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Tuesday, 16 September 2014



Hey, guys. Let's talk about me.

(Yay! Me!)

I've been gaming since I was a wee lad playing Tomb Raider II with my sister and father. By 'playing', I mostly mean watching. Also, sometimes playing. The system was complicated. Anyway: I don't game as much these days as I used to, but I do still love video games, and I get irritated when people say that video games need to learn to tell stories, or that they're close to being an art form.

I get irritated because video games already tell stories, and they're already art. They always have been: Even video games I hate, that appeal to the lowest common denominator and churn out the same things over and over again, like Call of Duty, are still art, in the same way that The Big Bang Theory is technically art, even though it is awful, unfunny rubbish that needs to leave. Video games have always told stories. Video games have always been art.

Moreover – we are moving quickly from that particular subject lest I start telling you about the all-too-familiar rage and derision critics directed at the theatre in Jacobean times, which would cause us to be here all day – video games are art that operates in a way no other piece of art does. They permit you to explore the canvas.

Just enjoy the pictures.

I bring this up because Journey – which people have irritatingly tried to call an 'interactive film', this isn't Asura's Wrath we're talking about here – is high art. Pop art is wonderful, and I will defend both its wonder and its artistic merit to my grave, but Journey isn't that. It's woefully under-recognised high art.

Set in a vast desert, you play as a mysterious red-cloaked figure. Your only objective is to reach the mountain in the distance, and the glowing crevice at its peak, a journey that takes you through six distinct areas – through sand, through a ruined city, down into the belly of the earth, and up the snow-covered slopes of the mountain itself. Along the way, white cloaked figures appear, showing you in murals the history of the city and the world: The rise of their civilisation, the war that ensued over the red cloth you're now clad in, and the destruction of said civilisation.

Along the way, you can meet up with other players. You'll share each level with one random player, to ignore or help as you wish, and if you reach the end of a level together, then you remain with that player into the next level. You can't speak. You can't communicate in any way except with musical chimes that charge up their scarves (the scarves permit you to glide, an ability you'll need to complete the game). It lends the whole interaction a certain fragility, because all it takes is one misunderstanding – so easy when you can't speak – and that human connection is broken.

(It is, however, rather necessary. Nothing would break the mood more than a fellow redcloak scampering across the desert towards you, singing a brief chime, and then yelling 'LOL N00B' in your face.)

The game is tiny – you can complete it in a single sitting without even taking a break for snacks – but utterly gorgeous, down to the last detail. Music, design, graphics, storyline – even the gameplay has a simple beauty to it, as you float and sing your way through the world in pursuit of a goal that seems as mysterious to your character as it is to you the player.

There's an element of religiosity here. I don't mean any specific religion – although the design takes clear influence from both Arabic architecture and East Asian architecture, with the Temple specifically resembling both Muslim mosques and Buddhist monasteries. I mean in a much more general sense: This isn't just a journey, this is a pilgrimage, and your journey echoes the journeys of mythological figures, starting from humble beginnings, learning hidden truths, receiving aid and knowledge from semi-deified figures, and eventually, a death and an ascension before you reach the end of your journey.

There's not much to truly criticise here. The game's development brought thatgamecompany to bankruptcy, and has now proven to be their biggest success, and you can see the reason for both – a lot of care and thought has been put into this game, and it feels like a passion project more than anything, albeit a passion project that has seized the interest of a sizeable and devoted group of fans.

Of course, if there's anything we've learned about video games and passion projects over the past few years, it's that it's only a matter of time before Microsoft buys thatgamecompany, pushes the top people out, and proceeds to start production on Journey Reloaded: Black-Ops Ghost Squad Legend Online.

What a glorious time that will be.  

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