How Journey Changes Everything and Nothing

UC Berkeley linguistics students explore the limitations and the potential of Journey's multiplayer communication system.

Journey is a game of subliminal constructs. Its world serves as an artistic interpretation of basic human emotions--comfort, curiosity, and wonder embrace the warm hues of an arid climate while cold, spartan lands conspire with a seemingly insurmountable feat to suffocate players with fear, despair, and isolation. Its characters are shadows, a reflection of humanity, beings that are relatable in structure, but somewhat foreign in movement; their chirps are oblique sounds that conceal who or what they really are.

It's the vagaries produced by this mode of communication that are of particular interest. To be sure, the alliance of strangers in Journey enhances its intrinsic emotional characteristics--loss, triumph, fear, and even frustration have greater impact when shared with another being, regardless of status. But is there more to glean from the corresponding chatter that occurs amid Journey's windswept, decrepit vistas than what initially appears? Is it a language? Is gender a factor? Is it even complex enough to use as a model for games beyond Journey?

A class of UC Berkeley undergraduate and graduate students tackled these and other topics by viewing a series of short clips (generated and presented by GameSpot) featuring significant exchanges between players at various points in the game. The first video highlighted a very real problem in a virtual world: What happens when one player doesn't engage the other? An obvious answer is that normal social concerns, such as shyness or just plain lack of manners, still pervade communication even when presented in its most basic form. The transition into physical gestures, much like a bird, when audio cues no longer work was also a surprising side effect of Journey's limitations.

First Contact

From the students' perspective, the first clip served as an introduction, provoking questions about Journey's characters and mechanics and the benefit of playing cooperatively. The second clip illustrated more frequent, but scattered, exchanges that highlighted an interesting quirk in Journey's version of first contact--a momentary standoff where participants size each other up and discover how and why chirps happen.

Let's Go

As bonds form in Journey, so does a more formal use of communication. The third clip revealed the first instance of a goal-based conversation, albeit a foolish one, that developed out of a very basic form of chirps that probably didn't carry any significance without a gesture to add some indication what was about to occur. Also of note: When one player recognized the folly, there was an effort to bring attention to a secondary objective by using repeated, short chirps--one of the most frequent and easily identifiable uses of Journey's communication system. The students also made note of the need for positive and negative tones to establish commonalities that are essential for language.

A Breakthrough

Outside of its bond-forming qualities, the most stirring argument for Journey's implementation of sounds as its primary interaction tool is the articulation of specific needs. The following segment was a primary example--one player not only stopped the other from proceeding through the level, but also conveyed a precise request. This was also the first instance of replication: players attempting to map phrases like "thank you" and "you're welcome" to Journey's chirps via syllable counts. But were the students convinced that this could develop beyond trophy acquisition and similarly straightforward goals into more complex exchanges?

Small Talk

There was some agreement that common goals create a space for chirps to exist in a meaningful way, but what was the significance of players chatting without an explicit task at hand? Was this communication, or was it a metagame that formed to fill what was admittedly a slower-paced slice of the game. Additionally, from that, was it possible to identify gender? It's frequently cited that males are highly competitive in gaming scenarios, so could we infer that the desire to create a "bigger" sound was representative of often-generalized gender characteristics?

A Broken Bond

The final clip was selected as a display of how communication and emotion intertwine in Journey, specifically in reference to sadness--at the end of the clip, a player musters two solemn chirps, lamenting the loss of the other player within the gameworld. At this point, it was clear to the class that much of the interpretation was merely a projection of the thoughts and language abilities of the player holding the controller at the time. The session concluded with several questions posed to the students. How much of the chirping is deliberate communication? How much of it is instinct? Is this more like the way babies talk?

Want the latest news about Journey?

Journey

Journey

Follow

Discussion

113 comments
scanevaro
scanevaro

Very interesting article.

in fact, i think ill be GREAT to translate it to other languajes. my native languaje is spanish so i had some trouble understanding.

oh yeah.. and this colleage people, yeah, i didnt bother on understading them but just because of some sound problems.

keep up this kind of articles!

