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LONG BLOG

On journey and destination

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I originally started this blog by saying that it doesn't involve Journey (thatgamecompany/Sony, 2012). But that might have been so very wrong of me to say.

Some months ago, Chris Moyse's comment on how he feels on the ending of a game where the player's work is proven pointless made me think. I ask that you reflect on the games you've liked or disliked as you read this blog.

One oft-repeated phrase in the context of life is "Life is a journey, not a destination." Let's change the context and make it into a question: Do you play video games more for the journey or for the destination? Playing video games is an interactive experience, so that's a statement worth considering, but first: what is the journey and what is the destination?

At first glance, journey could be seen as the moment-to-moment gameplay, and the destination as seeing the end credits. But that's only a part of it.

Seeing the end credits roll is one type of goal, but so are rising up on the leaderboards, whether measured by time (racing), score (shmups) or strokes (golf). Or getting a trophy or an achievement. All events that happen in a blink of an eye. 

Journey is not only the core gameplay loop, it's also the ongoing narrative in noninteractive cutscenes in the form of a reward for having advanced the plot. And sometimes, the journey means just that -- exploration. To seek out new vistas, to go where you have never gone before.

Can one exist without the other in a game that is still worth playing?

A game that isn't about journey but the destination? Even Dragon's Lair (Cinematronics, 1983) and Space Ace (Cinematronics, 1984), with the limited gameplay they had to them, had the animation as the reason to keep playing, and that falls in with my understanding of the journey. But a game that is still a game but the only reason to keep on with it is a goal, self-imposed or otherwise?

I'd think going past finishing a game to completing a game could be a match. I attempted to complete LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (Traveller's Tales/WB, 2013) on Wii U after finishing the story, but the end goal wasn't worth it. The game had little new to show or offer at that point. But even that game still wasn't a match from the start.

A game that isn't about the destination but about the journey? Stanley Parable (Galactic Cafe, 2013). Well that was easy. Of course, given how this game can be interpreted in many different ways, you might disagree.

Just classifying games by whether they rely on the journey or the destination isn't of much help. They would hardly work as Steam tags, as they're ambiguous and not objective in the least. For some the exploration of the game world is enough to make it about the journey. For others, the lack of a narrative would serve the opposite effect.

For example, consider Xenoblade Chronicles X (Monolith Soft/Nintendo, 2015). The main plotline advances only occasionally and many have expressed their distaste for it. If the exploration of the world, the more literal journey, didn't interest the player, that probably was enough to condemn the game to never be finished.

Syberia (Microïds, 2002) is one of my favourite adventure games. Yet, upon finishing it, I didn't continue playing the sequel past the first five minutes despite having the sequel at hand already as I finished the first game. The destination had been reached, and there was no compelling reason to continue, no matter how enjoyable the journey had been.

Back when I was a kid, I used to set half-arbitrary goals for myself in games, expecting something to happen. "If I get more than 1000000 points, then a new type of level will be unlocked. If I finish this loop as well, I will have beaten this game." Of course, nothing of the kind ever happened. But as misguided as these targets were, they're examples of self-set goals, or perhaps milestones.

You probably have set some goals of your own at least sometime. Clearing a game on the hardest difficulty, a no-damage boss run, a one-credit clear, 100% completing a game and so on.

How important are the journey and the destination to you in games? That's for you to decide, as you think over the games you've liked and disliked. Or does this distinction even matter? The comment section is right below, just for you to chime in.

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About Flegmaone of us since 11:34 PM on 01.17.2015

Very much unprofessional writer, don't take anything I write without a truckload of salt.