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Pros: Absorbing, relatively brief experience contains benefits for textual analysis and SEL.
Cons: Requires a PlayStation 3 or 4 and two to three hours of focused play (ideally in one sitting).
Bottom Line: Journey is a must-play experience and a shining beacon of the good that games can do.
Journey is best played alone and in one sitting, so it won't work well in a classroom. Students would be too distracted and pressed for time. Teachers shouldn't be discouraged, however. If teaching textual analysis or metaphor, teachers could –- if invested in student interest-driven curriculum -- offer Journey as a possible text to "read" and write about (alongside more traditional novels, plays, etc.). Encourage students to play the game at home and then write an essay that explores what it's trying to say and how it uses figurative visual language. Students who play Journey could also explore how video game storytelling compares and contrasts to storytelling in films and books.
At first glance, Journey might not seem like much. Sure, it's beautiful, feeling vaguely of this world but beyond it: The sand glows like treasure, and the structures hint at a lost history we never really had. But at its core, there doesn't seem to be much to do. It's a platformer, so players traverse the world and do some light jumping and floating on platforms. There's also a little puzzle-solving. The goal is simple, too. Basically: Reach a distant mountain peak. This is all pretty standard stuff, but even so, Journey is absolutely absorbing. Why? Because the experience is less about what's happening on-screen and more about what's happening inside us. Journey crafts a metaphor about what life is all about, and -- through a brilliant, unique co-op experience that randomly weaves in another player (either real or computerized) –- players also reflect on companionship, loneliness, friendship, love, and loss. Getting a game to eloquently engage with these themes is hard enough, but what makes Journey extra special is how it plays a deft trick: It expands the emotional spectrum by narrowing the social spectrum. Players can't communicate with each other except through movement and a simple tone (a "bing" sound). What results from these limitations are player-to-player interactions that feel like full-body sign language or freestyle dancing. These relatively lo-fi exchanges form deep attachments, rich with meaning, that avoid the disposable and often contentious relationships found in other multiplayer games.
Education isn't just about core subjects. It's also about acquiring the tools to live life well, and to be good. Journey does that by taking complex concepts like life, death, and partnership, and weaving them into an accessible metaphor for students to experience and reflect on. While it'll be tough to fit into a classroom, since it requires a game console and two to three hours of play, it's worth figuring out a way to offer it as an option for students to play at home or after school. It should work particularly well in ELA classrooms focused on textual analysis, since Journey lends itself to interpretation.