“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli
Recently, I Journeyed. In this upper case, I mean to say that I played the game called Journey, and it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in a virtual world.
I will apologize in advance that this is a long post. I wanted to preserve the stories that came from this game with the hopes that the travelers met along the way can know how much their companionship affected not only the experience of playing but the people who journeyed behind the controller.
The game opens gently. A lightening desert. A shooting star coming to rest on earth. There are no words, no directions. Just your character, a red-cloaked figure, sitting in the sand until you twitch the controller and stand on your little twig legs. All around are stretches of desert. Straight ahead is a hill, so you climb it, and on top of that hill, you see the mountain, its summit split with light, the title comes up (the only words you’ll see until the credits), and you know that is where you need to go.
This is how my first Journey began.
I played this with my sister and a friend. It was snowing outside, and we were curious, so we popped in the disc and began.
This is the place that called us, the place where stars are born. After scrambling around on the sand hills, sliding and surfing over the dunes, I gained a scarf, and with each piece, the scarf grew longer and the longer I could use it to jump and flap around. It was intriguing and the three of us grew curious
to see just how long we could make it.
As I built a bridge from the same red scarf, someone appeared and finished it with me, but then they left, floating away into the haze. So I continued on alone.
At the end of each area, there is a place where you sit and receive a lesson or a memory of the past. The story is told in pictographs. The message is clear enough, but the interpretation is all up to you. As we got more and more of the story, the three of us contributed to a group understanding of what was going on.
Your appearance in gameplay changes how these cutscenes look.
It’s awesome to see that great scarf floating there in the breeze, isn’t it?
We pressed on, and the challenges increased. After the incredible sand surfing level of the sunken city and the ethereal, underwater-like tunnels with scarf seaweed and jellyfish, there’s an ominous dark place with sentinels that search out scarf creatures and destroy them. We tried so hard to sneak by, but the light caught us, and we all were startled as the sentinel threw us up in the air and tore the scarf!
After recovering from this trauma, we were more careful. The challenges increased. Soon, we reached a snowy mountain.
The weather was rough and there were sentinels circling overhead. The wind pushed us back, threatening to blow us off the mountain. At the last, the little guy is struggling through the snow, covered in ice and moving so slowly that all three of us were cheering him on. He collapsed and we all mourned him. But that wasn’t the end–we came back to life, energized.
On the other side is a wonderful mountain pass of waterfalls and bright light, all alive and teeming with scarf creatures that take you to the very top where a field of snow stretches away into the light. You walk on until everything else falls away.
It fades to white. A star shoots up from the mountain, and the credits roll as you follow the star back through the levels. At the very last, a screen appeared with the words “Companions Met Along the Way” followed by screen names and the symbols associated with the player (the symbol that appears when the character chirps). We didn’t even know that the other person we had met was a real-life player!
But this wasn’t the end.
If you push the start button, the star goes all the way back to the desert, coming to rest in the sand.
The second time, somewhere in the desert, I found a friend–a companion.
Happily, this companion stayed with us, and we went on together, chiming together in that interesting, musical tone that is the only communication we have. It blends almost seamlessly with the sweeping instrumental music that makes even tromping through the desert seem like a task of monumental importance.
In the dark, we gave each other light
and got tangled in each other’s scarves.
It was a completely different experience to have someone else there, and knowing that they were experiencing the same thing at the same time.
We did everything together, sharing our knowledge of the world and the levels. On the mountain, we got caught by a sentinel and lost some scarf, but we made it together.
We made it all the way. At the end, since there’s no other way to communicate with other players, I drew a heart in the snow to express my gratitude and say, “You’re awesome.” They drew another heart to say, “No, you’re awesome.” So I drew a bigger one, and they completed the other side of the heart. We walked on into the light, chiming and chirping our happiness until we couldn’t anymore.
I had heard about the white cloaks, the ones that had been through the game and knew where all the glyphs and scarf pieces were. As I quested to find all of these items, I found myself in good company with a white cloak, which is rare enough to encounter out in the desert.
They were so methodical, so precise. Not a movement or flap or chirp wasted. The way they chimed, it was almost as if they were speaking words. We stayed close in the scary levels, forging through the snow field with the sentinels like two soldiers through No Man’s Land. The white cloak chirped several times, as if to say, “Wait here,” so we did. Under cover, they’d chirp steadily, as if saying, “Steady, steady on.” After a pause, the light flashed over us, they’d send one pulse and we’d rush to the next bit of cover. It was absurdly thrilling.
