Review (Gaming): Why I am the only person in the world who hated Journey

One of the things we’re going to be doing is reviewing games/books/movies etc. that either have an atheist slant or can be reviewed from an atheist perspective in some interesting way. This definitely isn’t the first, but I’m hoping it’s the second.

Let’s get a few things out of the way. First, there are spoilers in here, big, fat, in your face spoilers. The game is two hours long, it’s really worthwhile, if you at all think you’re going to play it, go do that, then come back here and see if your seething rage matches mine. It’d be nice to be less alone on this one!

Second, Journey is a really good game. Recipient of various game of the year awards, nominated for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media in the 2013 Grammys, and gushed over almost universally, this is a game that manages, in a way few games do, to create a profound and moving experience. People are touched, moved, transported by Journey. Journey invokes a profound emotional response in the people who play it.

Me too! Except my profound emotional response was transmuted in the last five minutes into crushing disappointment and betrayal.

I approached this in the exact perfect way to play it, knowing nothing about it. It’s pretty simple to figure out how to play; you can run, jump, and ‘sing’, you use your scarf to fly, it’s more interesting than it sounds. I’m not going to get into the mechanics, because it’s been done many times before, and because the meat of the game is really the story, and the emotion it invokes.

You start off in the desert. You’re a tall figure, swathed in a red robe, staring at the tall, shining mountain in the distance. That’s your goal; you’re heading toward the mountain, and the story unfolds around you, informed by the landscape you travel through. There are no words, only pictures, and song. The levels move through a vast desert, dotted by ruins, into the ruins, through a frantically gorgeous sunset sequence, down into a dark and scary landscape that transmutes halfway through into a gorgeously strange and then joyful ascent into the final area, the base of the mountain, which is cold and frozen and slowly strips away the soaring ability you’ve built up over the previous sections. Eventually you’re trudging, doggedly, painfully, into a landscape of silent, endless, frozen white.

And then your character stops, falls down, and dies. And goes to heaven.

The reason I hated Journey is that the whole time, I thought I was playing a different game than I was. In hindsight, it’s obvious it’s a metaphor for life. And life, for the vast majority of people, includes God, and heaven, as the source of the awe and wonder and solace that the rest of the game so ably invoked.

I felt all those emotions, but I thought I was playing a different game. The pictographs of the alien figures, I took for, well, actual aliens, or the larger metaphor for society. It was a quest, I thought, to move from ignorance to knowledge, with the awe and wonder and joy that invokes, as well as the fear and danger and sometimes, yes, endless trudging drudgery. I was viewing it through an atheist lens.

Which is why the ending was like a slap in the face. All my wonder, all my joy, all my struggle and hardship and emotional connection, made irrelevant. My character never makes it to the top of the mountain; the only way to reach the light is to die, and then fly through a dreamy, fantastical sequence that utterly destroyed my delusion that this was a metaphor for the ascent of the human species.

And that’s where Journey fails for an atheist like me. It makes the whole thing pointless; not because your character dies in the end, but because, according to the metaphor of the story, dying is the goal. And that cheapens every other step along the way.

Lo, a first post!

Hello, world!

This is our introductory blog post, so a few things out of the way;

  1. Who we are
    This is the blog of Atheos, the non-theist/secular humanist/atheist/agnostic student group at the University of Guelph. But we’ll be having (hopefully!) posts from a lot of different members, so expect to see herein a wide variety of opinions. Generally of the heathen variety.
  2. Comment policy
    Be nice. As of now we aren’t filtering comments. But we ask that posters respect the general ethos of the club; safe, accepted, worthy. Disagreement is fine, but our aim is to engage ideas, not denigrate persons.
  3. What you’ll find here
    Topics of concern to the average atheist/agnostic/non-theist/secular humanist, including but not limited to book and movie reviews, debates on relevant topics, personal stories, links and resources of interest, and posts that flesh out topics we’re discussing in our weekly meetings.
  4. Construction!
    It’s a work in progress, so your patience is much appreciated.
  5. And now… a post!

This week’s topic is “Why Atheism?” (agnosticism/non-theism/secular humanism… you get the idea).

Atheos, our club’s name, is a greek term that means “without god(s).” It’s a category most of us fit in to, but of itself, is simple lack of belief enough? Sitting at our table for club days last week I encountered several times the familiar question; “What do you do at your meetings?” I even got the atheist’s old (annoying) standby, the non-stamp-collector analogy. If all we did all day was sit around and talk about how we didn’t believe, this would be a boring club indeed.

But it isn’t. I would argue that Atheos the club, like the Atheism movement in general, is united by two things; the desire for a community of likeminded people to talk with and support us, and a system of thoughts and ideals that lead us to Atheism in the first place.

I can unpack the first idea easily enough, by imagining a world where atheism would be as boring as non-stamp collecting. In such a world, atheism would have to be as normal a position as not collecting stamps – not subject to suspicion, confusion, derision, and even persecution. Here in Canada we’re fairly lucky; atheism isn’t nearly as perilous or abnormal. But even here I’ve been told by a perfect stranger that I’m going to burn in hell, and, although I’m extremely lucky to have faced zero consequences for my lack of belief in my personal life, many of our members aren’t so lucky. So even if we’re not collecting stamps, we’re organizing because we live in a world where stamp collecting is the norm.

The second idea is more to do with what leads us to atheism than atheism itself. I’ll save the meat of my argument for this week’s meeting, but I’m going to spam a quick list of values here to start the conversation: Science. Truth. Prioritization of evidence for belief. Humanism. The desire to understand. Fairness. That small is not insignificant. That finite is not unimportant. That the universe is really, really cool.

I’m not going to argue that appreciation for science or the importance of evidence is unique to atheism. But I do think these are some of the core ideas that lead us towards atheism, and away from religion.