An Absolutely Beautiful Video Game All Book Lovers Should Play

Gabe Habash -- March 15th, 2012

I realize I’m talking to a book crowd here, and books are, you know, good for your brain etc. But for the 1% of you reading this who own a Playstation 3, I’m going to recommend that you go home and download a beautiful little game called Journey.

Before telling you about why this is a game you have to experience, I’m just going to slip this little trailer in right here. There we are.

Things you should know about Journey:

1. There is no dialogue

2. Your only objective is to get to a distant mountain

3. It’s one of the most emotionally profound experiences you’ll have this year from a book, movie, song, or any other form of entertainment

With all the wordless spirituality of a Tarkovsky or Malick movie, Journey is just that: a journey across a lonely and beautiful landscape of deserts, snowy peaks, and deep caverns. If you want to know what it’s about, all there is to say is you play as a hooded figure (not even the gender can be deciphered) traveling toward a far-off mountain. Along the way, you encounter fairly basic puzzles (there are no enemies), and your only tool is your ability to glide to high places. (For a great review of the game, read this, because it becomes less about explaining the game and instead just reliving the reactions of the people playing it.)

But Journey isn’t about mechanics, it’s about taking your breath away, which it will do, many times, if you have any sort of halfway decent nervous system. Not since Shadow of the Colossus has a video game transcended its medium and plopped itself down in front of you as a capital-e Emotional Experience.

Journey can be completed in about two hours, and playing it in the right conditions–on a big screen with the sound up–will yield a singularly captivating and emotional experience. Part of the reason for that is because Journey drops another random player, who happens to be playing the game at the exact same time you are, into your path, and if you choose to (and you should), the two of you complete the game together. Your only means of communication is the press of button, which sends a tone signal out. It’s this wordless communication, combined with the two hours you spend with the person–a complete stranger you meet on your journey–working together, which makes your emotional attachment that much deeper. It’s fair to say that the bond between these two figures, made stronger because of the sheer scale of the journey and the loneliness all around, isn’t far off from some of the most memorable literary friendships, including Lennie and George, or Tom and Huck. Make no mistake, you will frequently check to make sure your friend is still with you, and you will panic if you get separated. The fact that a video game can make a complete stranger feel like a companion, to the point where it becomes less about completing the journey and more about completing the journey together–the fact that this feeling happens with no words exchanged, in the space of two hours, is an incredible accomplishment, and one that you won’t forget for quite some time.

But back to those take-your-breath-away moments. When you crest a sand dune and see the desert drop into a cavernous expanse, or when you see a sunset, only momentarily clipped when you pass by a row of columns, blazing so much that it turns your character into a silhouette, I will bet you my Matchbox collection that you’ll feel a stir of emotion. And I haven’t even mentioned the music yet, by turns solemn, touching, and triumphant, which so wonderfully complements all of the game’s visuals that it feels like it’s part of the landscape. Playing Journey, the appreciation you have for every little moment–the way the music subtly shifts when you come to a new area, the weathered texture of the stone ruins you walk by, even the liquid way the sand moves around your feet–is so great that it’s nothing short of complete and total immersion. Journey trades in the busyness of combat common in most video games for a two hour meditative session, for a story scaled all the way back to archetype, its one and only goal to make you feel something.

And that’s why Journey is for book lovers (or anyone else for that matter). This is a video game, yes, but it’s also an emotional investment in the way that the books we love are emotional investments. It latches onto your brain and heart in the way that your favorite books do. And, most importantly, as your journey reaches its end, you feel like you’ve gone somewhere along with the characters, like their experience has become a little part of your own.

Journey is a story of the very first rate, and not one to be missed by anyone with a pulse.

6 thoughts on “An Absolutely Beautiful Video Game All Book Lovers Should Play

    1. Meg

      Exactly… This is an amazing and unique way to experience a video game. I am a HUGE gamer (Mass Effect, Dark Souls, COD, etc.) and I will play this.

  1. Sydnee Elliot

    I don’t have a gameboy either and don’t intend to buy one. I have a new iMac and an iPad….and can’t stop watching this trailer on youTube….is there any hope for those of use who don’t use a gameboy?

    1. Gabe Habash Post author

      The game is for Playstation 3 and probably won’t be made for any other system, since the developer, thatgamecompany, is currently under contract for three titles for Playstation. “Journey” is the third of the three. But if you don’t have a Playstation, you should find a friend who does and let yourself into their house to play it.

  2. Andrea Dail

    Wow, that sounds great. I’m a bit of a gamer and I always enjoy it when a video game captures some of the same emotions and literary experiences as a good book.

    Unfortunately, I don’t ever intend to own a Playstation… =/

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