I Recently I had the pleasure of attempting to explain one of my favorite survival games to a family member.
“Hey, what are you playing?”
“Oh. So…what’s the point of the game?”
“But like the goal.
“Uh…that is the goal.”
But they didn’t seem to quite understand and it was a bit frustrating to explain. This got me seriously thinking about how media is presented typically in the West as as about the company that produced the game. Here, with a few exceptions, it seems that the ultimate goal is emphasized over the journey and it shows in our media.
Consumers have been programmed to be more worried about the ‘surprise endings’ and ‘endgame’ than about the numerous other things that go into telling a story or providing an experience or even living a life. People don’t want spoilers because knowing the end of a movie, book, or graphic novel somehow destroys all enjoyment the medium has to offer them. As if there is nothing else worthwhile in the art form if the result is already known. I kind of find it rather insulting to the people who put their hard work into producing creative content. As if the end is the only thing they did that matters. Often times when the end is the ONLY focus of a piece of work it seems to suffer for it unless it was carefully crafted in the journey to lead up to that awesome ending. Awesome endings don’t mean anything without the correct foundations.
Quiet moments or thoughtful pauses are seen as wastes of time when someone could be talking or making something happening. This is especially true when these same people attempt to watch movies, animations, and read media that doesn’t follow this ending is all thought process. Often it’s considered ‘boring’ or a waste of time caring so much about the side characters or about showing the setting. When in reality, in a well done piece of art it is sometimes easy to know the ending before it comes if one is paying attention because they built the foundation as such. Surprises are over-rated and overly glorified as it encourages lazy writing.
However, as of late, the concept of the journey over the end is creeping more and more into the American media (especially the indie scene) and is getting mixed reviews. Many of which could be alleviated if more viewers, players, etc. could latch onto this idea:
The Journey is the Goal
It is very much like life and our own goals in this respect. When one looks back at their past they see a journey to the person that they are now. And a journey, as with life are best when not prefabricated. Journey’s have general phases that are universal, perhaps, but there can be as many adventure as there are people. I spoke on this before to some extent. So remember when I said I got curious about the company that made this game? Yeah…so I did what I always do when something sparks my interest: Research! The company that created the game that started this thought process:
It is a small company in Canada started by a ex-sega intern in 2005 with only 2 workers, one of which was himself. His goal is to be “, fearless in creating something genuinely new,” They are “relentlessly experimenting, making plenty of mistakes along the way, and gaining amazing insights everyday.” Jamie Cheng started a company with a desire to create games at his pace with interesting and new ideas with the intent to have production that lasts.
He did not go in with the exact (at least not exact the way many would like with every bullet point plotted out) end but rather the idea of the campaign he wanted to go on and the companions that he wanted along for the ride. In fact while his “goal” seems direct it’s actually very open ended. After all what exactly does having a company that lasts mean? Is there a set number of years? Or set number of workers that denote when the goal is achieved? But he is navigating Klei Entertainment along a journey that seems fairly successful.
Let’s take this game “Don’t Starve” as an example. There is an “Adventure mode” that overlays a story on top of the game play, but it’s very sparse. If you play the Adventure mode there *is* a ending of sorts, though it raises more questions than answers. There is also a mobile version and a Co-op version of the game.
The real “goal” of the story is to see how long you can survive in the wilderness with your choice of quirky character, steampunk-inspired technology, wits, and luck. It is the adventure or journey you go on that makes this game so exceptional, not the ending.
Every day brings a new challenge be it starvation, freezing, insanity, or even being killed by the giant tree monsters that spawn in the cover of darkness and steal your firewood when you’re not looking. The concept of enjoying the trip isn’t a new one but it being used more and more in mass media it is starting to come to a head.
But then this shouldn’t be strange. Many of the developers and writers of now grew up on games that had this same principle at its core.
In Pokemon, you worked to make the best team and collect all the Pokemon to reach the final fight. A fight that the Journey prepared you for. The fight didn’t look any different than any ones previously. It was just harder and, hopefully, you had prepared for it through your journey and got the necessary items from the people you met.
Even Mario in his earliest incarnation was all about the level design leading up to saving Peach. The experience and the skills you learn make the underwhelming ending worth it.
“Focus on the Journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
Ideally, it’s not as simple as “stopping to smell the roses” but more of an appreciation or acknowledgment of the work, effort, and care someone puts into life resulting in a goal being reached and the appreciation of how one grows as a result of this chosen path. The ending is already “known” in many cases because all along the journey the character (you) are doing the steps that would take them (you) to a predicted end. In fact in many games, the beginning is cut out and it’s your job to piece it together from hints found during your journey to the end. The Journey is your story and you, as a player, get to craft it as you please. In many cases this is the same with life we see Klei Entertainment, that though small has games on every platform all with an average metascore of 79% and Steamspy score of 89.25% at the time of publication. This may not seem like much but given the number of games put out to size of company and that the lowest ranked games are usually ports or their firsts I find it pretty impressive. Why? Because He crafted his journey to go in that direction.
Why is there no goal?
Because depending on how well you craft and take care of your path along the way the goal is already a foregone conclusion. This thought process works very well when playing Don’t Starve. Thats’ not to say that BS doesn’t happen that could kill you but I’ve found myself getting farther and farther. I then look at the game their newest game Oxygen Not Included it curiously seems to reflect many of the same challenges one would have in a growing company. When to stop micromanaging AND looking at where we’re going vs toning it back to trusting who you hired and looking at only the bigger picture to make sure that the Oxygen keeps flowing.