Journey was my game of the year for 2012, and earned its place on this list immediately after I had played it. It is a game that makes its mark and leaves you to ponder what exactly that mark is. What did you gain from the experience? Did you want to gain that from the experience? Have you changed?
Ideally, the answer is yes. Journey is transformative. It demonstrates quite clearly how well gaming as an art form can be used to tell stories that other media cannot even hope to tell, and how it can effect emotions that other media only dream of effecting.
I’ve not much to say about this game that hasn’t already been said. The multiplayer aspect is moving, and I have been moved to tears a number of times after traveling with a single companion throughout the game. When their scarf was torn, I would find their fallen body and wait for them to get up, staying close by them. When mine was torn, they would do the same for me. Silently, we bonded. But then, after our death and resurrection, we would somehow lose each other. I would wait on the platform at the peak of the mountain for ten minutes at times, hoping they would appear. When they didn’t, my solitary walk into the light was soul-crushing. However, when they would reappear, our walk into the light together was a euphoric, soul-lifting experience. The game doesn’t make any active efforts to cause these moments. The sadness comes even in the presence of the rapturous music (one of the best gaming soundtracks in the history of the medium), the happiness even in the presence of fearful, dark, cavernous depths. The game simply provides the sandbox in which we create these stories, and pull emotions from within ourselves and each other.
The game itself is beautiful as well, though. If the sandbox were not so compelling, we would not travel there. No, the game tells its own story with its own beauty, running parallel to the story created by the game’s multiplayer features and human interactions. The uncertainty regarding what happened to this world, which has moved on through some calamity or another, adds a mystique to the surroundings that only increases the wonder inherent in them. Involuntary vocalizations are common.
I could say more – the deliberate construction of the game mirroring the Hero’s Journey, for instance – but really the core of it is this: no game has made me feel as much as this game has solely through my own interactions with others. It creates stories, rather than tells them.