The Lack Of Voice In ThatGameCompany’s Games Allows My Own To Sing
I’ve already written about how Journey made me feel truly lonely. It was a strange feeling brought about due to its deliberately limited communication options. Because I couldn’t talk to the person I was playing the game with, I had to experience a goodbye before I fully understood why it was happening. It was powerful – I went from one half of a brave adventuring duo to a lost soul wandering through icy ruins. When my companion left me, right after listening to an ecstasy-inducing score together as we wound our ways down a golden sand dune, the only noise that remained was the biting wind and the crunch of my footsteps on the snow. I was left with nothing but my own thoughts, and I felt more isolated than I ever have before or since. That moment would have been ruined if someone else’s voice could have interrupted my own.
Thatgamecompany is the fantastic studio responsible for indie darlings like Journey, Flower, and Flow. These games are the best form of meditation I’ve ever encountered, and that’s no accident. Thatgamecompany’s central design philosophy is about creating games that elicit emotional responses from people. Their games are slow, contemplative, introspective affairs – beautiful titles that champion player experience and feelings above all else.
Journey, Flower, and Flow have all touched me in ways I didn’t think possible – they provide me with a space to breathe and think. The feature in these games that elevates my feelings is the complete lack of voice acting or dialogue. They all present gorgeous worlds filled to the brim with charm and character, and the lack of voice allows me to feel free, unburdened by expectation or presumptions. This is helped massively by how simple the games are. There are no lengthy tutorials or story setup, just a few quick instructions on how to navigate the world. They require only a few buttons to play, and utilise motion controls superbly – I fall into a sort of trance when I play them because I don’t have to think about what my hands are doing.
Flower remains, to this day, one of my favourite games to play when I need to relax. The game gives me control of the wind and tasks me with helping flowers to bloom, brilliantly restoring colour to the dreary world as I go. Each flower offers a petal and a musical note in return. Creating dazzling floral displays and exciting musical melodies is therapeutic in the deepest sense for me. Seeing the flowers bloom and the levels brighten up as my petals dance in the breeze always gently lifts my mood. No matter how bad I feel when I play, and no matter how slowly or badly I play, Flower finds a way to make what I do beautiful. There’s no voice to distract me, just my feelings that I project onto the game with my inputs. Whatever I put into the game, it returns to me with kindness and warmth, transforming my emotions into songs.
These games have the wonderful quality of making me feel happy even if I’m miserable when I start them. If my perception of the game is negatively coloured due to my mood, eventually it shifts. Flow is either a game about the endurance and perseverance of life or its unavoidably destructive tendencies, depending on how I feel. Like Snake, the goal is to eat objects on the screen and get larger. The spin is, you’re a lifeform in water, like the first stage of Spore. Like Flower, as I interact with things, musical notes play out. As I consume, I head deeper and deeper into the water, only to consume more. It can feel isolated and sombre, as the reality of the depth becomes increasingly hollow. I go deeper but discover nothing new, only more of the same. But as I venture on, the song that’s created out of my violence against the objects on screen becomes increasingly beautiful. My mood shifts and starts to consider the good things that come out of the carnivorous or repetitive impulses we have to coexist with.
There’s something very special about the way these games take my inputs and turn them into something beautiful, something more than what I put in. Even Journey’s world responds to my presence sonically. The only way to communicate is a sort of chirp that radiates around me. This chirp contains an energy that the cloth beings present in the game react to. They flock to it and sing back to me. The reactions to my interactions with these game worlds fill gaps in the score, creating a backing track for my feelings, one that helps to elevate them and make them stand out rather than drowning them in noise.
Because these games present me with no voice, the only way to fill the silence is with my own. They give my voice the space and assistance it needs to be heard. We all do so much to distract and suppress ourselves, that it can be quite shocking when we finally listen. There’s a lot we can do to allow our voice to be heard, such as meditating or going out into nature, but I’m often uncomfortable with introspection, so I have to trick myself into it. Fortunately, thatgamecompany is happy to hold my hand while I do it, and will always make sure I listen to myself from time to time.
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