Counterpoint Review (Gaming): Why I loved Journey, from an atheist perspective

In the following article, I’ll be giving my own review of Journey for the PS3, in response to Susan’s piece from a while back: Review (Gaming): Why I am the only person in the world who hated Journey. Despite both being atheists, we each drew very different conclusions about the game – read both of our reviews to see the comparison.

As before, massive spoilers follow – proceed with caution.

I think Journey is a truly fantastic game. Not just because of the stunning visuals and beautiful score, nor just because of the satisfying gameplay and the groundbreaking style of multiplayer, in which you can be randomly paired up with another player with whom your only method of interaction is little chirps and whose username will not be revealed until you have completed the game. All these things served to really immerse me in the world of the game, setting me up to have a deep emotional response to the ending.

I have a very different interpretation of the final events of the game than Susan, and in fact the frustration I felt at the end is actually something I credit the game for. The game begins with a ball of white light flying across the sky and then zooming across the sand, followed directly by my character coming into frame. From there, I take control and set off. Throughout the course of the game, I kept asking myself, “Where am I going?” and “Why am I going there?”. I was constantly heading towards a column of light at the top of the tallest mountain I could see, simply because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. If I wanted to progress, that’s the direction I needed to head in. Along the way, I saw cave paintings depicting others like me taking the same journey towards the top of the mountain, and I encountered what I later interpreted to be the graves of many of my people who did not make it to the end. As I grew closer and closer to my goal, the harsh winds pushing against me made it harder and harder to press forward, no matter how hard I pushed the left analog stick up in futility and growing despair. Sure enough, I eventually could no longer move at all and finally collapsed to the ground, surely to be lost forever in the snow. Going through this part of the game while connected to another player added immensely to the emotional impact I experienced, as I was forced to watch my companion collapse just before me. We had been through so much and come so far. I wanted to help him or her stand up, but was not strong enough, and I wanted to call out in reassurance, but my chirps had become more and more faint. Ultimately there was no way to succeed; the journey was simply too difficult.

As the screen, my vision, faded to white, I thought, “Is this the end of the game?”. At this point, I felt despair that I was unsuccessful in my quest, especially since I thought I would never know what the point was. Then, after a few agonizingly long seconds, my vision returned. In front of me were 6 figures, similar to me but much taller and clad in all white. Were these the gods of this world? It appeared so, because they seemed to resurrect me and give me a great deal of power, such that I could fly freely the rest of the way to the top. After facing certain death, the brightly lit, waterfall-filled environment atop the mountain was incredibly beautiful, and I was so relieved that I would get to see my goal after all. While it is certainly open to interpretation, I do not think that it was heaven, as this was the very same peak I saw at the beginning of the game – I had not left the physical world. Instead, it seemed to me that the Gods had rewarded my efforts despite my failure and given me a second chance and a helpful push. At first, this made me feel similarly to Susan, and I wished that the game had in fact ended when I collapsed in the snow. After all, didn’t this lessen the significance of all my effort?

As I finally reached the very top and the source of the light I had been following all this time, I was burning with curiosity at what I would find. But as I walked into the light, the screen faded to white again. After a few seconds, my view had zoomed out to show a white ball of light, just like the one I saw at the very beginning of the game. After entering the light at the top of the mountain and then seeing this small ball of light shoot out of it, I believed it to be me, though I no longer had control over my movements. The ball of light travelled back the way I had come, through each environment I had traversed, eventually reaching the desert where I began. In fact, it now seemed to me that it was doing exactly what the first ball of light had done, because when it reached its destination and landed in the sand, obscured from my view by the very same hill I had first seen the mountain from, I was prompted to start a new Journey by pressing the “Start” button. Doing so began the game again, no different than the first time.

What did this mean? It seemed that there was nothing at the top of the mountain after all, at least nothing I was able to see. Instead, reaching there simply sent me back to the beginning to do it all over again, still without a purpose. Worse yet, it was now clear that I had taken this journey before, as the first ball of light must have been me as well, on its way back from the mountain. I was angry, but not at the game or its creators – I was angry at the Gods. The thing is, while I am indeed an atheist, this is a fictional world, and I have no problem with the presence of gods in it, much in the same way that I find stories such as those of Greek mythology highly entertaining. Instead, I was mad that they seemed to have sent me, and countless others of my kind, on a pointless journey, one whose end was merely its own beginning. I followed the path depicted in the cave paintings and toward the beacon they seemed to have set for me, believing that there was a meaning behind it. But by following their plans for me blindly, I ended up stuck in an endless loop of struggle and death, never living for myself. The only way to escape this cycle would be to reject their plan and follow my own; perhaps I would explore the rest of the world, but I would never sacrifice my life to reach the top of that mountain again.

Now, I certainly am not saying that my atheism is tied to a rejection of any god’s plan for me, as I do not believe that such a being exists in the first place. Nonetheless, Journey reminded me why I do not seek a diving meaning or purpose to my life, choosing instead to live for my own reasons and strive for my own goals. After all, that is all I can count on. Even if a god or gods do exist, I have no way of knowing with any clarity what their plan for me is, nor could I know if it is worth following. All I can do is live a good life to the best of my ability, and try to make an impact on the world so that I may live on a little longer in people’s memories. I do not claim to know the intentions of the game’s creators, but I do know what my own interpretation of it was, and in art, that can be just as important. Journey made me contemplate life and death, and it put me through an emotional experience which reinforced my views on these subjects. With no dialog or written text, it is up to the player whether or not to question the gods and the journey itself, much in the same way that people on earth must form their own opinions about life and death. While many people may disagree with me or not even consider the game in this way, I think that by encouraging this type of thinking, Journey is a true success.

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