The DigestVideo

Games Of March 2012: Journey

An elemental game that transforms its experience with every player—and every playthrough.

By John Teti • April 4, 2012

Evan Narcisse and I wrap up the first edition of The Digest with a segment on Journey, which was the highlight of the gaming month for us.

Simplicity doesn’t have to mean austerity. Journey is a gorgeous game filled with majestic visuals. Yet in terms of your quest, it is also one of the simplest console games to come along in a while: You go toward the mountain in the distance, maybe with a friend.

Journey got me thinking about Joseph Campbell, the mythologist who advanced his concept of the “monomyth”—also known as the hero’s journey. Okay, so it wasn’t such a big leap. But the game strikes me as less an exercise in storytelling than one of personal myth-making. A fine distinction but to me, a meaningful one. Evan and I talk about some of this myth-making in the show. (By the way, the other game that gets me thinking about the monomyth? Mega Man. But that’s a story to flesh out on another Gameological day.)

Thank you for watching this week. It’s fun to read your comments, and I look forward to hearing what you have to say about Journey. One last time, I’ll thank Evan for being on the show, and Brooklyn Comics & More for letting us hijack their space last week.

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340 Responses to “Games Of March 2012: Journey

  1. Chip_Dipson says:

    John, this was an awesome first week for the site. Watching you and Evan talk about games is as enjoyable as watching Siskel and Ebert talk about movies. Keep up the great work.

  2. Raging_Bear says:

    (I’ll watch the video when I get home from work, but I’ll go ahead and comment prematurely. Apologies if this ends up being redundant).

    This was enjoyable to discuss when the review went up on the AVC, but it can always be discussed further, which is one of the marvelous things about the game. My main thrust at the time was that the journey was a kind of memorial for the lost civilization (and Destroy Him My Robots expounded on this in a much cleverer way).

    I did have another thought at the time, based on the same fact (that the journey takes over the same documentary space as the rise and fall of that civilization), and that’s that the journey isn’t a memorial, but the actual new form in which the civilization lives on. Instead of rebuilding, they just set their spirits wandering and that was the best way to live on.

    I kind of like the simplicity of that thought, although you could add layers on top of it; the companion dynamic in particular could get a little more pointed, as it could be seen as way for these people to revalue fellowship after conflict and petty squabbling destroyed them (and the compassion toward the cloth creatures could be read in the same way).

    Just a couple of the thousand different ways to think about it. What an absolutely magnificent game. Thatgamecompany should win every prize.

  3. OhHaiMark says:

    Journey was just exceptional.  I have to agree with you guys, there’s a fundamental sense of loneliness in the game even if you’re with someone.  You’re stronger and there’s a genuine dynamic that occurs, but it has to end at some point.  You’ll never know this person (or Journey-mate) beyond how they decided to play this game.  It’s just fascinating that a game where you can’t see usernames or hear a person speak has made the greatest connection between myself and other gamers, at least in my personal experience.  When a person leaves the game there is a sense of longing because nobody will play exactly like they do.

  4. ElDan_says_Fuck_Disqus says:

    Two or three times a year, a game will come out that makes me really bummed that I don’t own a PS3.

    This is one of those times.

    • ikma says:


      I, uh, guess I don’t really have anything more to say.

      • Tony_Orlando says:

        As a PS3 owner– I get to do the same thing when cool XBox360 games come out. 

    • Girard says:

      Ditto. This can be the self-flagellating non-PS3-owners thread.

      By the time I have the right combination of free time and free cash to pick up a PS3, there’ll probably be no one left playing this game, too. Maybe there’ll be other like-minded latecomers floating around to journey with…

    • The_Asinus says:

      I think it’s worth the cost just for the video streaming and BD playback. Not just because it does them, but because it’s so good at them. I’ve tried other media devices and the control is always clunkier, they aren’t as upgradable, or they just do other weird shit.

      However, I look at the games that are on XBox and feel the same way you do.

    • General_Specific says:

      This and, I don’t know, maybe Little Big Planet are about the only two games that have made me wish I had a PS3.

