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Life in the Ruins

Katie Williams | 4 Oct 2011 09:00
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Nevertheless, I decided to stick with her. Maybe, like my real-life self, she was simply shy, and didn't quite know how to express herself. She may have been having trouble with the game's controls. Or maybe she was overwhelmed by the vastness of the desert, unsure of where to move next.

So I took charge, floating between the ruins with her trailing behind me like a lost child. Thinking that she may have had trouble solving the puzzles, I attempted to teach her through wordless demonstration. I stood on giant ribbon-flags until they glowed white beneath my feet, then stepped aside to allow my companion a turn. She never tried; she would simply stand, continuing to bark that one note at me, oblivious to my effort.

Journey's beauty lies in its ability to harness the diversity of human personalities to create that profound experience.

I was beginning to feel ridiculous, like an unlistened-to mother at the end of her rope.

So I did what I do in any unpleasant situation: I gave up the fight. I activated flight, attempting an escape by propelling myself across the desert. To my near-horror, this antagonistic personality simply followed, shadowing me with her unbroken, discordant song.

As my avatar landed on sand again, tiredly, I had a sudden thought.

Was I being trolled?

Was this character really less than the unsure, awkward person I'd originally imagined her to be? Did she actually find tormenting me really funny?

And how was she able to antagonize me in a world with no speech, no text, not even names?


These were the significant encounters I had with other players before Journey's beta closed. One was a veritable virtual soulmate, my partner in a gaming experience I'll never forget. The other was, well, more irritating than anything else. How on earth had thatgamecompany made this possible with just two interaction buttons?

In a world without text, we'd been forced to learn how to use our bodies' vocalizations and movements to differentiate ourselves from others. Song could differ greatly from person to person; where one person broke into a whimsical tune, another could baa like a sheep. Jumping indicated cheerfulness, and my circling of my first friend was a way of expressing my enthusiasm, my joy at having found someone else in a world so empty. For so few buttons, there was so much available to allow a player to shape his own story.

Journey itself does not create a profound experience. Its beauty lies in its ability to harness the diversity of human personalities to create that profound experience, altering every player's experience each time they play and with each new player they meet. Both players I'd met, regardless of however sweet or antagonistic their personalities were, had adeptly employed what forms of interaction were available to them, making their mark on the world - and on my narrative experience. Both became a part of an intense story that I'd never anticipated before playing the game, and I was part of theirs.

I still think about my whirlwind friendship, sometimes, and I wonder if I impacted her game enough that she thinks of me too.

Katie Williams is a worldly traveller, author of two dozen unfinished speculative fiction novels, connoisseur of Japanese candy, and fan of hyperbole. Her blog is at Alive Tiny World.

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