Journey and The Multiplayer Co-op

I don't often play games with others, and I very rarely play games with people I don't know -- especially if it's online. After hearing so many horror stories about the vile things people say in Grand Theft Auto Online or Call of Duty and other similar modern first-person shooters in multiplayer matches, I'm happy to just play single player games. Thatgamecompany's Journey was my first experience playing a game with strangers online, and it may be one of the few.

In a mistake that disabled my PS3's internet connection, the first time I played Journey was offline and therefore alone, giving me a different but equally satisfying experience that I will address later. For my second playthrough, I fixed my PS3's connection to the internet and started Journey like usual. I encountered a white robed character by the time I reached the second chapter. They led me from symbol to symbol and found the glyphs for me. I already knew where some of them were from my previous playthrough, but I went along since I didn't know how to communicate that I knew how to get these things.

This person would both rush ahead and hang back for me to catch up. With their white robe, they could fly around and then recharge their scarf before taking off again. Without that ability, I could only fly for short periods of time and then catch up to this person who could regenerate my scarf. They flew ahead to what I thought was the edge of the map. There they stood by a waterfall of sand, pressing the O button to send out a symbol above their head until I got close. They ducked past the sand and revealed an Ancient Glyph to me. As soon as I got it, they took off again, and I followed as close as I could.

I quickly found myself in what felt like a mentor - mentee relationship. This person was eager to lead me to find everything in the game and I just had to keep up. I relied on them to show me how to best reach difficult to grab symbols and to avoid the aggressive Guardians that threatened to rip our scarves. The most poignant moment for me was when we went sandsurfing together with a sunset in the background painting everything orange.

We stuck out the game as long as we could, but before the end I had to stop playing. This was the moment I was most frustrated I couldn't put my feelings into words. I pressed O three times -- not too fast and not too slow -- before I quit the game. Thank you, stranger. We'll never know who the other was, but thank you for your guidance.

In one of my subsequent playthroughs, I encountered a fellow red robed fellow in the Tunnels. (After encountering so many helpful white robed players, donning the white clothes is too much pressure for me!) Neither of us guided the other, but we would occasionally try to ping each other when finding a symbol or ancient glyph. We weren't walking close together like I often did with white robed players, but we didn't stray too far from each other. Suddenly, a Guardian awoke and was coming toward us. Like I remembered doing with other players, I darted toward the left side and pressed O quickly. I managed to get out of the way fast enough to stay out of the Guardian's sight, but my fellow traveler did not, and we frantically ran in different directions. I didn't see them again (and if I met them later in a different level, I had no way of knowing), but I knew they were somewhere in the Tunnels. Occasionally I would press O to indicate, "Hey, I'm still here! Where are you?" but I never heard or saw a reply.

Journey's multiplayer experience is executed perfectly. Thatgamecompany has said the multiplayer aspect of the game can be compared to hiking with strangers along the same trial. You move at a different pace, but when you come across each other, you at least nod and acknowledge them. You might not be experiencing the journey at the same time as each other, but you're still having a shared experience.

On the opposite side, I also had a fulfilling single player experience. In this case, instead of lighting up with joy upon finding someone else journeying, I felt less alone when I completed a chapter and had a brief encounter with the elder characters. They were much larger than me and wore white instead of red, but in this first playthrough they were all I knew about the people like me. By the time I reached the mountain and trekked through the snow alone, feeling the controller rumble each time I limped a step forward, I was lonely. There was this huge expanse but it did not appear inhabited except by creatures that wanted to attack me. When I fell and everything turned white, these elders appeared in front of me as a group for the first time. I had never been sure if it was this one white figure or a group of them, but seeing so many people similar to me wordlessly encouraging me forward invigorated me. I skyrocketed forward and flew through the mountain's clear skies to the top to meet the others. And then I cried because the experience was so beautiful thanks to the beautiful art, Austin Wintory's beautiful music, and the simplistically beautiful story.

For someone who is often quite lonely in reality, I'm not someone who seeks the kind of interaction people get from online multiplayer video games. I still prefer that first playthrough alone in Journey over the co-op playthroughs because that's the kind of gamer I am. However, each multiplayer experience I've had with Journey has been meaningful to me. It makes me feel like I've forged some friendships with new people even though I have no idea who they are. For all of you people still playing Journey and guiding new people from start to finish, I salute you.