For a long time, I have been a part of the “games are art” crowd, and wore my membership like a badge of pride. While games can be silly and fun, there’s a huge spectrum of experiences that only video games can currently provide. No other medium is so good at putting the consumer directly inside of the narrative, and while the games industry as a whole has had some widely-publicized missteps, there’s no doubt in my mind that games will eventually join films and novels in the realm of glorified media.
This hope doesn’t mean that I want all games to be serious. Just as films that buck the norm can get the spotlight at the Oscars (Hello, Mad Max: Fury Road), games that eschew the current trends can often garner critical acclaim. We live in a world where games are more easily produced than ever before — and while this means that there is a lot of sludge churned out by digital markets like Steam on a regular basis — it doesn’t mean that more games is a bad thing.
Take Journey, for example, a game created by the same art director as the recently released Abzû. Journey is a game that I go back to once in awhile to remind myself that however bleak things may become, video games are worth fighting for. While I’ve seen Abzû described as a “zen fish simulator,” Journey was the original meditative experience for me.
Before I started zen trucking with Euro Truck Simulator or finding a strange catharsis in Dark Souls, Journey managed to pack a punch that knocked me off my feet. At first, the game doesn’t feel like it’s anything special. The visuals are pretty, but I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to connect with a game that had no dialogue. It almost seemed like a game that was artsy for the sake of art, but one thing which the Journey team never lost sight of was how it would feel to play the game.