      Reading the review on AVC plus this video makes me really want to play this.

  5. redmenis says:

    Not sure where else to share this so here goes…

  6. Dikachu says:

    Wait, this isn’t an homage to “Don’t Stop Believin”? 

    Fuckin A, man…

    • Girard says:

       Those guys did have their own video game. It kind of sucked, though.

      • The_Asinus says:

        It was awfully surreal if you had no idea what the weird things were that you were dodging. That was my first experience with DSB and I still associate it with that game more strongly than I do the actual song or the band. I remember the first time I saw the cover of Escape and though it was based on the game.

  7. Phillip Collector says:

    One of the things that I enjoyed about Journey was that I felt like I was playing with the same companion throughout the game even though I later discovered that not to be true.

    Was Journey trying to say that in the end we’re all not that much different from each other and that we ultimately all want to the same thing? I don’t know but it was nice that the game made me think about that.

    • Girard says:

       The ultimate message is that all people are ultimately interchangeable, so it’s not important to care about any one person too much. Your best friend died? Eh. Just wait for a new one!

      • Phillip Collector says:

        Ha! That gives me a whole new appreciation for serial killers. They’re just helping us find new friends. They really ARE misunderstood!

  8. Binsbein says:

    I felt an Anti-Immersion Torpedo hit me when I reached an invisible wall in one of the stages (2nd maybe?), but obviously Journey is great regardless of minor things like that.

    • The_Asinus says:

      really? I thoght the invisible walls in the second stage were fairly organic (though apparent as invisible walls). I suppose it was anti-immersion in that I started making conscious comparisons to other games that have done it much worse (I think it was Doom 3 where i couldn’t jump over a railing of a little foot bridge I was on). At least these walls (the ones I’ve seen so far!) have their basis in the gameplay; strong winds affect how easy or difficult it is to navigate the world. THey slow us down (considerably) they blow us backwards, etc., so strong winds coming over the ridge in a fairly windy level made sense. I can’t climb this– it’s too steep– and i can’t jump because the wind is blowing me too hard. Oh, you know, I did get to the top of on of the ridges, but the establish wind mechanic made me more okay with it.

      What REALLY pulled me out of hte game (almost literally) is when I was getting the scarf-sphere that was on the top of one of those sand-water-falls in the same stage, and I fell through the rocks and got trapped outside of the area of play. That was pretty anti-immersive to be trapped inside the rockface, running around but unable to escape.

  9. Swadian Knight says:

    Holistic really is the way to describe this game. I have a hard time remembering other titles that managed to blend together their elements as well.

    • boundtobe says:

      It’s telling of how much time I spent with M&B that I cringed at your username+title. It was always fun trying to defend a castle by myself while every other lord was at a feast.

      • Swadian Knight says:

        There’s nothing quite as disheartening in that game as conquering a town with your marshall, losing a good chunk of your troops, only to have King Harlaus award it to himself and call for a feast. Luckily the game allows you to use this as an excuse to rebel and form your own kingdom.

        I’ve actually been playing M&B: With Fire And Sword lately just because the frustration in that game happens for different reasons.

  10. Emperor_Jim says:

    WTF, Disqus!? I tried “merging” the profiles, and it deleted my AV club Avatar! DAMMIT!

    Anyway, great video, though.

    • Emperor_Jim says:

      Now it’s saying “profile not found” when I click ON MY OWN PROFILE. Wonderful.

      • KennyBania says:

         Yeah, you shouldn’t merge profiles. It’s nice that Disqus don’t warn you about what actually happens if you do.

        • Emperor_Jim says:

          Fuckin’ A. Now my AV Club avatar and name have been replaced by this one. I tried deleting my Disqus profile, hopefully it won’t delete my AVC one too…

        • General_Specific says:

          It seems like a bunch of people have been eaten by Disqus lately. I think probably the best thing to do is make a completely new profile, separate from your AVC profile. It’s worked well so far for me.

      • The_Asinus says:

        Holy shit, I ‘m glad I couldn’t get my Disqus profile (sans “the”) to work!

