Josh Mattingly of Indie Statik once said indie games are a form of artistic expression. They resort to a sort of surreal out-of-the-box approach lacking in an industry that all too often fears departure from convention. When arguments are made in support of video games being an art form, many cite the titles of the indie developer known as Thatgamecompany. Their most recent title, Journey, is the experience of a lifetime. Beyond colorfully engaging visuals and solid gameplay, the struggles and characterization of the protagonist provides possibly the deepest understanding of the human spirit.
Journey follows a lone traveler standing atop a sand dune who sees a shooting star cross the horizon and land on a mountaintop. This traveler is drawn by the star, setting out to find it. Though a relatively short game, the titular journey is an arduous challenge to the hero’s perseverance. They gain support from other players also traveling along this journey, but traveling through deserted ruins and up a rugged mountaintop proves to wear down the hero. The ending is rather unclear, but it is probably one of the most uplifting endings in an industry that leaves loose ends for potential sequels. A better title for this game would be Catharsis, because you should get ready for a lot of it.
What makes this silent protagonist so fantastic is that it shows the universal application of the hero on the journey (the protagonist does shout/sing, but these aren’t defined words). The traveler has no clear cut gender, race, nationality, or language, and just about every physical feature is obscured by way of the character’s robes. The ruins that dot the landscape appear to be defined by no known culture, and yet they seem almost familiar. The goal of reaching the star is a very abstract goal as well. This suggests that heroes are not something that exists in the tradition of a single country or culture, that the desire to see the hero succeed is not dependent upon their gender or race, and that these things are necessary in being able to empathize with the hero. It all comes down to the intrepid desire to reach a goal and face whatever challenges will hinder that hero along the way in the highs and lows of the journey. Whatever the ending or goal means is open for interpretation, but this interpretation has been seen for millennia in the millions of heroes and heroines who sought to go the distance to reach enlightenment.