Juana-La-Loca
Juana-La-Loca

For me, one of the many interesting things about Journey was that it was in fact impossible to draw any conclusions about my companion regarding traits such as gender, age, etc., and the fact that it really didn't matter. In retrospect I realize that I didn't spend a single second trying to place my little friend in such categories. I simply saw her/him as a fellow being, as a companion on my journey. Sort of made me wish real life was more like that, that we'd stop making such a big deal of peoples skin-color, gender, sexuality etc. etc.

DemonsWrath11
DemonsWrath11

Hahaha college students, trix are for kids :P. Right off the bat they assume they know everything. I did like a few of them though like the red-headed girl, I forget her name. She and some others stated that it might be more than just chirps which is true. You can interperit a person's emotion in a video game through noises, gestures, body language and so on.I have played games before and said not a word to my counterpart other than hello for an hour to an hour and a half and neither did they and I could tell we both knew exactly what the other was saying.Also people seem to be bypassing the obvious point of this game; it's an art gallery with a controller and new experience. Experience it for the beauty it is and stop poking holes in it lol.

motorxd
motorxd

a multiplayer game in which I cannot play with friends. call it a social experiment, call it beauty in its most basic form, I'll call it pointless.

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

I'll have to find time to go through this one, at least deserves some attention. @Vince21C I understand how you try to defend you point of view, but trowing direct insults makes you loose all credibility. Just ignore that guy or the comment section will overload with 1-to-1 harsh arguments.

UnsaidWarning
UnsaidWarning

Smart College kids have no right to comment on things with emotion involved.

cool_modine
cool_modine

Aww, college kids are so cute when they attempt to explain their thoughts.

Eliaseen
Eliaseen

yea very cute game , love it ,

killip
killip

Loved this game. Best thing I've played in a long time.

Vince21C
Vince21C

@bletwin I don't go to art galleys cause that's not my thing but I don't insult the people who enjoy them nor the people who took the time to create them. In honest truth there is beauty in all things, it's just a matter of whether or not your perspective is in sync. and if u want to talk shyt about the game (to protect blah blah blah) go ahead. I'm not stopping you. Just don't be surprised whn someone returns the favour that's all. I for one enjoyed it and I wouldn't mind a few more games like these so if u are someone like ChillingSky expect someone like me, to reply.

Vince21C
Vince21C

@ChillingSky I've been suspended for fist fights and nearly expelled b.c I came close to smashing a kids face in. I've also lived in a foster family b.c of it, just an 'fyi'. I talk shyt to ppl who I think are shyt and if it's real life. One warning. If yr too stupid to take a hint, lights out. Though in retro spec I've never had a fist fight over a video game. To be fair though I did troll the shyt out of u so it's fine if u think that way. W.e makes u sleep at night right? o and if my insults meant nothing to u, Why u replying douche? That's what I thought so stfu

ChillingSky
ChillingSky

@Vince21C Is that all you can do? Hurl insults like douche and puss1y around? FYI your insults mean nothing to me, you mean nothing to me, you are just a insignificant little child. I love the way you are like the typical internet tough guy, when in reality the bullies are taking your lunch money everyday and giving you a bog wash lol. gtfo kid, you lost several comments ago, the more you say the more of an idiot you make yourself appear lol (actually please keep going, it makes me lol at you)

CruiserCaptain
CruiserCaptain

Nice article. I'd like to see more like this, some of the side subjects and cultural effects of gaming; discussion of game mechanics and interplayer relations. Hearing a review and upcoming game information is nice,but it's also pleasing to know there is more depth to some of these subjects than just "how cool it looks" or "how lame" a game is. Hopefully a game like this, and future elaborations of game mechanics could lead to the truly new generation of game play we're all waiting for. And as for Journey: GREAT game. Once you find yourself becoming a guide and no longer just hunting for your own goals, it's amazingly rewarding. Everytime I reach those finally quiet moments on the mountain side with some one I have helped from the first or second stage, after finding everything possible and helping them get as many trophies, I find myself equally pleased everytime. To be able to share this type of game expirence with different people is surprisingly fulfilling. Especially when you are lucky enough to find someone on their first or second playthrough, when you can tell they apprciate the guide. It's great to have some co-op that really is co-op.

