The Last Video Game I Ever Played

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“How one Journey wrapped up as I transitioning to the next…” An article exploring the evolution of a gamer and a father, by the excellent Ryan Olsen.

Lucky 2013

It was an unusually warm October in 2013 and it was an unusually crazy time in my life:

I was days away from transitioning from “Ryan” to “Dad.”

I was still reeling from being laid-off from full-time work.

I was hustling to get freelance contracts and gigs.

I was working part-time at a library.

I was throwing resumes into the void hoping for full-time work.

One day, I was on the couch at 10 p.m., while my wife quietly read, absorbed in Journey.

LOST: 1 Video Game Fan. If Found, Please Call…

The months leading up to my son’s birth didn’t afford many opportunities to sit idle. I worked part-time at a library, money was an extremely rare commodity and I was making progress picking up enough freelance work to go full-time.

The consoles and games that I used to power up on a frequent basis all started to collect dust. I cancelled my Xbox Live account due to inactivity and, frankly, the cost. I was packing up game boxes to store and make room for the new things in my life. I started to lose touch with game release cycles and what used to be a defining part of my career experience started to fade into the horizon.

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For the first time in about 10 years, I wasn’t a video game “pro” anymore. I was a video game fan. I lost the compulsion to try every game, I only wanted to consume what interested me or experience recommendations from close friends.

I wouldn’t say it was exactly a breath of fresh air. There was a sadness about it since I equated it to failure. I spent so long working towards a goal, reached it and felt like I lost it. What I did enjoy was re/discovering new interests: cooking and reading books. Games were still there, but they took a far back seat.

On a whim, while on break at work, I borrowed Journey from my library. While the incredible game collection my library has is another story, I was curious to experience what so many friends were lavishly gushing about on Twitter for so long.

It turns out, it was the exact right game for the exact right time.

The Most Peaceful Game With A Violent Emotional Punch

Since it is customary, I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers. The thing about Journey is that I don’t think you could possibly spoil the game. The experience will mean something different for each person. It just happened that where I was in life seemed to map perfectly to the game.

In Journey, you play as a mysterious character and you aren’t given any story or context. Your goal is a light in the distance and you must reach it. Throughout the game, you’ll discover things about your character and the world around you. Not through text or exposition, but through pictographs that you stumble across if you feel particularly adventurous.

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I will say this, I surrendered myself to the experience. I let it consume me and I let it take me on an emotional roller coaster. I felt curious, adventurous, happy, scared, wondrous, sad and jubilant over the course of a few hours.

I didn’t attempt to dissect what made me feel that way or clever design tricks pointed me towards an objective, I just played. It made room for the emotion of the game to come soaring through and deliver a dinosaur ending impact right in my gut.

When the experience ended, I set the controller down on the coffee table and my hands trembled slightly. As the chemicals released from a few hours of emotional ups and downs started to normalize, I felt a satisfaction I rarely get when I play a game. I didn’t need more. I had closure but I’d never forget the experience — the Journey.

Insert Coin to Continue

Days later, I was a dad. A new chapter was starting in my life and I thought the chapter of working in games was over. I felt alive, exhausted from lack of sleep, terrified at being a first-time parent and excited for the boundless possibilities the future held. The promise I made to never forget about playing Journey was washed away with brand new horizons.

Then, it slowly crept back up. Images and feelings would surface from playing the game. The impression it made was like disappearing, then reappearing ink. While consumed with all kinds of new duties and responsibility, I thought about games again in the moments before catching a few winks of sleep. How I missed the creativity and the passion. I started to pick apart how well crafted Journey was.

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Through a friend on Facebook, I found a freelance opportunity with a small Japanese game publisher. I was carefully dipping my toes back in the games business.

It was different this time. I didn’t feel the need to “prove” to myself that I could hack it in the games industry. I had found other passions and discovered new interests.

I was now on a side-quest to continue my love of the games creation process.

This article was written by the immensely talented Ryan Olsen and has been reposted, with permission, from Medium.

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