A Personal Journey: Jenova Chen's Goals for Games
May 18, 2012 Page 2 of 3
With no competitive element, Journey gives you only the opportunity to work with other people. Without the structure of objectives and leaderboards, your fellow players are no longer a threat to your high score. Without names, they're much more human. "If you see 'iownyourdad' or 'ikillyourmom', you just instantly stop putting on those colored glasses, and it's not a human-human interaction anymore. It would be cool if we could make video games sociable like board games," says Chen.
Like the punch bowl at a party, Journey's tranquil landscape lubricates interaction. Quiet, calm, and sparsely populated, Journey is the ideal corner of the room for those tired of the deathmatch riff-raff. Mini-maps, objective markers, and mission hubs are replaced by totem poles, fluttering cloths and an omnipresent mountain. Your character has no gun, no medkits, no reticle; such things would only distract you from the journey and the other people around you.
"We cut the [character's] arms, because if you have arms, you think about picking up some kind of weapon and hitting something," says Chen.
"We had a goal to evoke a feeling that would make people want to socialize with each other, want to learn from each other. Empowerment distracts you from socializing. After the internet became popular, almost all single-player games became multiplayer, but I think a lot of those games are designed for individuals, not socializing."
Rather than work around his low budget, Chen has wholeheartedly embraces the practicalities of indie development. Journey's skeletal mechanics are at the core of his philosophy.
"We build our games like a Japanese garden, where the design is perfect when you cannot remove anything else. I think that by doing that, the voice of your work is more coherent. If you have a lot of clutter on the top, the work may be more impressive, but you won't really know what it's trying to say. Games have to be emotional. People need to experience a powerful range of feelings."
Feelings have always been at the centre of Thatgamecompany's work. From the meditative tranquility of flOw, to the encroaching urban anxiety of Flower, Chen's games radiate emotion. Journey is no different. Called away by an unseen force, players travel from sunlit desert to snowbound mountain in an abstract transition from life to death.
Far removed from the troubling, isolating empowerment that he perceives elsewhere, the public reaction to Chen's game has been a lot more humanistic. Thatgamecompany's Twitter feed has been flooded with tributes to Journey. "Ever played a game that made you pause for thought afterwards? I just have," one player wrote. "I may never see or hear from this person I journeyed with, but I will remember them," wrote another.
But Chen isn't just heaping on the sentiment for the sake of good reviews. Concerned by the industry's perceived immaturity, he's out to change the way we think about games.
"My biggest complaint for computer games so far is they are not good enough for adults. For adults to enjoy something, they need to have intellectual stimulation, something that's related to real life. Playing poker teaches you how to deceive people, and that's relevant to real life. A headshot with a sniper rifle is not relevant to real life. Games have to be relevant intellectually. You also need depth. You have the adventure -- the thrill of the adventure -- but you want the goosebumps too."
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