Rob Boffard
Rob Boffard

One hell of a Journey

You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little out of it. I’ve just had my brain scrambled.

I’ve just finished a videogame called Journey, which is a downloadable game on the PlayStation network. Journey is as simple as Tetris. Simpler, in fact, because while Tetris was a basic concept, it required far more mental agility and quick reactions than Journey does.

In the game, you are a lone traveller wandering the desert. In the distance is a mountain you need to get to. That is the game’s story in its entirety

Every so often, if you’re connected to the internet, you’ll come across another player. You don’t know who they are and the only way you can communicate with them is by making your traveller emit gentle musical notes. You can travel together or go your separate ways.

And that is as complicated as the game gets. Out of the PlayStation control pad’s dozen or so buttons, Journey uses precisely three: a joystick to move your traveller, a button to jump and a third to sing. There are almost no enemies, and what puzzles you come across can be solved with a few musical notes. Not a single word of narrative is spoken or displayed onscreen during the game. Every part of the story is told through sound and images. It doesn’t even last that long — perhaps two hours on a single playthrough. Even someone who has never played a single game in their lives can pick this up and finish it.

I finished it and then I went right back to the beginning, and started again. Journey is one of the best games I’ve ever played. There is simply nothing else like it. If you don’t own a PlayStation, find someone who does and play the game. Whatever you have planned for tonight, cancel it. This is important.

Journey does something that no videogame in history has ever done. It’s game that can be played and enjoyed by anyone, and makes a player’s cultural background irrelevant. Religious beliefs, skin colour, national heritage? Forget ’em. You won’t need them. To be completely fair, Journey could very easily be read as a story purely about religion, and Christianity in particular, but that’s not all there is to it. The story Journey tells is completely universal — something that would touch a Fundamentalist Christian from Alabama as much as it would a Jewish Zimbabwean or an Atheist from Jo’burg.

No other game — really, not a single one — could make such a claim.

It’s not even a game, really. You don’t win in the traditional sense. It’s about the experience of playing, of connecting not only with someone on the same quest as you, but with something that goes deeper than anything material we experience. It’s about filling the player with awe, with wonder, with fear and trepidation and elation, sometimes all at once. Call me a hippie and paint my toenails dayglo orange, but I really couldn’t put it any other way.

And if it does indeed sound like I’m taking this all a little too seriously, then forgive me. Journey just has that effect. It doesn’t hurt that as a game it’s absolutely gorgeous. The graphics are some of the most captivating I’ve ever seen, and I seem to spend every spare waking moment playing games. The sound — particularly the score — is just as good.

And by the way, if you think this is some niche indie game, and I’m being a pretentious git (which, to be fair, I don’t need a niche indie game to be) then check this out: Journey is the fastest-selling PlayStation Network game of all time. Clearly, I’m not the only one enchanted by it.

Look, I can’t put it any clearer than this. Journey will change your life. In a world dominated by big blockbuster films and games and novels which recycle the same plots over and over, Journey is truly unique. Go get it.