A Journey of Inclusiveness

A childs view on how inclusivity works for adults can be represented by a famous toy for kids. Children learn basic skills of problem solving and cognitive functions by pushing cylinders and cubes through the corresponding holes of a wooden box. As adults, we often tend to forget that this logic also applies to our identities and that certain shapes just will not fit through certain areas. The intent of this text is to have a look at the problem of telling the tale of a cube with a pyramid, and how that kind of representation is erased in games like Journey.

When we speak about games today we also speak about an industry weighed down by competition and economic boundaries. This usually means that the norms set up by society rule the contents of a game, which in turn means that a lot of other identities are ruled out. Usually, you may play as a heterosexual man or woman, more often white than not, and if the developers are really progressive you may find themes that extend the borders to homo- or bisexuality. The two great role playing game titles of Bioware are an example of this and how inclusivity has been increased by drilling more holes into the wooden box of the game. It might seem the obvious solution to just give hexagons and ovals their on entrance into the box, but it is a kind of thinking that creates problems for itself as it rests on the assumptions that all identities carry conventional shapes.

Imagine that there was a way to increase inclusivity in games even more? Where importance of colour, shape and thought are cancelled? Games with the right theme and intention actually does not need to ostracize anyone. When Journey just unscrews the entire lid of the wooden box it makes the game wholly inclusive and viable in terms of intersectionality. Let me explain what I mean:

The main character lacks gender, race, sexuality and ideology as it is a being of very simple purpose. Instead of using normative conventions of love, politics or philosophy to spice up and make the plot of the game appealing, the developers chose universal human needs and emotion to attract the player. Masterfully composed music and beaming visuals accompany our anonymous hero in a wistful hunt for basic human needs like belonging somewhere and to be loved. To seek this and to steep the player in such emotions does not only make our hero loved by almost everyone who has ever played Journey. The hero also becomes a mirror in which everyone can see themselves as the emotions beam back at them from something that can only be determined by themselves.

Having said this, I am not saying that games with more complicated themes are of lesser value when speaking of inclusivity. On the contrary they have the ability to scrutinize and represent these kind of problems in a much more direct manner. It might be very hard to discuss deep social and cultural constructs and shackles like sexism and racism if you at the same time cannot shine a light to them. Even things like these need to be given space to move if we are to relieve ourselves of them.

Journey does not do this. Instead it offers a place for everyone using its transparency and its ubiquitous emotion. When we can do this and at the same time investigate excluding norms in gaming we’ve really reached a new level. Until then games like Journey will continue to allow everyone a place of their own with its imageless portrayal.

Peter Ahonen