Journey to Wild Divine - Sit Back, Relax, and Enjoy the Journey

All serious gamers know that the stress factor is an essential part of video gaming. There is something highly satisfying in beating a level or solving a puzzle that you tried and failed at 50 times. Though it seems about as logical as beating your head against the wall in order to enjoy the relief of stopping, this element has been present to some degree in most video games to date.

Gamers have come to accept the notion that in video games, satisfaction and frustration are inseparable, like yin and yang. Journey to Wild Divine, though, appeals to the need for peace and relaxation instead of the drive to slay near-invincible dragons.

Journey to Wild Divine is technically a video game, but it straddles the fence between entertainment and education. In this first-person adventure, you journey through the Sun Realm, a world full of magic, mystery and meditation. Guided by Sophia, a wise woman who knows the secrets of the Sun Realm, you encounter interesting challenges and many other characters to help teach you how to reconnect to the Wild Divine, a state of universal and personal awareness within each individual.

Unlike other games, the object is not to jump through hoops and over hurdles set before you, but to master the flow of energy within yourself. Rather than getting your adrenaline going, this game attempts to educate its players in the technique of biofeedback. To the uninitiated, biofeedback is a term for making involuntary physiological processes (such as the heartbeat and brain waves) perceptible, thus allowing greater control over them. Using a specially designed USB device that measures the skin conductance level of your index, middle, and ring fingers, you must control your own physical and mental state in order to progress through the game.

One early challenge shows a bellows stoking a flame inside a chimney. The player must relax and synchronize his or her breath with the contractions and expansions of the bellows. If it is done properly, the fire will grow. If not, the fire will quickly die out. Although an imaginative element is present, the main purpose of such challenges is to master biofeedback and other meditative techniques, with the ultimate goal of regulating your body functions and achieving physical, mental, and spiritual balance.

The uniqueness of Journey to Wild Divine lies not just in its fresh and ambitious concept, but in the elements that make up the look and feel of the game. Many references to existing mystical and religious traditions can be found throughout, such as Buddhist concepts of serenity, Eastern meditative dance, and various symbols and icons from different magical systems of belief. Lush backdrops rife with vegetation and intricate architecture add to the enchanted feel of the game. In addition, there is no score, no life bar, and not a single enemy to kill. There isn't even any of the frenetic joystick jiggling or button mashing so common in other games.

Aside from some mouse clicks, most of the input comes from the USB "Light Stone" energy translator that is included with the game. The device had finger clasps (or "Magic Rings") attach to three fingers on either hand; the player provides input to the game simply by having them on. When taken together, the spiritual look and feel, the ancient concepts, and the innovative controls all adds up to an experience that transcends gaming as we have come to know it.

Of course, such innovative thinking is often hit-and-miss, as is the case with Journey to Wild Divine. Although the sumptuous graphics are often lovely, at times the profusion of flowery images and high color saturation can get excessive. This is only a small part of a larger issue. The game was developed using Macromedia software, and it shows. The actors in the game (there are no CG models) have been blue screened into the setting, at times with less than perfect matting, and this awkward integration can strain the player's suspension of disbelief.

I didn't run into any bugs, but the game program itself feels a little rough and unpolished. Considering the time and effort that must have gone into developing the USB device, I can't help but wonder how cool this game might have been if this game's developers had invested a little more into the game itself. Overall, though, the game is quite is entertaining and enlightening, two things that many games try and fail to achieve. After playing for nearly two hours, I had learned a few new ways to meditate, and I found the experience highly enjoyable. It is a fun way to pass the time, just like a good game should be. It's also an interesting way to learn something new, just like a handful of great games have been.

Unlike other worthy games though, I did not walk away from the computer feeling pumped-up; I felt totally relaxed.

This software was reviewed on the remarkable QBox-NF3B gaming PC made by Polywell Computers. The Polywell Ice Cube is equipped with an Athlon 64 bit 3.2 GHz CPU, which will make any game an awesome experience. It also has two 1G sticks of DDR 400 RAM from the great people at Gigaram. The video card is an nVidia G-Force FX 5900 with 128 Megs of cached RAM, which is one of the top 3D graphics rendering cards available on the market today. The OS is Windows XP Pro + sp1+ latest updates. Polywell Computers has really outdone them selves putting this screaming game box together, so if you get a chance to get your hands on one too, don't pass it up.

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