Monday, May 7, 2012

Mysticism in the Media: Journey

SPOILER WARNING: If you haven't played Journey, don't read this post until you have.

I played Journey (a video game published by thatgamecompany) last weekend, and I can honestly say that it is the most spiritual game I have ever come across.

Journey consists of two travelers (you and someone online) trying to cross a desert in order to reach a holy mountain. On this "journey", completely lacking dialogue, you encounter many things which would not make sense if I tried to describe them to you. But these things are its very strength, for omnipresent in the game is a sense of the unspeakable. The marvelous beauty that permeates the game doesn't quite make sense intellectually, but it hints at some higher meaning that can't be expressed in words. On this note, many points throughout the game give one a feeling of transcendence, by which I mean they offer a taste of something greater than or above our everyday experience. It is the only game I have ever played that instilled in me a sense of reverence, along with those of wonder and awe.

I am so enthralled with this game that I want to share it with you in its entirety. I want to show you the parts that were beautiful and transcendent to me. For that reason, here is an hour-long YouTube play-through. If you feel intimidated, don't worry; I will list the times for each part I find significant, so you can skip to them.

The first moment I really knew that this game was special happened at 2:10. As the Journeyer climbs atop a sand dune, we see an enormous mountain in the distance, topped with a bright light. It immediately conjured up cultural memories of divine mountaintops like Mount Sinai, and stirred the emotions connected with them. But more importantly, it gave me an overwhelming impression of "bigness", giving me an equally staggering realization of my own nothingness when compared with the divine.

The next significant moment actually happens in several places. The first instance occurs at 6:45 The journeyer sits meditatively in front of a stone altar, surrounded by the light the pillars around him provide. Immediately we cut to some kind of vision. He sees the outline of some kind of being, shrouded by light. It then proceeds to stylistically show him the way forward. In the next instance, at 15:30, we see it clearly for the first time: a being much like the Journeyer himself, only bigger and clothed in white. It then almost affectionately leans over him and again shows him the path ahead. This being clearly represents the divine, but it does not merely copy his shininess or his love. It also exhibits the mystery of divine, the incomprehensibility of the God so lacking in most depictions of him.

After an interim encounter at 25:50, another instance begins at 32:20. The Journeyer attempts to cross a chasm, but falls into a pit. He attempts another vision, but alas, this godly being looks away, as if disappointed. This immediately made me think of the times when I had failed in my pursuit of the virtuous and thus let down God. Needless to say, it struck a chord in me. And yet, the being still shows him the way forward: there is still hope, even if laden with suffering.

After two more visions, the next scene begins at 1:08:20. The desert has turned to ice, and the Journeyer trudges on through the snow, growing weaker by the second. He keeps going until the very last moment, even going as far as to crawl. But ultimately he cannot go on anymore, and he falls down and expires. At 1:09:30, the screen fades to white. Suddenly, you see the Journeyer again, only standing behind him are not one, but six of the divine beings. They surround him with light, and all of a sudden his scarf (what enables him to fly, and what had been cut short in a brutal blizzard) is magnificently restored. This is nothing less than resurrection, in all its connotations. Not only is the body restored to its magnificent fullness, but the Journeyer now has the grace of whatever beings brought him back to life. This scene is an artistic representation of the infinite grace of God - no matter to what depths you have sunk, he will always help you ascend.

Now, what happens from 1:11:05 on I shall not put into words, because I believe that would negate its beauty. It suffices to say that it is one of the most amazing and spiritually significant things I have ever seen portrayed in media, and that it exhibits the ideal of transcendence and even reverence in a way I wouldn't have thought possible.
Journey is amazing. I have never experienced any video game (or perhaps any other form of media) quite like it, as it is nothing less than a mystical experience packaged in game form. Finally, if you haven't played the game, (and therefore, if you're reading this, didn't heed my warning) please go do it as soon as you can. It's an experience you will never forget.

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