      • KennyBania says:

        Yeah, I think I kinda caused this for some people by posting the instructions (as Nice Dolphin Nigga) without really looking into the consequences. Now I can’t post under that name anymore. For some reason (I still hold out hope that someone can fix it for me) everything I now post under that name is now shown as posted by Kenny Bania, one of my former AVC profiles.

        In short: Disqus can fucking blow me.

        • John Teti says:

          Have you tried editing your profile at Disqus? Go to this address …

          … mouse over your user name in the upper-right corner and choose “Edit Profile” from the menu that appears. Enter the handle you would like to use in Profile > Full Name, and upload your avatar in the avatar tab. If that doesn’t work, let me know.

        • Girard says:

           Yeah, it was wonky at first when I merged, and it wiped my avatar and changed my name, and choked the first few times I tried to change them. But just, at the top of this comments section, click on the profile button to bring up your profile, upload your avatar, and change the (confusingly labelled) “Full Name” to not your full name, but the screen name you want to use (which will be the same across all disqus sites, including AVClub, which I’m not crazy about, but whatever).

        • Penis Van Lesbian says:

          Thanks John – testing….

          … tested – Yay!

    • i_hate_you_carl_monday says:

      Welcome to the club. I was able to get my avatar back but now I got underscores all up in this bitch. And by bitch I mean username.

      Are you happy Teti? I’m ruined!

      • John Teti says:

        Check out my comment and Girard’s just above yours in this thread — they will lead you to the promised land and you can ditch the underscores.

        • i hate you carl monday says:

          Ah.  Thank you good sir.  Now, with peace of mind, I can get back to commenting about things on the internet that I don’t like that aren’t Disqus.

  11. Anybody have any great/heartwarming Journey play-thru stories?  Here’s mine…  (Spoilers Abound if you haven’t played it)

    I actually played from the broken bridge (chapter 2?) onward with just one other player (which I confirmed in the end credits).  We always waited patiently for one another at checkpoints, and would chirp whenever we found any of the secret items/murals.  We raced down the sand hill (unforgettable video game moment) neck and neck.  I struggled in the tower level, and he’d raise the water to where I could keep going.  

    After the last trudge together through the snow (also unforgettable), in the triumphant last level, I soared along without seeing my companion anywhere.  I assumed he was far ahead of me, or maybe had disconnected, or maybe the game was ‘hiding’ him from me.  I landed at the last hill, and walked up, going kind of slowly and chirping along.  I noticed my chirp was getting fainter and fainter to where it made no sound at all, so I ascended the last few steps in silence, and paused right before going into the light, thinking ‘what a great game… too bad my friend isn’t here.’ 

    Right before I took the last few steps my cloaked buddy sidled up beside me!  He made a happy circle-walk around me, and then we stepped together through those gates and faded to white.

    Later on we traded PSN messages, he had landed at the final hill after I did, just as I was getting out of viewing distance, and madly chased me up, chirping madly (just as the game was fading it out), and only catching up because I hesitated at the top.  I was grinning for hours afterward.

  12. Joshua Young says:

    Journey is my GOTY so far, and it’s really the most engaging experience I’ve had with a video game in a long time. I almost immediately forgot that I was playing a game – something that is increasingly rare these days – and I actually teared up near the end. And that’s to say nothing of the multiplayer, which is among the best I’ve ever seen.

    Simply put, this is one of the best reasons to have a PS3.

  13. LimeadeYouth says:

    Note to self: Create video game version of The Golden Bough.

  14. KidvanDanzig says:

    Someone needs to keep a running tally of the number of times John Teti says “Who cares?” over the life of this site

    • rainbowsheep says:

      Agreed, but it’s a good thing I’d say. I don’t hate hearing about all mechanics, but him focusing on the story, the characters, and the emotions you game evokes is definitely more interesting to hear about and indicative of how much you’d like the game anyway.

      All that said, I don’t have a PS3, but this game sounds like it’s definitely my kind of game. It seems amazing.

