Journeying to Eden

Garbed in an elegant robe and trailing scarf, my delicate legs danced nimbly over the dunes. Sunlight pierced through the scarred peak of the distant mountain and blazed onto the desert sand so the expanse turned into a sea of golden embers. There, in the midst of a crumbling ruin, I saw it—another creature like myself. I froze in curiosity, watching this newcomer pirouette with a human-like intelligence that belied any possibility of an NPC. Excitement spurred me forward, and we finally came face-to-face, sunlight framing our identical silhouettes against the sky. Then, wordlessly, we continued our pilgrimage to the mountain, side-by-side. I dubbed my steadfast companion “Long Scarf.” I knew that this was not their first trek through Journey’s deserts. But that’s all I knew, and all I’d ever know. Journey doesn’t redefine online co-op play so much as it re-focuses it. Apart from the wordless chirping between cloth-covered avatars, no communication is permitted. The default avatar is genderless and species-less, as ambiguous as my companion’s true identity. There’s no customization in Journey—no way to pick my gender, height, voice, colour, or even who I partner with. However, special designs on the robes of second-and-third-time pilgrims are reserved for guides who have survived the quest and willingly return to assist new players. And yet I turn away. I stand on Eden’s edge, chirping out in hopes that perhaps Long Scarf will answer. Long Scarf was my guide. We were instantly inseparable, chirping, flying, and dashing through the sands together like lifelong friends. Perhaps the two of us could not be more unalike in the real world, but within the virtual world of Journey we shared the adversity of the great quest ahead of us. We were like Frodo and Sam, wrapped up in something much bigger than ourselves, and all the more dedicated to one another for it. Despite appearances, Journey is not exclusively a co-op game. One can trek to the mountain as easily as two. Functionally, co-op is pointless. Simplistic puzzles don’t require any complex combinations of lever-pulling or button-pushing between teammates. The only real gameplay advantage afforded is that players can boost each other’s scarf powers a bit by chirping or making contact—not game-changers by any means. Unsurprisingly, Journey’s focus on themes, emotions, and beauty makes it less concerned with traditional gameplay elements. In revolutionizing the manner in which players see one another, Journey refocuses co-op on its original intent—support. Specifically, the emotional support between pilgrims makes Journey feel less like a video game and more like an experience. At first glance, Journey appears to be an escapist game built on pure sentimentality, but it encapsulates more feelings than joy, wonder, and peace; there’s a significant portion of the trek that’s darkened by despair, fear, pain, loneliness, and even death. Long Scarf and I bonded as we sand-surfed, probed ancient ruins for power-ups, and bantered in gibberish. But we bonded most during darker times. In the midst of a punishing blizzard, hardly able to make headway against the tormenting winds, we huddled together as our scarves were ripped to shreds and chirped weak words of assurance and encouragement to each other. Within a minute, we both froze to death—I collapsing just seconds behind Long Scarf—as scripted by the game. Scripted or not, I believe Long Scarf would have willingly frozen alongside me. I’d already watched my companion dive into the searchlight of a hungry monster, taking serious damage in a vain effort to save me. Despite knowing each other for only two hours, we were already prepared to virtually die for one another. Why? The word tumbled around my mind. I’m reminded of the three criteria necessary for the universal appeal of art laid out by Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts. The book suggests that there should be a portrayal of (1) Eden in its original glory, (2) Eden that...