felt pretty good, the mechanics were interesting and the story was nice. In the end though, I was ultimately a little let down. How were people crying after playing this game? I mean I am the kind of person who really digs these types of games - I’m really into experiences that are emotionally moving. This though? Nothing. I put the game aside, accepted my experience for what it was and moved on.
Fast forward to this past weekend, I finally got around to starting up a project I’ve been wanting to work on for some time - starting a Games Club. Much like a book club, the idea is to get a group of people together, decide on a game for everyone to play, go play it, then come back and talk about it in depth. I created a Facebook group (which you can find here if you’re interested) to hold these discussions and get everyone’s vote for what game to play for our first game as a group. As it turns out, one of the 2 PS+ games for PS4 this month is none other than - you guessed it - Journey. This makes the game a fantastic candidate for this type of idea - it’s free, it’s short, and people have some pretty strong opinions one way or the other.
Even though I had played the game already, the point of the club was to play through the games we select together, so Sunday afternoon I sat down to give the PS4 version a shot. I wasn’t expecting much, but I knew this play through would help me think of specific talking points for our group discussion the next weekend. Much like last time, I loaded the game up with the intention of playing from start to finish, and began.
I don’t know what it was, but this time, something was different. I’m not sure if it was me, the game or the people I was playing with (I suspect a combination of the 3) but my second time playing through Journey was completely different - it was an emotional one. I came across a number of other Journey goers who I enjoyed my time with, but it wasn’t until the final legs did I really get hit with it. I’d lost my partner moving through the underwater area of the game, mostly flowing through the temple myself, finally being rematched (reunited?) with another as I entered the snowy mountain.
The first time I played through this section, I was alone. It was treacherous to the point of frustration - the wind kept blowing me back, my progress slowed to a crawl. This time though… this time, I had a friend. I had quite a long scarf - my friend, barely any. We stuck close the entire way - when my partner got caught by the feared dragon monster, I went after them, losing some of my scarf in the process. When I fell off the rooftop and dropped an entire level, my friend jumped down to help me back up. We made it to the end of our snowy journey, where we fell down, together.
The final ride up to the mountain top is a great moment in the game regardless of whether you are alone or with another. Thankfully my friend and I were still together at this point - we began flying through the skies, boundless and joyful. Through the large, sweeping movements we were both making, I somehow lost track of my partner - I thought they had somehow gotten ahead of me. I charged toward the end, hoping to catch up. When I finally reached the peak, I was a little distraught - my friend was nowhere to be seen. I wasn’t sure if the game had cut us off, they had already gone through, they’d lost connection or any number of possibilities. I hovered for a little while, on the edge of taking those last few steps, not sure of what to do. Then, I saw it.
A ding. That wonderful sound and visual cue. The only way to actually communicate with another player. It was a ways down the mountain still, and I had noticed the rugs I affectionately refer to as the dogs perform the same type of ding, so I waited. Then, another ding, a bit further a long. A few seconds later, another! I couldn’t quite see the little character properly, but I dived down anyway. There they were, working their way up! I dinged with joy, having finally reunited with the other playful soul in my game. We made our way up to the pinnacle together.
Here, we stopped. We ran around in circles on the snow for a moment, dinging in happiness. Then, I saw it. My friend was, ever so slowly, drawing a large heart in the sand-snow. I was so delighted! I dinged a bunch of times, and retraced the heart my friend had drawn myself. We dinged joyously for several seconds, circling one another, before finally heading into the light, side by side.
Journey was once a game I looked at as something I didn’t quite understand, or resonate with. Now, I have an extremely special memory that has become one of my favourite moments in my own personal gaming history = and I can't wait to talk about it Journey was a game I was never planning to return to, but only did thanks to a push from this little blossoming community. If this experience is anything to go by, this games club idea might yet turn out to be just what I needed.
If you are the type of person who loves the idea of talking about great games truly in depth with a bunch of like minded folk, I highly encourage you to come join our little community. We are still young, but I have a good feeling about this. We’d love to have you.