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‘Old Man’s Journey’ Meant a Lot to This Not-Particularly-Old Woman

He has a long way to go, this old man.
All screens courtesy of Broken Rules

Old Man's Journey had me so verklempt at work that I had to take my own tiny IRL journey while playing it, a little walk in a break between sessions just to think and breathe. Not in its most overwrought scenes, but in its wistful, starry-eyed beginning, where the titular old man sits on a bench under a tree, sees two young people gazing over the ocean together, and decides to, well, take a journey.

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You learn much more about that journey as you go—guiding the old man through beautiful, saturated watercolor landscapes, gently tugging at the 2D scenery, structuring it just so in order to make progress. Your old guy can only walk on connecting lines, so you arrange each screen of the world, puzzle-like, into something he can tackle. He's pretty spry for an old dude, but he can't jump or move very fast (unless he's falling down a waterfall, butt-first). The puzzles never get too tough, staying pleasant and breezy to contend with.

It's an emotional trip—every so often, he sits at a bench (or on a train, or a boat) and invites you into a memory. Into happy days as a young man, and less-happy times, pulling away from his family. I got the sense pretty early on that the old man had regrets, that he was seeking something on this trip. Why else would he brave all those miles, and thunder storms, and butt-stomping waterfalls? Why else would he leave the very happy, colorful village that you start out in?

There's something heartbreaking in the old man's slow walk, in his determination to seek… whatever it is. The way the game evokes his happiest memories is surprisingly powerful, since it uses only images and a bit of music. And they're images that I was sort of shocked to be so moved by—young love, marriage, a desire to see the world. This is fairly conventional stuff, but so earnestly presented.

Maybe I'm just the type to feel everything turned to 11, but this is a game about regret, and happiness, and the constant tension between the two. I'm not an old man (or… a sailor from a gorgeous little seaside village), but I find it impossible not to think about those subjects in my own wanderings about the world. I walk about three miles a day now, during my normal commute (and let's not even talk about what will happen when the L train shuts down), and frequently find myself thinking about lost loves, closed possibilities, the things I could've done better (or worse!). I'm pretty sure we all do, once we have enough experience in the world to have anything resembling our own opinions of it.

So yes, this Journey resonated deeper than I expected it too, given the very pretty wrapper and not-exactly-my-experience old man tropes. More food for thought on the next walk, and the next after that as well.