bletwin
bletwin

@Vince21C Thanks for that extremely low level commentary, dude, but I don't think I said anything like "you have to agree with me". Just because you imagined me saying that, that doesn't mean I actually said it, lol, because as far as I am concerned, Journey fans, along with fans of every other stupidly pretentious and boring "art game" are free to babble on about whatever they want. I do think that the artform, as well as the impressionable experts producing games and the impressionable critics criticizing them, need to be swayed away from this bull. I simply value art-games like Burnout and Halo and Civilization and Half Life far more than these pretentious, simplistic so-called "art-games," so I am wary of the degeneration of the artform and want to protect it by posting in the comments pages on Gamespot (lol).

NS_Sonic204
NS_Sonic204

Vince, Chillingsky, both of you shush. Chilling, you're being a jackass. Vince, you're not getting your point across to him so give up. And Chilling, if you don't like this game, then do kindly go away and stop tormenting the fans.

Fritzzland
Fritzzland

I REALLY don't care about multiplayer.

Vince21C
Vince21C

@ChillingSky Only puss1es care wat other people think and how many thumbs up he or she gets. Go ahead, thumbs me down. At the end of the day though I wouldn't even rmb a douche like yourself

ChillingSky
ChillingSky

@Vince21C That will will why all your childish comments got downrated then and then called me a douche?? Lol. Perhaps you're the one to gtfo kid? Anyway I am done with you, I could get into trouble talking to kids this much so let's just let you think what you want to think before more toys get thrown from your pram lol

valent1n
valent1n

awesome game, sound background is way beyond anything else i've seen; BUT (the big but is here dont worry) all the game developers should and always should do researches in what they try to implement, remember that Spore game was made based on scientific research on how primordial animal, and current ones, are conducting verbal/non-verbal interactions. good job Gamespot, a very fine job you've did with this article, and hopefully the developers of the game can see this. GG guys

DreamorDie
DreamorDie

A guy who plays Demon's Souls & Dark Souls, what a champ! But really fascinating clips, it's interesting to watch them decompose each aspect of communication with this game's raw format as the shadows travel through this vast enigmatic world together while the shadows themselves are the epitome of mystery in this setting. It creates a sense of distance but relative empathy and ambition among the players. Demon's Souls and Dark Souls have these same genuine traits, but the worlds I would say are more ominous and sadistic geared towards shaping the player into adapting and evolving to combat this brutality whereas this world in Journey is refreshing yet overwhelming in feeding human desire to seek answers and a definition all the while being completely ambiguous and free. My convoluted 2 cents. ;P

ahpuck
ahpuck

I was going to read this article, but I didn't. So, I decided not to leave a comment.

AkhilAnilkumar
AkhilAnilkumar

Journey looks like a feel good relax and play at your own leisure type of a game...it got good ratings too.

GryphonICD
GryphonICD

Rather looking forwards to playing this game. It always struck me as some form of relaxing...well...journey, the same kind of effect that has you walking between quests in Skyrim so you can relax in the scenary and watch as the world about you revolves. Afraid to say though that this artical switched my brain off very quickly due to the pretentious drivel. If you wish to treat something as a work of art, don't attempt to lead people by the nose. Interpretation is a thing of individuality as anyone knows, and each person will find their own 'journey'.

