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.