The Game Tourist E01: The Magical Ascent of Journey

The game tourist of Journey (Thatgamecompany 2012, 2015) comes to visit an extraordinary, magical world that is permeated by vibrant colours and alluring vistas. To travel this world not only means to participate in a plot scenario that has the player (and the unnamed character) move the way of life towards a final goal but also fuels her desire to document this journey and to foreground this world’s creativity and conceptual openness through her own works of art. 

Journey can be described as an epiphany moment for the player, who fills in the gameworld’s indeterminacies through world knowledge and life experience. As such, the game means many different things to people with diverse backgrounds, but guides this involvement through its plot structure. The Hero’s Journey—Joseph Campbell’s famous monomyth structure—has the protagonist and player move through interrelated steps (the call to adventure, the crossing of the first threshold, the road of trials, meeting enemies and friends, the ultimate boon, and return—to name only a few) and confronts him with wish-fulfilments of unconscious desire.


The game tourist moves like a flaneur through this world, a voyeur who both observes and reflects on the gameworld. She is thrilled by the pleasures that await and aims to capture this beauty through photographic creations—for Journey’s gameworld comes in the shape of an art gallery that offers a plethora of potential shots, perspectives and vistas to the player.


At its outset, the game sets the player in a vast desert that buries a bygone civilization. The landscapes are set in shimmering yellow and brown tones and invite panoramic shots. One may ponder about who lived here and why they vanished—and with this in mind capture the perfect moment that unites player movement with the vastness of this world.

The game goal becomes clear once the mountain is framed by the virtual camera. The route there represents a life journey that is different for each and every one of us, as we fill in the incomplete space with actions and imaginings that connect the virtually enacted to our respective life experience.

It is a sublime moment to witness the mountain, in which the player may feel insignificant in regards to the greater picture.


On the route towards the mountain top, the player encounters various companions, one of which is potentially a different player whom we me online. There is an initial choice here, where the player may decide to embark on this journey in companionship—to witness its vibrantly shaded gameworld together with another human being—or to walk the route as a lone wanderer.

To capture such extraordinary moments brings different kinds of pleasures with it. It not only documents important plot events (kernels and even satellites) and brings them into specific coherence but also helps memorise one’s narrative experience in the gameworld. At the same time, it fuels reflections on this world and may help the player gain insights into her self by comparing the fictionally enacted to her life experience—or even re-enacting, role-playing it, as far as the game mechanics allow it.

On closer inspection, the player’s experience in and of the gameworld (and her heroine’s journey) come close to a repressed wish-fulfilment buried in the depths of the unconscious. These repressed neuroses differ from player to player, and may include the wish for companionship, the desire for beautiful moments in life, purpose, solitude, confusion, clarity in action, happiness and the struggle for it, and so on.

At the centre of the experience lies the player’s interaction and communication with an additional player who may join online. How they treat one another is of central concern to the player’s affectual disposition in Journey and experience of meaning—of friendship or love. To capture these moments thus comes close to a family portrait or those pictures with close friends or lovers that are unforgettable and culminates in the ecstasy of riding a golden world.

This friendship is tested in the dark parts and unground regions of the gameworld, where the players face a series of trials and encounter enemies. To survive these moments together fuels their bond of friendship—when they may find their philoi (in the Aristotelian sense of the term).

This blurred experience of the underworld regions comes to a close when the players find their way out of the underground mazes only to realise that the most dangerous parts of the journey still await them.

The wanderer may pause his journey and capture the one or other picture of the route. Snow now encapsulates the gameworld and the middle parts of the mountains. It is a route of ups and downs, of confusion and disarray, but also of friendship and the excitement of life’s beautiful moments, whether these result in emotions of frenzy or reflection.

The wanderers are close to death, and the storm has intensified … they die as lovers, friends, enemies, lone wanderers, companions … these inevitable moments are, maybe, what makes life valuable. What follows is their resurrection and the frenzy of ascending the upper parts of the mountain until the player character disappears on its peak.

The game tourist, then, captures these moments and makes them her own through virtual photography and documentation.