Vince21C
Vince21C

I think they are just trolls or fanboys that are jealous that they don't hav a PS3, still think the console has no good games now do you... though to be fair I think this game should be available for all consoles Anyways my pre-order went through and I just played it. People who are talking sht about it hav obviously NOT played it. That or they hav insecurities issues that prevent them from admitting that this was a pretty awesome game ***cough ChillingSky cough cough***...

NS_Sonic204
NS_Sonic204

What's with all the naysayers? Have you people even played the game?

CheeseRa
CheeseRa

Gosh, I didn't realize there were so many close-minded users. Guess that's what happens when you're born too late. You think competition and challenge are the only things that matter in interactive entertainment and your little brain isn't developed enough to understand some of the more complex/abstract concepts in art.

Vince21C
Vince21C

@bletwin Just b.c u can't see something doesn't mean it's not there. And just b.c someone likes something doesn't mean you have to nor does it mean people have to follow your "idea" of what games should or should not be.

musibop
musibop

all that downhill sand surfing all day strangely made me wanna play SSX...m about to download it's demo :p

shalashaska88
shalashaska88

It must be nice to make multiple accounts on gamespot just so that you can keep clicking thumbs up your own comments. What a loser.

106473
106473

@icetone, it varies depending on what section of the journey you are at. The most I've met is 8 in one journey and I don't even believe I seen all of them.

bletwin
bletwin

@Vince21C Journey is lame, and everyone that likes it needs to be put in their place (a mass grave would be ideal). This art-game bull needs to come to an end ASAP.

Vince21C
Vince21C

@bletwin I lol'd but still... Journey is cool, leave it alone. Tomaytoe Tomatoe

Bulzeeb3088
Bulzeeb3088

@Stiler He was okay. We both made it to the end.

Vince21C
Vince21C

@ChillingSky Why are u still replying? You obviously don't have anything to say considering how weak that statement was. "I don't understand kid lingo" lol. Like u need to take a 101 course to understand the fact that I called you a douchebag who's head is so far up his ass he can't even see the fact that the real "kid" was himself. Either way u just got smacked down by a "5 yr old" gtfo Mr.interactive douche

Fiscaldeal
Fiscaldeal

I feel you need to have the same companion from about the start of the game till the very end to fully appreciate what Journey is. My Journey Buddy was like a brother/sister for ~90 minutes; and I will never know a single thing about that person. Kind of heartbreaking really, but it couldn't have happened any other way. T_T7 to you Journey Buddy. Wherever you are!

bletwin
bletwin

"How Journey Changes Everything and Nothing" This title just screams "for the love of GOD don't read this!" lol.

bletwin
bletwin

@ChillingSky Yeah man, this article is just one giant pretentious joke (which is probably what Journey is as well, considering these are the guys who brought us the utter snorefest known as Flower). It's like a grown man desperately trying to get other people to take his gaming hobby seriously. "Journey is a game of subliminal constructs." "ITZ A SERIOUS WORK OF ART GUYZ." LOL. The whole first paragraph reminds me of the "artspeak" garbage I had to endure back in university.

ChillingSky
ChillingSky

@Vince21C I don't even get what you wrote there, I'm not down with the kid lingo I'm afraid...

Vince21C
Vince21C

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

SeanGrimLink
SeanGrimLink

Journey was awesome truly love it I played the firts time with the same person almost the entire game

ChillingSky
ChillingSky

@Vince21C I hit a nerve lol, that's cute! btw It's not a "game"

BuBsay
BuBsay

Gahhhh, it's moments like these when I wish I had bought a PS3. Any chance of this potentially coming out for PC in the future?

Vince21C
Vince21C

@ChillingSky Nope, u just need to be confident in your manhood to admit that this isn't an ordinary game

ChillingSky
ChillingSky

@Vince21C Ahhh I get it now, you need to have your level of maturity (about 5yrs old) to understand it, that will be why I don't understand it then. Cheers kiddo!

icetone
icetone

wow, you can acutually get lost from the other player?

icetone
icetone

This game looks awesomely intriguing I wonder how many players you can meet, still if only two it looks fun