      • John Teti says:

        Yeah, it’s not that I’m uninterested in the mechanics. I am deeply interested. But I am interested in them because of their amazing, inspiring ability to create meaning.

        In other words, when presented with the idea, “Journey’s online gaming features really say something about online gaming,” my reaction is indeed, “Who cares?” It’s such a limited way of looking at things, a dialectical short circuit. What I want to talk about is the insights that Journey’s online gaming features have to offer about the way we form human relationships. Because I think those insights are in fact profound, and they have the added benefit of speaking to something larger than the game itself. That’s what art does.

        In no way am I discounting the value of examining the game’s structural design. Quite the contrary, I’m arguing for the broader power and relevance of the game’s design, and I don’t want the analysis to be restricted to relatively provincial concerns — e.g., the whys and wherefores of a game’s internet connectivity. I said something along these lines in another comment thread, but I have little patience for criticism that discusses games primarily in relation to gaming. That’s why I challenged Narcisse a bit when, to my ears, he started to frame the games in those narrow terms.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          The fact this is a double post in a single post blew my mind.

          But I do largely agree with this approach.

        • caspiancomic says:

          Yeah, I agree with HobbesMkii- I think Journey has something really interesting and important to say about the nature of online gaming, and while it might not be as literary as what it has to say about human relationships generally, that doesn’t mean it’s fair game to stomp all over Evan’s point before he’s even made it. I for one was interested in hearing what Evan had to say about Journey’s philosophy on online gaming (which I ordinarily avoid like the plague, but found very rewarding here), and hope he illuminates us either in the comments or in a follow up article or video.

          I’m sure there’s a point to be made about how restricting the number of people involved in an experience to just two predisposes people towards cooperation, like a kind of reverse bystander effect. Or how dramatically restricting communication forces players to develop their own unique methods of communication with literally every playthrough. Or how leaving your companions anonymous allows you to truly abandon your prejudices and preconceived notions about people- even those you may not have realized you had (I don’t just mean racial or sexual prejudices, mind, I also mean more low-stakes things like assuming some guy who’s handle is Naruto_fan69 is a dumbshit kid and not a real human being perfectly capable of sharing a meaningful experience with another person).

        • John Teti says:

          @caspiancomic:disqus All those points you’re making relate to human behavior and communication. You’re talking about how Journey’s use of online gaming explores these things, which is what we talked about in the video (although your thoughts are different and thought-provoking, especially the thought about the “reverse bystander effect” — I like that a lot).
          Although Evan and I had that playful dustup, I didn’t stomp all over him. I assure you that if you asked him, he’d say he got to make all the points he wanted to make, both during the shoot and in the final edit of the video. In my above comment, I was just trying to explain why I reacted the way I did at that moment. Evan responded by saying that you can’t ignore the fact that Journey’s insights are achieved in the context of online gaming, a point I agree with…

          @HobbesMkii:disqus … Put another way, I wasn’t trying to exclude considerations of the nature of online gaming, I was arguing that the discussion shouldn’t be limited to those considerations.

        • HobbesMkii says:

           @JohnTeti:disqus I’m pretty simpatico to that idea. Videogames are such a young medium that it seems only right that if you’re going to talk about them as art, you might as well back up and tackle them with as broad a reach as possible when considering themes and messages.

          But what I’m thinking that one way we tend to engage with art is to compare what its doing (or not doing) to other examples of its medium. Picasso’s work challenges not only to regard how we look at the world, but also how we look at art–as the sum of shapes and lines. The Artist, for example, holds an attraction not just because it demonstrates a technique of communication without spoken words, but because it harkens back a century in its medium’s own collective narrative to remind us that that technique used to be the default, it both preys on our sense of nostalgia while also offering a critique, however slight and unassuming, on film. It happens all over–The Yiddish Policeman’s Union plays with the conventions of detective novels (and I’m willing to bet any one of us could rattle off five novels that are more meta and recursive about literature than that one). Watchmen famously holds up comics’ centerpiece protagonists to a rather harsh light.

