‘Journey’ Retrospective: A Meditative Experience

Journey

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.

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I’m Fine: On ‘Actual Sunlight,’ ‘Depression Quest,’ & Isolation

Illustration by Istvan Banyai for The New Yorker
Illustration by Istvan Banyai for Depression Quest

[Trigger warning: Depression and suicidal thoughts.]

Everyone has their own story to tell when it comes to depression. While most understand the broad overall idea of what depression is and what it isn’t, depression is intensely personal for everyone who has it. Clinical depression is a mental illness that isolates a person in every way that it’s possible to be isolated. Depression takes away so many aspects of what being a human is. Our ability to connect with others, our ability to empathize, our ability to feel, and to be able to communicate those feelings are all swept away when depression digs its claws in.

Depression—particularly when it veers toward the suicidal end of the spectrum—can feel like you’re the only person on earth. My depressive episodes aren’t exactly typical, since I have more than just depression to contend with in my mind, but when they hit, they hit hard. There are some video games I’ve played that really encapsulate the feeling of depression. I’ve already waxed poetic about why I think Dark Souls is an incredible analogy for depression, but there are other games more directly focused on depression and suicide.

For me, the color drains out of the world, and I begin to experience things differently, as if an invisible filter has come between me and everyone else. It’s not that the color has gone or there’s anything wrong with my vision. I know it’s still there, but everything becomes muted. I watch people laugh and live their lives, knowing that they have problems too, but struggling to understand why they’re not as bogged down as I am. Maybe the problem’s with me. Maybe I’m just broken.

I begin to feel more alone.

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5 Free App Games That Are Unexpectedly Charming

Avengers Academy

There are games that I play on my phone to relax, but then there are games that are decidedly not relaxing. I don’t know what the best way would be to classify them. Satisfying? For me, the fun thing about mobile games is just how varied they can be. Yes, there are going to be a million “Match 3” games in the Play Store at any given time, but if when you’re wading through the “Most Popular” lists, you can sometimes strike gold.

Special shoutout to Lifeline, which I played recently, but won’t be gracing this list since it’s not free. If you’re curious about what it’s like to talk to a young astronaut who has crash-landed on a planet, then you can check out Teddie’s article. That’s how I found out about it and what piqued my interest. So, without further ado!

Avengers Academy (iOSAndroid)

Yes, there are corporate cash grabs on this list. While a lot of mobile games that have popular IP used in them are just blatant shovelware garbage, Avengers Academy hits enough of the right buttons that I’m not mad at it. In terms of gameplay, there isn’t any. This game is more of a time management test than anything else. You can assign your students to certain missions, but the missions take different amounts of time. As you play more, you’ll get better at managing your time and your resources. There are still the cash grabs where they prompt you to buy certain heroes or outfits using gems, but they’re ignorable for the most part. Plus, I got Miss Marvel and Captain America already, so until you make Hawkeye available, my money’s staying where it is.

This is a game that’s for Marvel fans and only Marvel fans who are interested in a university AU. Consider it Avengers fanfiction, and it’s much funnier as a game. To add to that fanfiction feel, they have the characters flirt with each other on and off and the game has announced that there will be a romance simulation option, which should add at least a little more gameplay. In my mind, Marvel missed an amazing opportunity to make a Marvel version of The Sims, but you can’t win ‘em all.

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5 Free App Games That Will Help You Chill Out

Path to Luma

When I need to relax, I don’t tend to turn to my computer games immediately. Maybe I’m too used to sitting at my computer and getting my ass kicked by Dark Souls to immediately connect the computer with relaxation. Either way, I’ve been playing a lot of Android games recently. There’s been a boom of free games that are fantastic, and I’ve been turning to them to find my calm in a very busy world.

The beauty of mobile games is in the name. They’re mobile, you can access them almost anywhere, and so long as your battery lasts, you can chill out with your phone. My phone is with me all the time. I’m never without it, so having easy access to my relaxation tools has been amazing for me. Here are the ones that I’ve been playing the most lately. Best of all? They’re all free (except for one on iOS).

Path to Luma (iOS, Android)

I never thought that I would ever find a game that feels like a simulator of Le Petit Prince, but that’s what this game is. The game is about a cute little person on really tiny planets with a scarf that billows as you solve puzzles. The game will hold your hand too much at first, but when you get into the main game, it’s both beautiful and relaxing. For me, some of the beauty of the game is probably tied to how much I love Le Petit Prince, but it’s a neat little puzzle game that makes me smile whenever I open it.

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Tackling the Tough Topics: 10 Games That Champion Empathy

Sunset

The idea that games are escapist fantasies has been around for a long time. Before the technology to make games was so accessible to people, it may have been true. Now, however, we find ourselves in a privileged time where people can use games to tell emotional stories that weren’t possible in the days where the most complex stories were “Eat dots, don’t die” or “Find the Princess.” There are games available now that tackle the darkness of the human condition, delving into the mind of a man in the middle of a war zone who must wrestle with moral ambiguity or following the lives of children who are haunted by their abusive parents. Games are growing up—throwing off the labels of being purely for entertainment and creating rich experiences to help us grow along with them. 

The games on this list can be fun, but at their roots, I don’t think they’re meant to be. They’re meant to entertain in the same way that dramas and horror movies entertain us. Games are an incredible vehicle for creating empathy. The fact that we have to play the game means that we’re already involved just by picking up a controller, and when you switch over from your regular game fare to topics that naturally drag people down, the results can be both amazing and conducive to giving a person an existential crisis.

Just so we’re 100% clear: this list will be spoiler-heavy and contains a lot of triggering topics. Trigger warnings include general abuse, child abuse, homophobia, drug abuse, death, depression, suicide, and violence. This list also only includes games that I have played, so it won’t have That Dragon, Cancer on it.

All set? Okay, let’s go.

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