Jonathan Harrison takes fatherhood and gaming seriously—and they’re not mutually exclusive.
The video game Journey by ThatGameCompany is one of the most amazing video games that I have ever played … and you can trust me, I have played thousands of different video games. At its heart, the video game is a metaphor for the Hero’s Journey framework that many narratives capture, both ancient and modern. The call to adventure, a challenge or ordeal, transformation, and the hero’s return. It’s the story of Homer’s Odyssey, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Matrix, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario.
Beyond all that, it stands out to me as a source for understanding what it means to be a good father. One hot summer Saturday afternoon, my four-year-old son asked if he could play Journey, a game he had watched me play before. We sat down together and started a new game. In the game Journey, players experience a fantasy world that begins in a desert, surrounded by ruins and deserted landscapes. There are no weapons, no complicated special moves, and no dialogue. Most of the game is spent exploring and discovering glyphs that allow your shrouded character to jump, or almost fly, for extended distances.
The feature about Journey I want to draw your attention to is the multi-player aspect. The game only allows up to two players to share a chapter together at a time, and they are connected online in a way that you never know anything about the other player. In Journey, it is common to find a veteran player who has unlocked all the secrets of the game and is now playing again to teach others what they know. While watching my son play the game alongside another experienced player, I started reflecting on the parallels between the game Journey and fatherhood.
Rather than tell my son how to play the game, I just watched, curious to see what would happen. What I saw inspired me to be a better father.
1. A Father Seeks Out His Children
Journey does not show players a map of where to go in the game. The only guidance you have is a far off mountain and the presence of another player. The other player can be found by listening for a chime sound the character makes while playing or by a faint glow indicating their location at the edge of your screen.
The experienced player engaged my son’s character by seeking him out and jumping around to get his attention. He did not wait to be discovered, but took an active role.
In the same way, as a father we need to seek our children out. We cannot wait for them to come to us, but we must be intentional. We have to take the lead in establishing the relationship, even when they seem to be running in the opposite direction.
2. A Father Models Behavior For His Children
You can lead a player to a hidden item, but you cannot make them collect it. I watched as my son began to follow the experienced player who was leading him to hidden items. At first my son was not collecting the items, only looking around in the game. The other player followed my son to get his attention, led him back to the item, then showed him exactly where to stand and jump to collect the power up. His example allowed my son to see precisely what he needed to do.
Ultimately, my son had to make the jump for himself. It’s like Morpheus from The Matrix said to Neo: “… I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.” As a father, its our examples that instruct our children how to interact with the world around us. What we say is not nearly as important as what we do. Remember: They’re watching. Especially when you think they are not.
3. A Father Has The Best In Mind For His Children
The more experienced player in Journey was intentional about leading my son to the powerups and secrets in the game. He did not waste time on dead ends or self-serving detours. In fact, it seemed as if the only reason the other gamer kept playing was to enhance my son’s first playthrough of the game.
Great fathers want to see their children succeed. I want to save my son the unnecessary headaches and heartaches I experienced. I know I cannot insulate him from everything, nor should I try to, but I want him to benefit from what I have learned the hard way. I want him to succeed and do better than I have done.
4. A Father Is Patient With His Children
Raising children can be the most rewarding experience, but fatherhood is also one of the greatest tests of patience a man will ever face. My son’s traveling companion while playing Journey was remarkably patient. I watched with silent admiration as this other player patient waited for my son to follow him to all the best locations in the game. If my son would wander off or slide down a cliff, the other player would patiently wait for him to catch up.
As a father, having a very deep well of patience is one of the most valuable gifts that we can give our children. It is so important to not lose our temper when they cannot understand why asking the same question fifteen times in a row is annoying, or when they are learning to read and just can’t quite figure out that one word.
5. A Father Is Persistent With His Children
Finally, I noticed that the other player never gave up trying to help my son play Journey. Even with all his independent wandering, poorly timed jumps, and all the skill and behavior that you would expect from a four year old playing a video game, my son always had this mentor by his side.
Video games teach us persistence, more than any other pastime that I have enjoyed. Being able to apply that same persistence to being a father is invaluable. After all, fatherhood is a marathon, a long-distance game where we must seek out, model the right behaviors, put their needs before our own, demonstrate unlimited quantities of patience and perseverance.
It seems the video game Journey has yet again touched my life and caused me to stop and think about my own journey in life as a father. There are lessons all around us, if we pay attention.