          All of these examples have had a longer time to grow and mature (although perhaps to a slightly lesser degree in comics) within their medium, and I feel like videogames have only recently begun to start focusing on emotional impact and depth in design recently (and thatgamecompany is probably at the forefront of this), so, again, I don’t disagree with the tack you’re taking. It’s probably necessary–while discussing mechanics of how other art works generally opens up that art more, because of the necessity of mechanics in videogames merely to get anything out of them, it’s probably far too easy to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of something trivial, like inventory farming, say.

        • John Teti says:

          @HobbesMkii:disqus Great examples, excellent point. I will keep them in mind.

        • caspiancomic says:

           @JohnTeti:disqus I do see your point that everything I raised is relevant to human interaction broadly- and don’t get me wrong, Journey’s hypotheses about human interaction in general is what most interests me as well- but I also think that there’s an interesting discussion to be had about how the game’s mechanics deconstruct online multiplayer. @HobbesMkii:disqus said it best, I think, when he explained that great art often has important observations to make about multiple nested subject matters, from the broad to the narrow, and that each level is generally ripe for critical examination. With the same gestures Journey might comment on society at large as well as online multiplayer in particular, in the same way Waiting For Godot is a critical examination of both society at large and the medium of plays specifically.

          But hey, I think I’m coming off as overly aggressive. I didn’t mean to cast you as some kind of ogre who was stifling out potentially creative and interesting areas of conversation, particularly when you’re clearly putting your heart and soul into creating those very same discussions. I’m really digging what you guys are doing here and, like you, I’m passionate about the subject. Friends? (Best friends? Forever?)

          (Also I would still like to hear more from Narcisse in the comments if he’s got the time and drive)

        • John Teti says:

          @caspiancomic:disqus Of course! I didn’t take offense at all. Enjoyed hearing what you had to say.

  15. caspiancomic says:

    Everything about this game is breathtakingly, jaw-droppingly awesome, in the traditional “awe inspiring” definition of the word. Superficially, the graphics, music, and mechanics are all sublime. It’s the best looking game I’ve ever played, and when Austin Wintory’s soundtrack gets released later this month I’m scooping that bastard up with a quickness. But more fundamentally, things like the storytelling, the thematic heart of the game, and the astonishing multiplayer aspects were all… like… whoa.

    My first time through the game, my mind was blown when- ah, spoilers by the way- my mind was blown when, at the top of the tower level, the sort of history lesson narration that the white figures had been giving me the entire time caught up to, and in fact overtook, the actual journey that I was on. Part of the backstory of the world they were giving me included my own trip over the bridge, through the desert, down the sunken city, past the scary monster guys, up the temple, and I could even see ahead, into the windy mountain bit. I couldn’t quite decide what this meant- was it a prophecy about what was about to happen? Or had this all maybe happened before? Even after completing the game and realizing the cyclical nature of the journey, the question wasn’t totally answered in my head. I still couldn’t tell if the red robed figures in the story represented my companion and I, robed journeyers from the past in whose footsteps we were following, or a kind of every-robed-figure character.

    Oh, and the monomyth thing was obviously no accident. If the title of the game alone didn’t tip you off, and the content of the journey didn’t solidify in your mind that we’re dealing with a bona fide original flavour Hero’s Journey, just take a look at the track list for Austin Wintory’s soundtrack: Threshold,  Road of Trials, Atonement, Apotheosis- it’s all there. (Sidenote: I’d love to see a video or read an article on how Mega Man = Hero’s Journey)

  16. Thank You John. Anytime, it was fun!

  17. gobbo says:

    Where is the actual gameplay? There is no challenge, no skills needed. It’s not so much a game as it is a visual storytelling experience.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    • Destroy Him My Robots says:

      The challenge lies in creating the most memorable, seamless experience that makes the most sense for yourself, much like the challenge in Boku no Natsuyasumi lies in having the most enjoyable summer vacation of all time, hat tip to Hardcore Gaming 101. I know people will never come to a satisfying conclusion about what’s a game and what isn’t, but for what it’s worth, a lot of people consider playing house a game [citation needed].

