A far cry from the typical “game of the year” fare, Journey, thatgamecompany’s follow-up to 2009 PSN darling flower, took a more minimalist approach. Opening quietly on a vacant sand dune, sunlit mountain in the distance, Journey immediately established its tone and direction, all without uttering a single word – spoken or otherwise. With only the occasional hieroglyph to fill in the backstory, the majority of its plot was conveyed through a sweeping orchestral soundtrack and the subtle body language of its mysterious, robed characters.
The multiplayer aspect of Journey followed a similar course.
Designer Jenova Chen had the idea of removing both player identity and virtually all forms of communication from an online multiplayer experience in the hopes of civilizing the oftentimes hostile environment. Swears, slurs, and charming monikers in the spirit of “xXxSm0k3sMaDbLuNtS420xXx” were concealed and replaced with chirps of varying intensities. The idea being that by removing any opportunity for players to be cruel to each other and by obscuring PSN IDs that might otherwise color a player’s opinion of a random stranger, people might actually interact as humans instead of the monsters anonymity often creates.
Amazingly, it worked. After traversing Journey’s beautifully desolate landscapes for only a short while, even the most stonehearted players likely found themselves gravitating toward the first glimpse of another living thing. And when that new found friend eventually collapsed and melted into the sand nearby (the in-game indication that they have disconnected from the session)? Well, my heartstrings were tugged.
Journey is arguably more of an emotional voyage than a traditional game. There are levels per se and doodads to collect, but those are secondary to the core experiences of wonder, adventure, peril, hopelessness, loss, and – eventually – victory. The fact that it was able to evoke such emotion without any text or dialogue speaks volumes about why exactly Journey deserves such a lofty spot on our Best of 2012 list. It is simply something that everyone must experience.