Discussion 10/26: Journey

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October 25, 2012 by Xiaoxin

Hey guys, for this week’s discussion, we’ll be looking at video games and/as art through Journey™. Journey was released in mid-March this year, and was developed by Thatgamecompany, the innovative developers who also made Flow and Flower, for PlayStation3. It took the company three years to produce this two-hour game, but it was totally worth it. Sixteen days after the game’s official release, co-founder and creative director of Thatgamecompany, Jenova Chen, announced on PlayStation.blog that Journey had broken PlayStation Network and PlayStation Store’s sales records, “surpassing all games ever released on the PlayStation Network to become the fastest-selling game ever released on PlayStation Store, in both the SCEA and SCEE regions.” It is almost impossible to find negative reviews of the game, not even in the comment column on Youtube. (There are, indeed, one or two not so positive ones, but they are totally drowned in other defending comments.) Below are two videos that will provide you with all the information that you’ll need to get ready for the discussion, even if you’ve never heard of Journey before.

  • Journey Developers’ Diary. From this video, you can get a pretty good understanding of the game, its different components and the message behind the game.

     

  • This is a 90-minute playthrough of Journey. Feel free to watch the whole thing when you get frustrated by the presidential debate; otherwise, I would recommend (by recommend, I mean require…) you watching a good 10-minute game play starting from 1:10”.

Here are some questions to think about:

  1. Three things that really stood out to me in Journey: the philosophy and message that drive the game, the game’s openness for players to project their own experience and emotions, and its three act structure derived from a classic playwright model (recall how “gamewright” was valued in BioShock .) Do you consider this video game art? What do you think is the most important measure that decides if a game is art?
  2. A common player’s reaction to the game is: “This game is so beautiful. I’ve never felt so related to a game/ a stranger before.” Journey fits very well with one of the characteristics that Tom Bissell considers art games have in common, that is the ability to touch players “authentically and deeply.” It also fits what Ian Bogost describes as “subjective representation” and “strong authorship.” Will it then be fair to conclude that a game alone is not art, it is the players who make the game art?
  3. It is not possible for a player to die or commit suicide in the game when the player is “not supposed to die.” There is neither positive outcome nor negative outcome. Player’s only goal is to move forward to reach the mountain top. Do you consider Journey a game at all, or is it more of an interactive movie? In this particular example, do yo think art becomes the flaw of Journey’s game design? In another word, do you think art is hindering gameplay?
  4. There long exists a trade-off between art and commercial success: Journey seems to have both. What did Journey do right? How is the game market in 2012 different from that in 2009, or 2006?


I became very interested in Thatgamecompany and the games the company makes since I first saw Flower in a videogame exhibition. Jenova Chen has a very deep and interesting way of thinking that I really admire. Now that I am putting together discussion questions about Journey and thus have excuse, I stalked Chen on Weibo (Chinese Twitter), told him about this class, and asked if he could answer these questions for us. THIS IS WHAT HE SAID ( and I translated ) :

“Art is the exchange between the creator of a medium and his or her audience. This exchange could be a simple/minor fluctuation in emotion, a complicated story, a sharp opinion or observation, etc. Thus, if there exists a videogame that makes this kind of exchange possible, the game is art. The back and forth in exchange between the creator and his or her audience is the one and only condition for a medium to be art.

Audience, that is player in the case of videogames, is by this definition very important. However, since we are evaluating whether a medium (game) is art, audience’s (player’s) engagement and projection is then not the core of this evaluation.

99% of death that happens in videogames implies nothing more than starting over. No one can really understand what it means to be dead. The impact of death on players is much stronger when it occurs only once in the game. Videogame is a kind of interactive media, and is not all about life or death. Why does the absence of the measure for winning or loosing make the game less a game but more an interactive movie? And why does it not make the game more an interactive poem, interactive haiku, interactive music, interactive dance or interactive theatre?

(I was asking which aspect of Journey does he consider the most commercialized) I don’t know what you mean by “most commercialized.” Are you asking what is the selling point of the game? The game market is fed up with cars, guns, sports and sexual fantasies, and thus has an intrinsic need for things that are of the contrary. Entertainment exists to satisfy people’s emotional and all other kinds of inner needs. So this time, I pitch to their emotional needs.”

– Jenova Chen, Oct 24, 2012

(Original questions and answers: click here)

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One thought on “Discussion 10/26: Journey

  1. tanineallison says:

    It’s so fantastic that you reached out to Jenova Chen and he responded! I love his comment about the interactive poem.

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