Τρίτη, 23 Οκτωβρίου 2012

What I think About Stuff-Interpreting Journey

Whoever said Videogames cannot be art?

 
Interpreting Journey Or Grown Nerds Crying

DISCLAIMER: This article presents a subjective interpretation of a highly metaphorical game in a spoiler-heavy fashion. If you’re aiming to ruin your game experience by biasing yourself by reading the following, then go right ahead: It will not make a lick of difference.


I was chilling at a friend’s house this Saturday, looking forward to one of his wife’s masterfully cooked dinners and maybe a couple rounds of Buzz, while shooting the shit. Everything seemed like it was going to be just another weekend night, when all of a sudden, my friend says:

“Hey guys, wanna play Journey?”

“What the fuck’s Journey?” I ask, drawing the puzzled looks of everyone in the room, making me feel like the loneliest silicon-based lifeform in a planetful of Earth Monkeys.

As a result, a controller was thrust into my hands by my grinning buddy, his wife powered up the PS3 and they sat my ass down in front of their huge-ass HD TV so I could play it. I kept trying to crack jokes about how they were going to distract me so they could forcefully remove my liver, but no one paid any attention. For the next few minutes, I felt scared, excited and alone.

And then I woke up in the middle of a desert and I was flying and I was doing great, history-changing shit without having any idea what I was doing and then I think I cried a little

Shut up man, I’m not crying! I just got a perfectly presented narrative in my eye, is all…
Journey made me laugh, made me smile, made me cry without saying ONE GODDAMN WORD. 

Multiplayer was off, so that meant that I crossed the empty, vastly beautiful expanses of the world on my own and marveled like a star-eyed child at the wonders that came to life as I interacted with them.

By the time I had finished the game, it was 3 A.M. and I went home and found that I could not sleep. Journey had slithered up my spine and burrowed in my brain. I hadn’t experienced such a terrifying (yet wonderful) thing since I saw Prometheus, so as a result I sat my ass down and I pondered until I fell asleep from exhaustion.

Naturally, I forgot every single assumption I had made, so I played the game again in my friend’s house last night and it all came back to me, ergo this article was written.

Now, keep in mind that in order to understand this article, you need to play the game. Yes, I will be using screenshots or images as references, but they don’t pack quite as much punch as the game itself. Trust me on this.

First off, let’s start off with the backstory (from what little we can glean from the game itself):

The end of history:

The death of every living thing never looked so pretty.

Right off the bat, the game starts you off in a desert that’s peppered with half-buried remains of an ancient civilization. Great edifices rise from the sand, skeletal remains of a much greater whole that indicated the existence of a civilization that…well, was certain it would be here forever. 

But it’s not. It’s been destroyed, annihilated, reduced to ash by its own folly. Yet traces of it remain. It’s in the middle of this wasteland where Journey begins, introducing us to…

You:

Yes, this is a sort of pun. No, I am not going to apologize for it.

I have chosen to call this character You for two reasons:

  •   It’s a very handy device that allows you to identify with him

  •  He is not one of The People. Therefore, he lacks a name.

You, despite his obvious similarities with The People (the race of beings that built and destroyed the world’s mightiest civilization), is not quite like them. Without taking into consideration his much shorter stature, You is also wearing different-colored robes. This is a very simple device that allows us to identify You as not-quite-one-of-The-People.

You is not one of The People. He does not dress like them, he does not suffer from harm that easily, yet he interfaces with The People’s technology easily, which means that You must have had some sort of training or education, or at the very least some familiarity with it.

Which lead me to the core of my hypothesis:

You is an immortal contruct.

He is a robot, a golem, an automaton or what-have-you that works as a sort of failsafe device, built by The People as a last-ditch resort. He interfaces with The People’s technology by broadcasting informational signals and he is, pretty much, impervious to harm. He also appears not to have any knowledge of their history, which besides serving as a narrative device, also explains that You was not quite finished by the time the end of The People came about.

But who were The People? And where are they in all of this? Surely it must be the white being that You meets during his adventure, right?

No. These are Constructs as well.


We…wait…and…hope…

Journey subtly hints that the disaster has come and gone and that none of The People have survived. From the scattered remains of their technology, to their simplified tapestries, to their information-energy interfaces, it appears that The People are no longer there.
 
Whatever happened, it served to eliminate them, leaving behind only their Informational Constructs and the Patient Ones, as well as You, alive. Journey hints at there being a war, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

So who are the Patient Ones, or better yet: what are they? They sure as hell aren’t of The People, or else you wouldn’t have to interface with them and they wouldn’t have survived the apocalypse. What they are, instead, is computers, or to be more specific, databanks. They are sentient artifacts whose purpose was to store and regulate the flow of information. They were, essentially, the caretakers and overseers of The People, up until they went and blew themselves up.

But how does You fit into all this? Well, the Patient Ones cannot move, can they? They are stone interfaces that obviously cannot interact that well with one another. Hell, they could have been deactivated during the apocalypse, thus rendered inoperable! 

But what if the Patient Ones had a failsafe for that? You obviously was not included in the People’s plans, because hey, they blew themselves up! But what if there was a construct that could survive the disaster and then reach the Patient ones, restoring them from their inactive state?

But wait, there can’t have just been You and the Patient Ones, am I right? I mean, how did The People use their marvelous technology? I’ll tell you how! They did it with…

Informational Constructs:

Dun-dun-dun-dundundundundun!

