Game Innovation Lab
Collaboration is our game.

The Night Journey


The Night Journey

The Night Journey (2007-2018) is a collaboration between the Game Innovation Lab and acclaimed video artist Bill Viola. It uses both game and video techniques to tell the universal story of an individual’s journey towards enlightenment. It was one of the earliest video games supported by The National Endowment for the Arts as part of their media arts grants.

The game begins in the center of a mysterious landscape on which darkness is falling. There is no one path to take, no single goal to achieve, but the player’s actions will reflect on themselves and the world, transforming and changing them both. If they are able, they may slow down time itself and forestall the fall of darkness. If not, there is always another chance; the darkness will bring dreams that enlighten future journeys. 

The interactive design of The Night Journey evokes a sense of the archetypal journey of enlightenment through the mechanics of the game experience – i.e. the choices and actions of the player during the game. The game design explores a challenging question: what is the game mechanic of enlightenment? How can we model such an intensely personal yet archetypal experience in a game?

Visual inspiration is derived from the prior works of Bill Viola, which provide reference for the game world, while source material for the in-game “reflections” is drawn from the vast archive of his video footage. Textual inspiration comes from the lives and writings of great historical figures including: Rumi, the 13th century Islamic poet and mystic; Ryōkan, the 18th century Zen Buddhist poet; St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic and poet; and Plotinus, the 3rd century philosopher. 

The team has created a set of custom post-processing techniques for the 3D environment that give a sense of “explorable video,” integrating the imagery of Bill Viola’s prior work into the game world at both a technical and creative level. 

The Night Journey debuted in the SIGGRAPH art gallery in 2007 and has continued to be exhibited worldwide for more than a decade. The project stands as a milestone in the search to expand the boundaries of what game experiences may communicate through their game mechanics and world design.

In June of 2018, The Night Journey was made available for home players on PlayStation 4PC and Macintosh. Bryan Appleyard of The Sunday Times called it "...the most genuinely realistic game ever made. It is like life: puzzling, difficult, uncertain, unclear, always seen, in St Paul’s words, through a glass darkly."