Games and the pleasure of synchronized behavior

Synchronizing your behavior with a single mysterious multi-player companion is a new convention of interaction in thatgamecompany’s Journey (2012)

Thatgamecompany’ award-winning Playstation game  Journey (2012)provides a poetic and evocative experience that makes players feel as if they have lived through the classic stages of life from joyous exploratory childhood through challenging and dangerous adulthood, successful and golden middle life, and the impotence and paralysis of old age, ending with an ecstatic sequence that many have found suggestive of an ascent into heaven. It communicates this lifetime of experiences without language, wholly through movement, gestures, landscape changes, and orchestral music.

The most original invention in the game is the way it treats multiplayer experiences. Journey is played through Sony’s networked console platform but the affordances of text and voice chat are turned off. You may see a single other player, a robed figure like your own avatar, identified by a runic mark, from time to time, but you have to find indirect ways of communicating with them, using the chirping call or through your witnessed intentional  actions in the shared space.

In the words of the creator, Jenova Chen,

It’s about two strangers who meet online. They don’t know who they are or how old they are. All they know is, that is another human being.

And as one player has said:

At the end of my second Journey, after finishing the majority of the game with the same person and ascending together, as we were walking into the light at the end, I figured out I could bow to my friend, and they caught on and bowed back, and I felt myself beginning to cry as we wordlessly walked those last few steps together. Truly, truly moving.

What moves this player is at the heart of game pleasure — the synchronization of behavior with another human being, the feeling of overcoming the isolation of one’s own consciousness which is the isolation of mortality itself. 

Although games are sometimes criticized  for lacking the emotional resonance of older art forms like movies, they are in fact an ancient cultural form, older than language, with a representational power all their own, the power of enacting the mystery of human connection.

One response to “Games and the pleasure of synchronized behavior

  1. Pingback: Molyneux’s Curiosity Game: why did anyone play? | Janet H. Murray's Blog on Inventing the Medium

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