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  • Cindi Knapton

Journey: Enlightenment is Better with a Friend

Journey title card: Lone traveller stands in the sun drenched desert and contemplates the mountain far beyond.

What makes Journey so emotionally satisfying for me? • Delightful avatar movement • Precious companionship amid expansive isolation • My health bar is a fashion accessory! • The environmental effects guide and challenge me • The level design elevates my favorite places on earth • The path to enlightenment inspires my meditation practice

These emotional experiences are created by story events marrying seamlessly with gameplay mechanics on an exquisitely beautiful landscape. Journey does this magnificently.

Two traveler avatars stand together, anticipating their leap up through the arched gateway.

Delightful Avatar Movement: From the beginning, before anything else happens in the game, the first thing that strikes me is the absolutely pleasure in moving my avatar. As the traveler, my avatar embodies the unlimited joy of a child exploring a boundless playground while somehow simultaneously having the athletic skill of an Olympic-level skier/gymnast/endurance runner.

Sliding down sand dunes, and later schussing through snow, I can try all the crazy moves I would never have tried on the slopes IRL. As a teenager, I attended a week of ski race camp in Utah every Christmas. Slowly and cautiously, I got through the course gates but was always very, very careful not to hurt myself. In Journey, if I go too fast or miss a gate, the worst that will happen is a beautifully executed tumbling roll.

The player avatar is surrounded by loose fabric beings. In the middle of the image is a tutorial guide icon indicating "Hold" the "O" button to connect with the fabric beings.

And the movement is so easy to control! The first time I played Journey, it was only the second video game that I tried. And I could do it! I could understand the controls, work through the game and beat it. The movement mechanic is intuitively simple. One thumb stick each for propulsion and camera direction. “X” to jump up, fly, or float. “O” to commune, jump up, spin, or float with the fabric beings, ancient relics, and… my new friends, my fellow travelers.

Companionship Amid Expansive Isolation: Each of the beautiful levels is gargantuan in scale, making me feel tiny and in awe of the wonder of nature and the enormous ruins. As someone who spends a lot of time alone on internal and external journeys, I am comfortable going solo. But the truth is, when I have a meditation or vacation buddy to share my experiences, they are much sweeter. Finding a fellow traveler in the vastness of Journey is thrilling,

Two traveler avatars stand together on a very dark sand floor. Their scarves are long and flowing, brightly illuminated in the dark.

Each time I use the “O”, I imagine that I am hugging and air-kissing the fabric beings and fellow travelers. It feels very visceral to me.

When I see another player avatar, I run to them and smother them with “O” s. Experienced players seem to appreciate this. Newbies (I am assuming they are newbies) treat me like an annoying fly that needs to be brushed off and shoo-ed away. I don’t blame them. When I first played, I didn’t know that the other traveler avatars were live action players.

When I find another player who wants to travel a whole level, or maybe even the entire game together (there’s a trophy for that) I get super excited and stick to them like glue, like an excited puppy desperate to keep playing with another dog that I have just met in the park.

I think that I may have disappointed some fellow players who stuck with me for a long time, and then I had to abandoned them because I couldn’t keep playing that day.

Close up image of of the traveler avatar's very long brightly illuminated scarf.

My Health Bar is Fashion Accessory: With every found ancient glyph, the player earns an additional illuminated icon in their scarf. The scarf becomes longer and more beautiful with each discovery. Each addition to the length gives the player another opportunity to hit “X” and fly higher and further. But... every time the player hits “X” and flies, one of the illuminated icon lengths is temporarily extinguished. This scarf is the best version of a health bar that I have ever seen. It’s a beautiful fashion accessory that whips into curlicues in the wind!

I love replenishing my scarf by approaching a fellow traveler or a fabric being and pressing “O”. It’s great to be able to refresh myself, and… to refresh or even revive another entity. Helping others feels great.

On a dark, windy, snow covered cliff, the traveler battles the wind along a narrow path up the mountainside.

The Environmental Effects Guide and Challenge Me: From the very first level, the wind sets player boundaries on the visually endless landscape. It feels very much like a mother training her child not to wander too far off track. But by the final level, the wind is no longer a benign guide, it is the challenge.

On that final level, through a series of increasingly difficult timing puzzles, the player must dodge the wind, then persist through the blasts, skidding back and forth across the peak, only to finally die of exhaustion. To beat the game, the player must be willing to persist to the point of death.

Snow falls inside a very dark temple.

The sand and snow are amazingly accurate in their weight, viscosity, and in their resistance to the feet of my avatar. I love how the sand and snow part on my impact to leave a furrowed trail in my path.

And air! Throughout the game, the feeling of floating in the air is wonderful. I love being able to jump off any height and float gracefully toward my goal.

In a space reminiscent of India's Red Fort, the traveler has received permission to proceed to the next level.

The Level Design Elevates my Favorite Places on Earth: Is level design a game mechanic? It is for me. The level design in Journey triggered emotions of awe, appreciation, empathy, and curiosity about the lost civilization, its inhabitants, and the meanings in their iconography.

I’m an architect. I have designed and built around the world. Traveling to project sites was often an excuse to visit local ruins. I love ruins. I also have spent decades meditating and studying comparative religions. So… I really love ruins of ancient sacred sites.

I have had the pleasure of visiting ancient sacred sites in the US, Mexico, UK, UAE, India, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, Israel, Greece, Australia, and New Zealand. I’m clearly obsessed with this. Contextualizing religious beliefs with history, environment, and built form representation is my passion. The level design in Journey allows me to freely explore hyperbolic representations of many of my favorite places on earth.

In Journey, I am on sacred ground.

The traveler is encircled by bright streaks of energy and magical icons.

The Path to Enlightenment Inspires My Meditation Practice I’ve been meditating for decades. I use guided visualization to ground and center myself, and to get refreshing energy into my aura. I love the imagery that surrounds the player when they find an ancient glyph. I have incorporated that visual image and feel into my daily practice.

Playing Journey leaves me with lingering feelings of companionship, joyful free movement, awe, and appreciation.

P.S. This is the first time that I have written “alt text” captions to the gameplay screengrabs for the use of readers who are visually impaired. I am thrilled that is possible. Thank you, Technology. If anyone uses this feature, please let me know if it worked.

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