Joseph Campbell wrote a great book, The Hero with A Thousand Faces, in which he describes his theory of the monomyth. I won’t go into great detail here about it, as I already previously have, but suffice to say that a lot of what we understand about narrative structure and story owes some degree to Campbell’s work. This post, however, isn’t about Campbell or “The Hero’s Journey”, at least not directly. It is about the 2012 video game Journey
I cannot recommend this game enough; really anything done by That Game Company deserves a look and a fan. The game is, essentially, an interactive experience of Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey”, hence the name. Because of its independent nature, Journey does not play like a traditional game. There is no final boss battle, and really no battles to speak of. No instructions are given as to your tasks or how to play. No arrows or guide points show you the path to take. There is no dialogue, spoken or written, telling you the narrative of your experience. No exposition, no weapons, and no power ups save a scarf that grows longer when fabric is found in the world.
I know this might seem like some pretentious, artsy game that serves no purpose other than to be some meta narrative up its own ass and to some degree that is kind of true, but where other independent games fall into such a rut, Journey manages to stay above such fray by remembering to be a game. It contains enough similar traits to traditional gaming experience that the player knows just enough to move forward, and the manner in which the story unfolds is compelling and able to keep the player intrigued.
Journey does this by making the player actually experience the world and story through the avatar. The world is breathtakingly rendered and the music perfectly fits every level and scenario to fully immerse its audience. The further the player delves into the game the more the story unfolds which further immerses the player. In essence, the player experiences the full journey of the avatar in a different way than playing Zelda, Grand Theft Auto, or Halo cannot provide.
The best aspect, at least to me, is that it really takes the player in an exploration and experience of “The Hero’s Journey.” Even if you have never read Campbell’s work, you would have a grasp of it after playing the game. As well, much like the circular path described by Campbell, Journey doesn’t have a standard ending. I won’t spoil it for you because I really think you should play it, but the ending is not so much an end as it is an invitation to continue exploring and the story.
And that is really the heart and lesson of the game. There is no real end. There is only the continuing Journey. Whatever obstacles you have faced, fallen to, or overcome are only part of the experience that must keep on.
Thus end’s today’s lesson.