Monday, March 26, 2012

A petal for your thoughts, Part 2

...And then, I played Journey.

As the trailer suggests, it's a game in which the journey is the most important part. As the trailer also suggests, there is a co-op mode, meaning you can play alongside someone else. The co-op is very unique, however, in that you don't choose who you play with. In fact, you don't even choose if you get to play with someone. The co-op is randomly selected, depending on whether or not someone is playing in the same area as you at the same time. They could also leave at any point, making your experience different every time. Sometimes they'll be replaced by someone else and you'll have multiple companions. You can't talk to your companion. You can only communicate in symbols, song notes and chirps. You may not believe this, but it actually becomes a feasible means of communicating, and you may find yourself understanding what your companion is saying by the end of the journey.

I was lucky, in that I had the same companion throughout. I wasn't sure if I had switched companions, but my suspicion of having the same one was confirmed at the end when I was told the screen name of my buddy (thanks for the great time, mrconkin! Sorry I kept falling off stuff; I have terrible depth perception).

Near the beginning of the game, I was walking alone when my companion, very suddenly, appeared beside me. We were both overjoyed, and we sang back and forth and chased each other in circles before progressing in our journey. The wide expanses of the game's setting are enough to make a player feel very small, so having a second person just like you to help you and stand beside you is startlingly powerful.

My companion was very helpful, and tried to protect me and signal me where to go when monsters appeared. He would sing to me to get my attention when he found something. At one point near the end of the game, we had been momentarily separated. I knew we were near the end, and I couldn't even see the white bloom glow that hinted at his whereabouts. I felt lonely and sad that we wouldn't be completing the journey together. I actually started crying as I looked up at the beautiful, glowing expanse I was soaring through, quietly wishing that my companion was there to see it with me.

My husband, who was watching me play behind me, saw the golden glow of my companion soaring up a long line of scarves at the same time I did. Knowing how attached I had grown to this guy in the mere span of 2 hours, he pointed him out, saying "there he is!". I laughed, and the two of us were reunited once more. After another brief separation, we were rejoined again, and we completed the journey together, walking into the bright white glow side by side.

Reading this, you would think I went on some sort of life-changing pilgrimage. I almost feel as though I did, and I don't care how stupid that sounds.

The game made me think of communication, and the inner workings of things like language. The entire game, nothing is ever verbally communicated, and it's not needed. You form ways of communicating with your companion, and you learn more about the story by visual representation. Your relationship to your companion reminded me a bit of ICO, in which you also can't communicate other than by calling out. The bond is made stronger, though, in Journey, by your companion actually being a real person on the other side. A story I heard online was that someone played a game of Journey with someone and sent them a message afterwards. That person replied to them in Japanese, meaning they were both able to play this game together when they may otherwise not have been able to do so. It's incredible that a game can bring strangers together like that.

I am truly captivated at the way these games can convey strong stories without using any words. They both have linear stories with a beginning, middle, and end, but the only way to communicate those stories is through strong images and powerful music. And yet, I feel I have a stronger response to these games than from any game I've ever played. It seems that the games with the most minimalist storylines and gameplay are the ones that really tug at me and make me think outside of the story.

I don't want to turn this into a video game review blog, obviously, but being that both Journey and Flower are games that have heavily inspired me (and the blog is called "When I'm Inspired, after all) I felt compelled to share my experiences in writing.

If either of these games appeal to you at all, I really urge you to play them. My experiences are just that: my experiences. You cannot truly know these games by listening to someone else's commentary. You have to play them yourself to truly know. Some people have talked about which is "better", but in my opinion they can't be compared. They are separate, unique experiences that stand alone.

Both of these games are great advocates of non-violence in video games, as well as art in video games. Journey is an excellent example of teamwork, as the only reason to work with someone else in the game is for the sheer gratification of it. I feel there is a little something in each thatgamecompany game that suggests harmony and peace. If we all had that little something in us, I believe the world could be a better place.

Our world is so full of "stuff"--cars, buildings, and machines. In a world like this, it's nice to find some simplicity, such as the simplicity you find in Flower and Journey. The landscape and scenery can make you feel this unexpected elation. It's too bad that can't be enough for all of us.

That is how these games have affected me. Have they affected you, too?

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