Let’s stop and think here: You interfaces with flying bits of something that looks like silk. Then he comes in contact with longer strands of silk that either juts out from the ground, or form bridges. Then, he meets long silk tapestries that fly around like manta rays and gradually increase in complexity and capability, all the way up to forming crude trees and hammerhead sharks.

And You uses these thing to…well charge up and fly. He communicates with them by transmitting a brief signal that draws them to him. These things also appear to give You access to other areas in the game and also provide him with the help he needs, by notifying him of danger or pinpointing sources of information.

They also look like clothes. Specifically, like You’s clothes. In fact, we can safely assume that these were worn by The People in their daily life, used in order to allow them to interface with their technology, which means that:

THESE THINGS ARE PUMPED-UP, SEMI SENTIENT I-PODS!

I call them InfoCons and that is how The People interfaced with their technology. These were their mobile phones, I-pods, I-pads, personal computers. They were their clothes, their means of transportation and their means of communication. They were crude, yet mobile, extensions of the Patient Ones and were, essentially, their eyes, ears, mouths and fingers.

But in order to make this image work, we need to look back to…

The People:

 There was life here, once.

What could life have been like, before You’s time? Before a glorious civilization killed itself in an orgy of destruction? Well, kiddies, get yourselves a cuppa tea, sit your sorry asses down and take a deep breath as uncle Kostas tells you:

Imagine shining cities made out of stone, grown from the living rock itself. Imagine people, dressed in great flowing robes whose fabric was alive and near-indestructible and moved with a mind of its own perfectly complimenting their wearer’s movements. 

Imagine libraries as great as cathedrals, their great domes humming with information, each of them transmitting knowledge to and from each other at the rate of a billion billion words a second, this information saturating the clothes of their wearers with power enough to allow them to ignore gravity’s grasp.

Imagine a world where literature can literally give you wings. Or technical manuals that contain the sum of a species’ knowledge, capable of powering cities.

Imagine a world where information is energy and energy is near-impossible to deplete. It is a world that has grown beyond petty, base thoughts and has focused on the advancement of mind and spirit, instead of body. A world where all men are created equal and where the language barriers no longer exists, because communication is handled through the exchange of information between library-cathedrals and info-cons.

It is a world where language and art have grown to a point where they have become mediums rife with meaning, without requiring an extensive vocabulary. Imagine, instead, the history of the world or the entirety of its technical knowledge, all of it compressed to a single page full of ideograms that can be immediately processed and accessed by everyone.

Now imagine that this power has originated from the stars and that one day for a very, very, long time, the stars cease to be.

The wonderful, beautiful culture ceases to be. The Info-cons are still there, but they cannot  function outside the cloud of information-energy of the library-cathedrals. The culture begins to fall apart, the few-remaining sources of power are quickly depleting and suddenly this entire enlightened civilization is driven to the ground.

Because yeah, sure, you can be all high and mighty and omniscient while the electricity’s free, but what do you do when there’s only enough for half of us, huh?

Simple: you wage war on the motherfuckers.

We cannot imagine what The People’s war must have been like, but it must have been great, violent and final. It killed every single one of them, brought the planet to the edge of absolute destruction and obliterated the environment, leaving behind only endless desert.

But then, oh the irony! The stars came back up and the Patient Ones lived again. There was power, there was information, there was peace, but there were no People left. Not anymore.

So what the hell is You supposed to be doing, then? I’ll tell you what, kiddies and better brace yourselves cause this is gonna get depressing…  

You is the caretaker of The People’s history.

 The People and their Legacy…

The first thing you see is a mass graveyard, tombstones jutting out from the sand of a blasted world. Info-cons, buried for God knows how long, swarm around you the minute they hear your voice. Bridges spring into existence, powered by your informational signal and presence.

The world is silent, save where You treads. Life (what is left of it anyway) rises up to meet him, but only after he interacts with it. The very first living drawing you witness is that of a great number of The People, massed in a great big grave.

You’s only purpose is to restore the flow of information between the great hubs where The People’s cities used to be. His sole purpose if to re-activate the technologies that were left dormant and bring the informational ecosystem back to life.

But what happens then? You re-activates the Patient Ones, gets the world running and then…

Then everyone is still dead. The information-energy and the library-cathedrals are still there, but there is no sentient being left to interact with them. There is absolutely no indication in the narrative that You’s quest aims to restore The People and he sure as hell cannot restore the damage.

Instead, he merely gets the world up and running, bringing back a semblance of life into it, but then, after a while, it all stops. The Patient Ones may have been the most powerful processors of the planet, but they sure as hell cannot rebuild a society. They’d need The People for that and The People are no longer there. 

Imagine a world that is lifeless and empty, just bristling with knowledge that is, at the same time, power. Imagine herds of Info-cons flying in the air, broadcasting their songs for the world to hear, only these songs are intended for a world that is devoid of intelligence. Yet the info-cons still sing and the Patient Ones maintain, until…

Until the stars die down again and The People’s artifacts lose their power again and the Patient Ones fall into their deep slumber again and the world is silent again and You is reset to his original purpose: to restore the world until the return of The People over and over until the heat-death of the universe.

An endless loop of sentient beings, preserving the history and marvels of their masters, singing songs of knowledge that no one will ever hear or know.

It’s a beautiful little saga to futility, Journey is…

Addendum:

And here's a playthrough of the game, thankfully without commentary. If you haven't played the game, I highly recommend watching it

 

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