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“The solo gamer, wrestling with nothing but machine-bred adversaries, can take full creative license in filling any gaps in the structured narrative… The gamer molds much of the gameplay’s pace and tone. The narrative’s protagonist grows to reflect the user and everything else occurs in the context of this character’s presence and actions. How does the expansion of this gameplay into a multiplayer, networked experience alter the gamer’s perception of centrality?” 

Many networked games attempt to connect its players in whatever way possible. These games sometimes risk breaking their own narratives to achieve this (e.g. through voice chat). The “human” connection among the users is the goal – to simulate a “hangout” among real people, each with a unique voice and complex system of interaction.

However, either due to technological restraints or choice, many modern multiplayer games connect users with a limited set of interactions. Nintendo’s games are notorious for this: in order to protect their younger userbase, Nintendo heavily restricts much of the online interaction in most of their games, often resorting to communication through pre-assembled phrases or symbols.

In contrast, Journey, from Thatgamecompany, chooses to restrict interaction among players in search of a certain sort of player relationship. When a player starts Journey, he is paired with another random player who happens to be playing at the same time. There is no voice chat, no text chat, no symbols; only an in-game whistle which the player can blow and the other player can hear. Many players grow connected to their partners: one reviewer refers to his partner as his “best friend in the world,” and in the world of the game, this is true. (Found this interesting: The same reviewer mentions a recurring experience for him: he respawns after a death in the game, and his “first question upon [respawn] was the first cliché about people who awake to find themselves in the afterlife: Is my friend here?”)

Is this connection between players in Journey a “real” friendship? It seems that one’s partner in Journey should be no different from any other NPC in a single-player game, one with which the solo gamer can “take full [maybe not full] creative license;” and that the player’s resulting relationship is just a fondness for the particular way in which his television reacts to his actions (which is really just the way in which the output of the television bounce around in the expanse of the player’s experience). The key difference seems to be in the player’s trust in the existence and intent of his partner, which seems to be the only thing that can allow (a certain sort of) intimacy and a “real” friendship.