Controversy Corner: Is Journey Really All That Good?

by James O'Connor Featured 8 Comments 23 Votes 2596 Views 21/12/2012 Back to Articles

Game of the Year award discussions encourage, above all else, bitter arguments. Sites, magazines and officiating bodies are almost never unanimous with their choices, and sometimes disagreements can be particularly strong.

So it is I find myself at the end of 2012, looking over lists of nominations before pulling people aside quietly and asking ‘I’m not the only one who didn’t think Journey was all that special, right?’, only for them to mutter something about having to go to the bathroom and quietly making themselves scarce, clearly shaking with rage. I liked Journey. It’s beautiful and quietly lovely in sections. But I did not love it, nor have I quite been able to come to terms with the ways in which everyone else seems to have loved it.

While there’s no need to explicitly outline a specific ‘thing’ that Journey is about, it’s fair to say that people have come to their own conclusions on what it is they should get out of the experience. To me, Journey seems to focus heavily on the process of meeting and collaborating with new people, of enjoying the company of someone you haven’t met, and of sharing a connection with them. In many ways, this is a lovely notion – unlike an equivalent program like Chatroulette, there’s no way a fellow Journey-er can flash their genitals at you, or swear at you like in most online games. All they can do, really, is be with you, and share their song with a tap of the circle button.

But it’s a little sad that the best way to achieve this sort of unity is to pull back interaction until you’ve got almost nothing. We’re all but guaranteed to experience the spark of personal connection in Journey, but none of the actual enjoyment that comes from the act of meeting someone worth meeting. Yes, it cuts through potential boundaries of gender, race, and so forth, but it does so by completely obscuring identities. In a way, there’s a sense of tragedy underlining Journey’s harmony. Imagine a world in which the games that best unite everyone were games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, games in which you’re encouraged to speak to and get to know your fellow players. It’s not Journey’s fault that this isn’t the case, but still there’s a sadness that comes from congratulating the game for forcing players to ignore their very worst impulses.

These communications between players are a novelty; the game’s finest moments involve shifting through the sand singing a song together, the sort of activity that, while nice, would be so much nicer if you were doing it with someone you knew and cared about. Played in a certain mindset (as I did when I switched the game on last night), Journey can remind you of what you’re missing out on by being in front of your console rather than making you feel like you’re taking part in an essential experience.

Many of my feelings here stem from the simple fact that playing Journey alone is, by and large, quite dull. The early sand surfing sections may be pretty wonderful, but you also spend a lot of time simply meandering around in the game, and without a companion to share the journey with – or with whom to sing out a little ditty - the later sections of the game are beautiful to look at, but navigating them isn’t necessarily an interesting practice. My first playthrough was mostly done alone, with no fellow travellers popping up to share the trip, and it made me realise that there was a certain emptiness to the game. Some of the final sections are even, dare I say it, slightly poorly designed – once you hit the snow, things get a bit iffy in places. The ending is interesting, but then all too often our discussions around ambiguous games focus far too strongly on how they end.

The critical success of Journey seems to me more like a commentary on the boorishness, violence and repetition that so many critics and gamers have grown sick of than a commendation of the things that Journey, for all its wonderful vistas and smart sections, actually does. I suspect that I may be largely alone in this; I’ve encountered two other local games writers who feel similarly, but have otherwise seen little but uproarious praise for the game. I appreciate and respect Journey, but I’ll never feel the way everyone around me seems to.

By James O'Connor

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Controversy Corner: Is Journey Really All That Good? Comments

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I loved Journey and I still play games like CoD, Halo, and other games that employ "boorishness, violence and repetition".

Journey goes to show that a game doesn't need to be a certain length, or have much of a clear narrative, or even characters, to still offer an experience worth playing.

Richard Kelly of Donnie Darko fame said on Twitter the other day:

"A film that seduces you into a 2nd viewing is better for your soul than a film that offers instantaneous but forgettable gratification."

Can the same be said for games? Specifically a game like Journey?

I am not surprised by this article in any way though. It's not a game for everyone...but at the same time I think it goes to show that gamers, even those that fall for the violent, boring games you suggest, can recognise a good game when they see one.

If anything I think the critical reception is indicative of a very healthy and strong audience. Hopefully publishers will recognise this. I think they will eventually.

But I don't agree that so many love Journey because of what it isn't. I love it for what it is.
I kind of feel like the best thing about Journey is that it proves that there's an audience for games *like* Journey, rather than the game itself.

Truth be told, this piece was going to be either what it is now or 'How Journey Took Nine Months To Win Me Over' depending on how the second play through I undertook went. :P

Jickle said: I kind of feel like the best thing about Journey is that it proves that there's an audience for games *like* Journey, rather than the game itself.
Truth be told, this piece was going to be either what it is now or 'How Journey Took Nine Months To Win Me Over' depending on how the second play through I undertook went.



Go and play it again! We'll wait :P

I hope there is an audience. Sony appears more open to these sorts of experience than anyone else, which is encouraging.
I *did* play it again. It didn't change how I felt, I'm afraid.
hate to admit it, but i tend to agree with a lot of this
enjoyed the game for what it was - and it definitely was one of the better 'comtemplative' kind of games ive seen - but i also cannot grasp the ludicrous level of praise the title has received, given how limited the interaction is
I cried the first time I played it

I haven't cried since primary school... Maybe it was because that I haven't slept for a week, but some how this game made me think about death, life, love and everything in between...

No matter whether if the developer intended this, no matter what other people felt, it is what I took the game to be.
As someone who hasn't played many video games within the last 3 years, coming across a selection of beautiful indie games and nostalgic favorites provide the hook for me to become interested again.

Though, perhaps it is my attitude towards games in general, as usually it'll take me less than 25 minutes to become frustrated with a game and want to go work or exercise. After spending half an hour with Journey, meeting another player, the game became enthralling....

until Beta asked if I had work to be completed. :S
Tooooooo short, but memorable. Most games are not memorable, so when one comes along that is, everyone you-know-what

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