At the end, we tried to express our appreciation for their help. Some of the things we wouldn’t have found otherwise. The white cloak was polite. When we finished, we drew a heart, and they drew one, too, before we went on together.
We couldn’t wait to try out the white cloak we earned from finding all of the glyphs and symbols. There was a bit of pressure, too. What if we found a red cloak in need of guidance? Could we remember where all the things were?
The story is the same, regardless of how many lines of design you have or what color your cloak is, but the journey is different.
On the sand surfing level
again because it’s the best, we found another white cloak. And they wanted to stay with us! We drew figure-eights as we sledded down the hill together. They were adventurous, looking into all the areas for secrets. In one area, we tried to get as high as we could, but I couldn’t make it up. Instead of leaving, they drifted back down and we continued on.
They were a chatty fellow, chiming often and a lot. We felt shy in comparison, so we chirped more often to keep up conversation.
During one of the cutscenes, I had to quick get up and grab some library books. I didn’t come back in time to go to the next area, and I ran back downstairs to the television, afraid our companion had left. I couldn’t help but smile when I found that our buddy had stayed and was industriously ramming into us as if nudging us to come along.
In the scary level, we had almost gotten through it all, but our companion wanted to go back. Standing on the ledge to go down the last way, I turned around to find them wafting back into the ominous gloom, chirping away. I sent out a chime to say that I wasn’t going back there, no way, but they sent out a few chirps close together, so I eventually crept back, not wanting to lose our good companion. A sentinel caught sight of us, and I fled for the shadows. I don’t know if my friend was caught, but they headed for the exit soon after that.
At one of the glyphs in the tower level, however, they went around to the side, chiming away. They wanted us to follow, so we did, landing on the ledge. They kept bumping into a wall and then suddenly disappeared into it. We followed and found a most incredible scene from behind the wall. I believe it was a glitch, and we lit up the glyph from the back and watched the same scene in a completely new way.
We made it all the way together. We journeyed closely, and we came to trust our companion more and more as they showed that, despite being a little more daring, they knew a lot more than we did. At the very last, we thought we were finished when they stopped on one of the landings. Instead of going on, they flew to one of the nearby mountaintops and we started climbing every mountain. The view was spectacular! We chimed our appreciation, but our detour was only beginning. They stepped forward and we fell into the mountain, through into a place that sent out ripples in the clear air as we floated around. They kept chiming and chirping, encouraging us to follow. We passed through more mountains, walking straight through into new areas of undefined space of sky below and beneath, endless blindly white snow fields, floating boulders, and even pinwheel scarf creatures that chirped happily as they spun.The three of us playing kept wondering out loud in amazement. What is this place? How do they know where to go? What is this? How do they know?
There was so much beauty in the landscape, but the thing that struck me more was how patient our companion was. They stayed with us–they wanted to share this with us. Several times, we got stuck and were unable to follow right away. It was easy to get turned around and lose our guide in these M.C. Escher-like spaces. Sometimes, it seemed like we’d be lost forever and stuck with no way of getting out. Yet, without fail, they’d send out a chime and come back to show the way. It was such a special feeling. At each place we’d stop, we’d chime as loud and long as we could to express just how cool this was, exploring the unknown with a faithful companion. I hope that came across.
We did find our way back to the defined world, and after having thrilling adventures in those fantastically beautiful and secret places, it had a whole new shine and glow. When we came to the snow, we immediately set to drawing a heart, chiming all along. They drew a heart, too, and then we attempted to make a star shape. It was a little lopsided, but it was the best journey we had ever had and could have only had with this person. Despite our being a little clumsy, a little hesitant, I hope they had as much fun as we did.
Wherever you are, Kalon Agathon, those of us playing behind our white cloak want to thank you for being so patient and being the best companion we could have asked for.
We finished together, chiming constantly until our symbols disappeared.
To all of the companions we traveled with, thank you for the journey.
Again, I apologize for the length of this post, but I wanted to save these stories. Journey is an incredible game. If you ever have the chance to play it, I encourage you to do so! The screenshots and gifs are from various places on the internet, so credit goes to those who posted them. For more inspiring Journey stories, I’ll point you to JourneyStories on tumblr and chirpyeahjourney. There are so many sites by so many people who have journeyed and been touched by the people they met. This doesn’t adequately express the thanks for such a special connection that I didn’t think possible through a Playstation, but I hope it goes a small way in saying that even the smallest acts of kindness and patience can shower someone who is no longer a stranger with unexpected joy.
Let’s keep journeying together, everyone.