Storytelling in Journey

Having played through Journey now, the experience was wonderful.  Rarely has a game been so compelling, and with so little dialogue to build its narrative.  One of the ways that Journey does this so well is through the use of dynamic lighting and music to influence your mood as you progress through the different stages of the game.  When you start off, the land is bright, enjoying the pleasantly filtered (afternoon?) sunshine as you experience the game’s world for the first time.  Later, as you explore the ancient ruins before you, the lighting changes to a beautiful sunset-like shade of gold and orange, lulling you and creating a sense of peace as you descend into the ruins.  Deep inside the ruins, you find that the world is not as peaceful as it appears at the surface, with giant machines that seek to eliminate all of the scarf you’ve been working so hard to collect up to this point.  The music takes a dramatic shift, and the atmosphere becomes much darker with eerie green and blue accents instead of the comforting gold and orange of the previous stage.  These shifts occur to inform the player that there is danger, something that these changes seem to subconsciously alert us to.  This method of moving forward a narrative creates an experience that feels less forced, although the game is still “on rails” in many ways.

One of the other aspects of the game that helps develop a sense of context are the murals hidden throughout the game.  Upon arriving at a blank wall with a few gravestones framing it, you can activate your chime and trigger a reveal of a mural on the wall, which details some aspect of the story hidden behind the world of Journey.  Without these murals in the game, I don’t think I could have begun to understand the series of events leading up to the present state of the world.  What ThatGameCompany did with Journey is a masterpiece.  They hid the story just within reach, but asked the player to decide whether they wanted to know more or not.  This allows the player even more agency, and helps develop a sense of immersion with the world should they choose to seek out all of the murals and hidden items throughout the game.

 

Source: Storytelling in Journey

Game Log 2 – 3: Queering Soccer with Cars

Recently, we talked in class about the concept of ‘queerness’ in games.  In her writing, scholar Colleen Macklin argued that Queerness can manifest itself in games in a number of ways, besides the community outside the game identifying as queer.  In class we elaborated on this specifically in the game itself.  Gameplay can be queer.  The narrative itself can also be queer in how it is told.

 

Now, you probably are confused as to how a game about cars playing soccer could possess any sort of queerness.  But I’d argue quite the contrary.  When you think of a game like Rocket League conceptually, you’d probably initially expect it to be hyper-masculine.  Cars, particularly racing games, are usually targeted towards men, typically featuring things like scantily-clad start girls and super “macho” cars.  The same can be said for games like Madden and Fifa who focus their marketing towards men.  Thus, if I were to tell you you were going to play a game that involved both, you’d probably think this was a real MAN’s MAN GAME.

Team Rocket GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

However, on a gameplay level, the combination of cars with soccer is kind of queering the idea of a traditional soccer game.  Playing soccer with a car results in a lot of erratic movement and passing.  This challenge the fluid and controlled movement of a traditional soccer game.

 

Rocket League isn’t in the business of catering to heteronormativity and masculinity.  As an example, look no further than the car customization system that sits at the center of the game.  

 

Shane Beam GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

As you play matches, you acquire gear to customize your car.  In most car games, you’d expect to be able to change the color of your car, add a huge muffler, maybe put some flames on the side, or improving the performance of your car.  In Rocket League, everyone’s car is the same.  The important thing is to stand out and be unique.  As a result, you end of with all sorts of crazy cars that are stellar exemplifications of self-expression.  These cars don’t have to be hyper masculine, bending to heteronormative expectation.  They also defy the expectation of conformity in sports like soccer, the idea that we have to sacrifice individuality for the success of the larger group.

 

And the developers didn’t hide this customization feature, it sits front and center. Customizing your car, being unique and standing out, are the only true measures of progression in this game.  There are no experience points or awards to be sought, the only thing you gain from playing matches is more cool gear to customize your car.  They clearly wanted being different to be a point of emphasis in this game.

Rocket League Slipstream GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I think that ultimately you can call Rocket League a queer game because of the way it subverts heteronormative expectations of what a car or racing game, “should be”.  The idea of customizing your player avatar is not necessarily new in games, but it’s presence as a prominent feature in a car/sports game, especially in such a way that emphasizes creative freedom and expression, is certainly something to get excited about!

Source: Game Log 2 – 3: Queering Soccer with Cars