After 15 minutes of playing Journey I met with my first ever journey companion. He/she didn’t seem to acknowledge my presence, and I didn’t want him/her to slow me down, so I went on ahead of him/her. Shortly after, I got bored and stopped playing the game. It wasn’t until a few days ago, when the folks at Theology Gaming decided that we would discuss Journey in the upcoming podcast did I play Journey again, starting a new game.
It was a much different experience the second time round, when I finished the game in one setting. In an earlier level there was a scarf power-up which was difficult to reach. I managed to reach it before my companion did, and I encouraged my companion to get it by repeatedly showing him/her how I managed to jump high enough to reach the power-up. When my companion was finally successful, I let out several quick “chirps” to congratulate him/her, and he/she chirped several times in return. This was a stranger, whom I have never played with before, and who I will likely never meet or play with again ever again. Yet, for that brief moment, we shared a genuine moment of camaraderie – or at least I felt that we did. I find it absolutely amazing that a videogame can accomplish this – get two strangers who have no incentive to help or encourage each other to willingly do so.
We are all familiar with how gamers can be jerks online. We’ve seen it in the comments section of gaming websites, in online forums, on twitter and facebook, and what we hear over our headphones in multiplayer games. If you’re still not convinced, read Fat, Ugly or Slutty [warning: explicit language]. And this happens not just in the gaming circle, but in other websites and forums as well (e.g. sports, politics, etc). There are just so many jerks online. A good question to ask is: how did such behavior come about? In real life, we don’t have people hurling vulgarities and insults at strangers as we cross the street right?
Certainly, this is sin. In particular, I think, this is the sin of pride. We all have the tendency to put others down, because doing so makes as feel superior to those we have put down. We want to glorify ourselves by reducing the glory of others and by comparison, we look better. In typical human society, we emplace rules and norms to minimize such behavior – it’s uncivilized to behave in such a way, and transgressors will be shamed by collective society. But in the online space, such rules and norms take no effect, and the anonymity of the internet grants the perpetrator safety. There is also safety in numbers – when one sees a large number of jerk behaviors online, they are emboldened to be a jerk themselves.
So I was more than a bit skeptical when I heard Jenova Chen’s interview with IGN, where he said that he designed Journey to be a game where multi-player is not about killing (competitively or cooperatively), but about players actually helping each other in non-violent ways. In another interview with Eurogamer (a highly recommended read), Chen expresses optimism that “gamers aren’t born ***holes, but games which make gamers into ***holes” – and Journey was the game which would prove that.
After playing through Journey, I must admit that Chen was right. It did restore my faith in the humanity of gamers. When I was at the underground level, thinking I would face the giant flying monsters alone, a companion appeared who showed me how to hide from the monsters – when he/she had no incentive to do so. When I was at the snowy mountain, a companion showed me how to hide behind stone tablets to shield myself from the wind, and even used his chirps to indicate to me when we should rush and when we should hide. He/she too had no incentive to do so. These companions were truly a comfort, and I could only imagine how much more I would have to struggle if I were to go through Journey alone, solo.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
(1 Thessalonians 5:11-15 ESV)
It did not escape me that Journey could be seen as a metaphor for the journey of the human life, or even the Christian life. But for me, it was most poignant as a metaphor for what it means to support one another in Christian fellowship. Like the companions I’ve met on my journey, a good brother or sister-in-Christ warns me when I head down the wrong path into danger, encourages me when I am weak, is patient with me when I fail, is invested in me and is eager to see me succeed, even though they have no incentive to do so. Indeed, is this not called love?
Journey has showed me that yes, gamers are indeed capable of being selfless humane individuals who would help another in need. Gamers too are made in the image of God, and reflect some of God’s good nature, no matter how corrupted by sin and pride we can be. But more importantly, Journey has reminded me of the importance of mutual encouragement among Christian brothers and sisters-in-Christ. For the Christian life is not a race we run alone, but a race we run, locking arms with each other, pulling each other up when one is down, persevering together onward towards the goal. Such is the nature of Christian fellowship. Such is the nature of the Christian life.