Journey

In my quest to learn more about the video game composing world and how I could break into it, I attended the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco about a month ago. I was able to meet lots of people in the industry and learned lots about what makes composing for games a specialized field. 

During this conference one game in particular stood out to me: Journey, an art-game creation from Santa Monica-based thatgamecompany released on the Playstation Network last year. Within hours of learning of the game's existence I saw it win just about every award and accolade given out at the conference, especially when it came to the game's soundtrack (which I also learned was the first game soundtrack to be nominated for the Best Original Soundtrack Grammy--kudos to composer Austin Wintory!). 

A month later I finally got around to checking out the game and played through it last night. The game itself is about the length of a movie, but the completely wordless interactive experience itself affected me like only very few movies (or art of any type) ever has. Parts of the game had me comparing it to meditation, others reminded me of listening to a symphony, and the visuals brought back bits of memories and experiences I had long forgotten about. The fact that you're experiencing this journey with others (the game pairs you with strangers and you can help each other out in the game, all wordlessly) makes it even that much more profound. 

I read that the emotional arc of the game was structured around Joseph Campbell's notion of the 'Hero's Journey' by stripping the essence of this mythological framework to its minimal essentials and building the game around that. It's the same framework upon which George Lucas built the original Star Wars trilogy. Except this time, instead of Luke Skywalker, it's just you. And instead of saving the galaxy and becoming a Jedi, you're simply heading towards a mountain in the distance. 

This stripped-down representation of such a universally relatable story arc makes it profound on many levels (or absurd, depending on your view of things). I found myself strangely compelled by the philosophical undertones inherent when you use the journey as a metaphor for life. Why do you climb this mountain? What's at the top? I climb because it's there. I live because I was born. It doesn't matter what's at the top--what matters is how you get there. 

Today's world is obsessed with endings and getting there as fast as possible. People want results and they want them immediately. People want to get where they're going as quickly as possible. There's way more focus on the ends at the expense of the means. I'm just as bad as everyone else in this respect--it's hard not to be in today's society. This game, however, brought back the realization that it's not always about the ends and that the means can be its own reward. Next time I'm stuck in traffic instead of becoming frustrated I can use it as an excuse to really take a look outside at my surroundings--mountains, trees, cars, whatever. Or put on a CD and really enjoy the music. It makes me want to take a walk just to take a walk, not to go anywhere or think about anything in particular, but just to enjoy the act of walking. 

I think this kind of realization, this "stopping to smell the flowers" stuff is vital in today's world. When you enjoy the things you do your productivity goes up, your mood is better and you'll find that life is like an Apple product: it just works (until it doesn't, but then you'll be taken care of by geniuses at the bar). If you spend too much time focusing on results and destinations its easier to become frustrated, lose focus and sour your disposition. While I didn't necessarily look up primary sources to justify these claims, I know there are several studies out there backing up this kind of stuff. Or, instead of looking it up, just simply try it out. Maybe start by taking a couple hours and playing the game if you're able to. Let yourself get sucked into it. And then let that happen no matter what you're doing, whether it's writing an email, working on the next big project, or driving. You'll find it's not always about the destination, but about the journey itself.