The Brain Game
Seeking the light

A week long Journey


"I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” –Joan Didion

It’s no fun being predictable. Writers savor the chance to stake out an unoccupied point of view, set up camp there, and launch word-flares into the air for all to see. It’s fun to bring people with you to a place they’ve never seen.

Journey makes that nearly impossible for me. I’m supposed to like Journey, and I do, just as you’d expect. I admire the game for predictable reasons. It’s artsy and beautiful and evocative. It has vision. It reaches up. To no one’s surprise, Journey is my cup of tea.

I loved Journey’s precursor, Flower, too and wrote evangelized about it. I interviewed Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago on my podcast, and I covered Chen’s presentation on his design philosophy two years ago at IndieCade. Now here I am waving my arms about Journey and urging all my friends to play it. I’m about as predicable as Bowser in a castle with a princess.

Lots have people have written glowingly about Journey; others, not so much. What’s left to say? Can I offer anything new?

You know what? It doesn’t matter. I’ll take a shot at writing about Journey (several shots this week, actually) because I have no choice. I’m compelled to write about Journey because I’m compelled to think hard about my experience playing it, and those activities have become inseparable to me, mainly because of this blog.

A few years ago I posted as often as I could to build an audience and, as they say, keep the blog monster fed. These days I primarily write when a game (or a designer, or an idea) occupies my mind so forcefully that I must write my way out of that place. A game like Journey disables me from considering any other experience until I clear my mental deck by figuring out how to fathom and articulate what just happened to me. It's like I need to get a game off me. Does that make sense?

I must write about Journey for a different reason too. I feel a powerful debt to the game and its creators. I can’t help it. I find this sensation of gratitude overwhelming. Have you ever watched an extraordinary performer exit the stage and felt an overwhelming need to say thank you? Have you ever just wanted to touch that artist, even for a second?

Do we compromise our critical credentials when we surrender so thoroughly to a game? Perhaps, but I say dispassion may not always serve best. Why should we not express humane sentiments when a game designed by humans (who devoted years of their lives to building it) genuinely evokes them? Maybe on rare occasions it’s good to bridge our critical distance when that distance separates us from our marrow of our experience.

So, this week, I’ll offer a post a short series of essays devoted to Journey. If I can manage to string together a few pertinent thoughts about the game, maybe I can more fully discern why I responded so powerfully to it. Maybe those reflections will shed light or connect me to others who may see more or see differently. Maybe I can produce something analytical that also functions like gratitude. I guess we’ll see. I'm hope you'll let me know.

As always, your thoughts are most welcome, including naysayers. For what it’s worth, most of my students shake their heads in dismay when I talk about Journey. They’ve seen or tried the game and just don’t see the point. I’m not prepared to dismiss them. Maybe I’m writing about Journey this week for them too. It seems we never reach the end of making the case.