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Journey Disruptions at the Cathedral

01/11/2012 Thinking Faithful Gamer Article
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Journey Disruptions at the Cathedral Article

Journey Disruptions at the Cathedral

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Although Journey was a more disruptive presence in the Exeter Cathedral service, it was also a much more engaging one. In the hustle of elements and meaning, both the game and the worship space benefited.

Our incorporation of the Playstation 3 game Flower into a service at Exeter Cathedral provoked a range of surprise, intrigue and wonder in people who attended, wrote and talked about it. The Press Coverage was not unexpected given the topic, but I was surprised at how keen all sorts of media were to cover it.

More than creating a stir though, the event itself seemed to authentically work for those who were there. This really was a videogame holding its own in something as culturally sensitive as an act of worship. While we couldn't escape the murmur of novelty and excitement, Flower felt appropriate amongst the other elements of the service, it was a good thing to include.

The Exeter Cathedral clergy were keen to try it again, and find other games that might fit as well. After the creation theme of the Flower worship, the next service had a theme of mountaintop moments and transfiguration. Although I spent some time trying to think of other games to use, I ended up returning to thatgamecompany again and suggested Journey.

The fit was inescapable. Journey takes you from the baking desert low-lands through the rich reds of sandstone construction, on to the dark blues and greens of the underpasses and finally through the snow to a burning bright mountaintop encounter.

Subconsciously I was expecting a repeat of the Flower service experience, with the game gently interplaying with other moments of the worship, taking a back seat to proceedings while lending the space a serene quality. But of course Journey is a very different game.

Introducing the controls to the parishioners it was obvious this was more demanding, and had a higher barrier to picking up the controller. Beyond the mechanics of gameplay though, the biggest difference here was Journey's ability to bring a stranger into our midst, and to bring our gathered throng into the homes of other players.

If it's played connected to the Internet, it silently selects other players and lets you play together. You can't speak to them beyond your character's wordless cheeps, but there is a surprising amount of communication and connection when someone arrives to share the otherwise barren landscape.

The biggest challenge technically was getting our Playstation online at the Cathedral so we could include this element of play in our service. Thankfully, some more than helpful technicians provided the necessary IP address, DNS and opened the required ports to get us online just hours before we gathered to worship.

Whether everyone realised exactly what was happening when another figure appeared on the large projector screen I'm not sure -- I didn't labour the point in my introduction -- but their presence was both strangely intrusive and completely welcome. There was a real thrill of something new seeing another person arrive in our game and gesture which way we should go, or to keep running back to make sure we were alright when we didn't progress as fast as them.

Cathedral Service using Journey Playstation 3 Game

Being more comprehensible than Flower's interactive landscape, we found eyes and attention drawn to the screen more often. At times this was certainly distraction, and added a slight feel of confusion as events in the game had their own pace and timing.

Along with this however, were times of happy-synergy between the game and the service. As the Eucharist was enacted in the church the congregant-player settled themselves in a small chapel space half way up the snowy mountain. The other player at first seemed perplexed at the pause, but then patiently sat down to wait with us. One of those magically wordless understandings that Journey seems uniquely able to create.

Where Flower brought calm and peace to the service, Journey brought this disruption. It had more of an impact on what was happening. Personally I enjoyed this more than Flower, as Journey challenged our old tradition to reconnect and reassess the wider world. This was not only in its introduction of "others" into our midst, but also a greater sense of direction and story.

Cathedral Service using Flower Playstation 3 Game

Perhaps the biggest irony of all this was that the congregants of all ages from 20s to 70s had very little trouble with the controls. They largely "got" how to move around, and interacted with the world, other visiting players, and collectable fabric without a second thought.

In this way, far removed from the expectation that the games was being used to attract new-comers to the service, Journey played its part in attracting many new and unexpecting players to the experience of playing a video game.

Like a religious coming to faith, this involved rewriting assumptions about what games were or had to offer. There were light-bulb moments for some who for the first time picked up a controller. There were also appreciative others, like me, who simply enjoyed having the chance to connect video game's rich pool of stories to real life and meaning in this way.

Images from the Service

Andy Robertson introduces the game Journey

Andy Robertson explains Journey's controls

Congregant plays Journey in Exeter Cathedral while service starts

Canon Andrew Godsall introduces the Eucharist

Receiving the bread while Journey plays

Congregant travels on as Eucharist celebrated

Receiving the bread while Journey plays

Playing Journey for the first time

A new player continues our Playstation Journey

We are joined by an online visitor

Congregation gather to play and worship

A moment of rest on our Journey

Press from the Service

Written by Andy Robertson

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Andy Robertson writes the Faithful Gamer column.

"Videogame reviews for the whole family, not just the kids. I dig out videogame experiences to intrigue and interest grownups and children. This is post-hardcore gaming where accessibility, emotion and storytelling are as important as realism, explosions and bravado."

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