      If that doesn’t satisfy you, there’s always hunting for trophies/making stuff up (find every x, make it past the guardians without taking damage/being spotted, never lose your companion).

  18. riobravo79 says:

    This is one of those games that’s trying to hard. Let’s also stop invoking Campbell, the lazy man’s go-to guy when they want to make themselves appear studious. Blech.

    • Justin Wheatley says:

      Campbell’s principles are so elemental that he’s often invoked without the invoker even intending him to be. 
      And if you’ve actually played this game, it’d be obvious that that component is the least of its worries. It is absolutely beautiful. It’s enjoyable to experience. It tried hard, and then succeeded with flying colors. 

      • riobravo79 says:

        I’m wary of any game that gets people to gush about the philosophical underpinnings instead of the goddamn game itself. Every comment over 100 characters on this page is scratching my eyeballs. I’m also wary of games that cause people to use fucking italics.


        My real question is why the need to re-review it since there was one already made not a week ago? No overlap with previous AV Club material. 

        And why would Teti use dickish words like “provincial” to villainize those that would like a straight-up summary of the mechanics, especially since you’ve done so for other games that aren’t “art” games. 

        Why do art games turn people into pretentious dicks?

        Why do I feel like calling them out on their bullshit? Because Mega Man’s a game. Journey is a post-grad student’s masturbatory exercise. 

        • Raging Bear says:

          I only see one dick around here, and it isn’t one of the people discussing a game they enjoy.

          Just because something doesn’t mean something to you, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for it to mean anything to anyone. If that fact is going to send you into a snarling little hissy fit every single time you’re faced with it, that’s going to be a lot of hissy fits if you stick around on this site.

          Disagree if you want. But if you’re just going to be a shit about it, maybe just keep it to yourself.

        • ToddG says:

          To build on what @Raging_Bear:disqus is saying, 
          I don’t think the gushing anyone is doing about Journey here is a pretense.  We all have a genuine love for this game, and we are discussing it in the terms in which it appeals to us, which is not primarily found in its gameplay mechanisms.  Apparently, Journey is not your cup of tea.  Which is fine, but it doesn’t mean you’re right and we’re wrong (or vice versa, of course), or that the site’s staff isn’t doing their job properly. 

        • Justin Wheatley says:

          Jesus Christ, get over yourself, dude. We all happen to love this game. That’s it.

          If we can enjoy watching a beautiful movie, why can’t enjoy playing a beautiful game that’s basically an interactive movie? What the fuck is wrong with that sentiment?

          You seem to be concerned more with the people who play the game more than the game itself. Fine, whatever. But don’t mix that with actual criticism for the game. It seems that’s exactly what you’re doing.

          Also, why the fuck would you be wary of a game that generates discussion beyond the basic mechanics? That’s regressive and dumb. One of the joys of this game is that mechanically, it’s excellent, and “philosophically,” it’s excellent. I’m happy to be playing a game that generates discussion like this. 

          There is room in the gaming world for both Journey and Mega Man. They both have their merits, and they’re both worthy of discussion. So don’t waste time fucking complaining about petty shit like that.

  19. lehao444 says:

    Tired of broken links. Enjoy only checked and working links.
    You Should Enjoin In it!

  20. hcduvall says:

    Just played it today, and it really is a beautiful game. I very much thought I was with the same person most of the time, though I knew enough of the game to wonder if at first all those distant smudges were other people trudging along and players would pair off.

    @JohnTeti:disqus I reacted to the “Who cares” like some other folks, but enjoyed where the rest of the conversation went. I caught your response to this below, so I get what you meant and it worked out fine, but I think sometimes alleys have to be explored anyway. I do want to say I got a lot more Buddhism than the more general Campbellian monomyth vibe from the game. Partially out of personal inclination, but the colors and sounds certainly point that way to me, and well, the way replays play into cycles and reincarnation.

    I’m not immune to it myself, when I talk to people about less than widespread interests, but I hope commentators get over the fear of sounding pretentious. The internet will certainly call anybody out, but being a little more serious makes for more interesting conversation than not.