Physical Story Arcs in Journey

Building on my last post about Journey, I found a post on The Guardian’s Games Blog about the relationship between Journey’s physical progression and the progression of it’s story.  In the post, game designer Nick Harper discusses the many ways in which traditional movie plot formats are reproduced in video games.  The aspect of his analysis that I found most compelling was the idea that the story arc of most films and compelling narratives can usually be simplified into five main parts: intro, turning point, development, low point, and climax. Harper then maps the stages of Journey to this arc:

Journey’s Emotional Arc (Nick Harper, The Guardian, 2012)

Having played through the game, it is incredible to see the different stages fit this model so well.  The intro represents the first few minutes of the game, when you begin to understand the controls and are able to explore the world to some degree, though the world seems very desolate and is sparsely populated with the ruins of an ancient culture.  At the turning point, the player discovers how to engage with the ribbon-creatures and progress through the world towards the mountain, which has since become their goal. The development comes as the player begins to sand surf down into the civilization, where they find the machines as the primary antagonists. Though this marks the physical low point of the game, Harper argues that the narrative low point comes as the player dies in a blizzard trying to reach the summit.  Naturally, there is the rebirth and ascent, made possible by a group of god-like white figures that revive the player and allow them to finish their journey to the summit.

Compare Harper’s emotional or narrative curve to the physical map that the game displays in the form of murals:

In-game mural from Journey (thatgamecompany, 2012)

I found Harper’s argument very compelling, especially after seeing this mural from the game. Of course, the emotional curve is not the only way to talk about the story of Journey, since other methods like the hero’s journey also apply very well to Journey.

Source: Physical Story Arcs in Journey