Journey follow-up: Flow, Religion, and Storytelling

In response to my post about Journey, my friend Ted pointed me at two articles about the game, both of which proved fascinating:

Seeking the Light” at the Brainy Gamer, about how:

Journey elegantly conveys sapta bodhyanga, or the Seven Factors of Enlightenment in Buddhist philosophy:

Joy or rapture
Relaxation or tranquility
Equanimity (the ability to face life’s challenges with a tranquil and dispassionate mind)

It’s a fascinating read. “With Journey, Jenova Chen and his collaborators have given us a magic carpet ride that resonates deep in the consciousness of players willing to let go and take that ride.”

Concept art for Journey

The second article is “A Portrait of the Artist as a Game Studio” by Ian Bogost at The Atlantic.

This is a brilliant piece and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Journey, games, the concept of flow, or storytelling in general. I had not realized that flow was the goal, but in retrospect, it seems obvious. From the article:

During graduate school, thatgamecompany’s creative director Jenova Chen became obsessed with the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, the psychological feeling of being fully involved in an experience. Csikszentmihalyi’s book on the subject was published in 1990, but a definition for the phenomenon is often cribbed from a 1996 Wired interview: “Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” In musical terms, flow means being in the groove; in athletic terms, we call it being in the zone. Flow is a state of being, one in which a task’s difficulty is perfectly balanced against a performer’s skill, resulting in a feeling of intense, focused attention.

It also talks about the storytelling structure:

Fantastic, yes, but not a hero’s journey. Insofar as it has one, it seems impossible not to read the game’s story allegorically instead of mythically: an individual progresses from weakness, or birth, or ignorance, or an origin of any kind, through discovery and challenge and danger and confusion, through to completion. It could be a coming of age, or a metaphor for life, or an allegory of love or friendship or work or overcoming sickness or slouging off madness. It could mean anything at all.

I really can’t recommend these articles enough, especially the second one. I’m still mulling it over, still looking for ways to map its concepts onto my own work. Thank you, Ted!