Thoughts on Journey

The only thing of value I took away from Journey is the debate I've been having with myself about what makes a game a game to me, and why I like playing those games. I'm leaning towards the idea that although Journey is interactive, I don't think it's a game. I think it's simply interactive.

Temporarily, I've defined Game to myself as "something you can lose."

That jeopardy and tension are what makes the experience of the game valuable. Marbles is a game. Pick-up-sticks is a game. Pong is a game. There are winners and losers.

But then, what is Pac Man? Pac Man is only a game that you can lose or break.

Okay, the game of Pac Man is one where the concept of loss is judged by score and time spent playing. You Lose if your score is less than another person's, or if you don't get as far as you did the last time. The tension comes from the threat of not being able to play the game as long as last time. Tetris works the same way.

(If I wanted to defamiliarize jRPGs in a funny way, I think I could argue that they work in the opposite fashion. Tetris is about trying to play for as long as possible. JRPGs are about trying to end the game as fast as possible. The threat of loss comes from approaching an area that you're underpowered for too soon, and get beaten by a monster or whatever because you didn't level up enough. jRPGs are also about management, in that you have to be able to cycle through various menus and spreadsheets in order to progress; if you don't understand those menus, loss might come sooner. So, lol, jRPGs are management experiences that are a race to end the experience.)

Anyway, an interactive experience without the threat of loss is like reading a book. A "video-game" without the threat of loss is interactive in the same way books are interactive; you have to move your eyes in order to read, but there's no threat that the book won't happen. In the same way, Journey is like a book. Your fingers and eyes are the core of your engagement with the experience, but there's no threat that Journey won't happen. A book happens the same way for everyone, every time. What they bring to the book might color how it affects them, but it's still the same book. Reading the book aloud to someone, or hearing it read to you won't change the book, just like leading someone in Journey, or following someone around won't really change the core thing you're interacting with.

I like the threat of loss. I like jeopardy, victory, defeat. I like the tension of that threat. All the other stuff (the friction of play) adds to the way you engage that threat. It makes it more or less interesting. But I think I would argue that without the threat of loss, there is no game.


(Taken from a conversation I've been having on about the PSN game Journey.)