As we talked about a lot a couple of weeks ago in class, empathy in games is something developers have steadily made a move towards in the last years. Depending on every single players personal use of games, whether they want to have fun, play competitively or describe themselves as hardcore gamers, empathic games done right can have a mesmerizing effect on people.
Ask a writer what a story is – and he`ll probably go on a two-minute rant on how he sees stories, before concluding that everything is story. Every single detail, choice, emotion and so many more variables effect story, therefor one could say that everything in life is story. In the entertainment industry, audience is in desperate need for something to grasp onto so that they can take a break from this exhausting thing called life. Video games have long been viewed as a sort of “escape from reality”, and a fun one in that case. Several big-name games like Call of Duty, FIFA and League of Legends gain much attention for the addictiveness they create and it’s a testament to how fun it can be. Instead of talking about games like that, I want to talk about a relatively small indie-project called Journey.
In 2012, Thatgamecompany released Journey and the critical reception it got probably made its creators pinch themselves, with many critics calling it one of the best games made. Many have tried to dissect the true meaning of the plot. Each player starts out at the same spot, in the desert, with ruins resembling a lost or forgotten city, with the main target in the distance, the mountain. The goal is simple, get to the mountain, but the gameplay is an extraordinary journey, pardon the pun, with one of the most beautifully crafted gameplay I have ever played. Each stage delivers a different view of what was here before you, a fallen civilization making you feel small, but often lifting you up through the beauty of the world.
While I was exploring the game, slowly, I saw another character like me on the same path. So, I moved towards the white-robed avatar I saw in the distance, and then I began to communicate with it, through music. And I soon then realized this was another player, and for a level, we discovered the world together, helping each other navigate and soon, for reasons I don’t know, he was gone. I went further and only while I was already emerged and emotionally invested in the game I found another one. And the same thing happened, we helped each other and then we parted ways. Piece by piece, as you assemble this tragic story through imagination, ruins, beasts and puzzles, you really appreciate the fact that you aren’t all alone on this journey. You gain empathy for the people before you, the people you encountered and for the civilization before you. This game might be a metaphor for life, the ups and downs, and the fact that many people don’t see the beauty of life before its too late, fortunately this game gives you a second chance, literally. As the game ends, you get glimpses of other players on the journey, and ID`s of some you shared the trek with, leaving you with thoughts on how they`ll cope with the story but also happy for their journey. Fittingly, you spawn at the beginning, and there`s a good chance you`ll play it again, it`s only 2-3 hours long.