Journey and The Way--Designing for Friendship At GDC 2012

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Posted March 8, 2012 - By Rob Manuel


Chris Bell, the lead developer behind The Way and one of the developers behind Journey, believes that video games can create lasting friendships between players, and not just in the virtual realm. This experiment in digital bonding started out for Chris in the real world, Japan.

Running late for the last bus in Tokyo, Chris got lost and panicked. He quickly got the attention of a little old lady, but without knowing any Japanese, all Chris could do was show her a picture of where he wanted to go on his phone along with some frantic gestures. The old lady raced down the street with Chris following right behind her. Just as the last bus was about to pull away, Chris and the old woman made it just in time. The young developer points out that they worked together to overcome a problem even thought they spoke different languages. Through gestures and sharing information, the idea behind The Way was born.

Much as Indecent produced a very intense yet temporary friendship, games like Journey and The Way do the same thing by bonding players with a common goal, giving them freedom of choice, presenting them with anonymity, and moving quickly enough before prejudice begins to seep in. Not all of these elements need to be present to assure that players work together, but combined they create a bond stretching past virtual barriers. This, however, doesn’t always work with all games.

Take Chat Roulette for example. Go to the web site and you get a chance to talk to thousand of strangers from across the world. The only problem is that it became – well, Chat Roulette, a game without rules that breaks down when the wrong people take it over. Now something like Telectroscope, an art installation that lets people in both New York and London view each other instantly, works because it comes with its own social rules with it being in public, more respect for it being an art piece, and without the addition of voice, people play with it more like a toy. It’s through these constraints that we learn to share a deeper emotion in games.

First Journey Trailer, New Screenshots Packed With Emotion, Adventure, And Wonder

Chris tells of another story of when he first played Final Fantasy XI and dies while on an adventure with a friend. The game allows you to wait to be resurrected or go back to the starting point. Unsure of the location of the starting point, Chris waited for his friend to resurrect. But he worried that his friend was waiting for him. Unable to communicate while dead, Chris worried hopelessly that his companion waited for him in a similar dreadful silence. Two motionless bodies stuck in limbo. He realized that the emotion connection strengthen because of the silence since he could then projected his emotions onto the other player.

Journey and The Way share many of the same elements that encourage friendship even though they were created separately from each other. Both games simplify communication to elements that anyone can use, breaking down both language and social barriers that otherwise hinder interaction. Journey utilizes a music-based system that allows people to create their own language through tones and length of the notes. For The Way, players use the movement of their characters to communicate. Each games allows the individual player at attach meaning to their method of communication rather than relying on someone else to give them context.

Chris points out that there’s a difference between cooperation and merely working together. In the co-op for Portal 2, only one of the players needs to know how to solve the puzzle. The co-op allows for players to tag places for the second player to put a portal, so you can go along for the ride or be dragged along as the knowledgeable player trudges on.

First Journey Trailer, New Screenshots Packed With Emotion, Adventure, And Wonder

Journey and The Way, on the other hand, require each player to act their part in order for both players to succeed. The Way divides the necessary information between the players so that only by working together can they assemble the whole picture. Journey lets players work together to reach higher areas than a lone person. Through reciprocity, we find friendship and often the answers we’re looking for in a game.

At the end of each game, the player is given a chance to continue that bond beyond the virtual realm. Though Chris didn’t say how either game accomplishes this task, he points out that it’s important that friendships transcend the game. Games have a way of touching us in ways no other medium has before. It’s what you choose to make that reveals who you are.

Journey and The Way--Designing for Friendship At GDC 2012


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