Sophia Ouellette never could've imagined the effect video games would have on her life when she first picked them up as a kid.
"My dad was always a huge gamer," Sophia says in a video produced by PlayStation. "He would play games all the time with our whole family. Just him playing those games and sharing the stories of the characters within the games, that really got me interested in them."
In late 2011, Sophia's father was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.
But their shared love of gaming didn't stop with his diagnosis. In fact, gaming became more important than ever.
"Before he passed he really wanted us to experience things with him," says Sophia. "[He wanted to make] sure that he could spend his last few weeks having fun and experiencing games. And just playing with us."
Unfortunately, as his illness progressed, gaming became more difficult — his reflexes were deteriorating, and the gaming options became more limited.
That's when Sophia and her dad found a game called Journey.
Journey, a video game produced by That Game Company in California, is a one-of-a-kind story experience.
Less of an actual "game" and more of an interactive piece of poetry or painting, Journey puts the player in control of a character with no name in a world with no explanation.
Your mission, such as it is, is simply to get to the top of a nearby mountain.
As you glide through Journey's mystical landscapes, you're immediately struck by the game's uniquely atmospheric beauty. Large rolling hills of desert sand give way to dark, isolating caves. Unnamed creatures made of magic carpets undulate through the air, lifting you silently through castles and across seemingly ancient bridges.
Along the way, other players on their own journeys may cross paths with you. They appear without a name tag and without a way to communicate with you. You simply walk through the world of the game together, leading and following each other as you solve puzzles on the way to your final destination.
While widely regarded as one of the best video games ever made (seriously), Journey holds a particularly special place in Sophia's heart.
"Towards the end of the game, it suddenly gets really cold and icy, and it becomes really difficult to progress," Sophia says in the video. "Eventually your character sort of gives up, you can't go on any longer, and at that point, my dad and I thought it might have been the end of the game, it was sort of a sad ending."
They were wrong, though — when you make it past that icy point, the game comes back to life.
Your character has reached the beautiful mountaintop, and all the creatures you encountered on your journey in the world below reunite to help wistfully usher you to the end of the story.
"I think that that gave my dad some kind of peace because near the end of his life, he was playing a game that told him that in the end it would be all right."
Whether we're telling, hearing, or playing them in video games, stories help us process emotions and complex feelings.
Stories have a unique ability to heal. They can reach out and lift us up when we need it the most. Doctors like Richard Senelick have used stories to make a more positive and meaningful connection with their patients, as he explained in The Huffington Post:
"As we careen into the digital age, the fistful of pamphlets that we stuff into our patients’ hands will be as ineffective in the future as they have been in the past. Storytelling, in its various forms, may be one way to connect more meaningfully with our patients, to both help us get to know them individually and help them understand their physical condition."
Author Joshua Rivedal recently wrote a book about how storytelling can help people who suffer from depression by helping them to empathize with others, and events like Characters Unite or The Moth use live storytelling to speak to cultural differences, injustices, and universal similarities. Not to mention Letters Live, in which artists read letters aloud to an audience.
The cultural significance of storytelling is well documented and can be seen daily in the billions of dollars spent every year telling them through literature, film, radio, and — yes — video games.
"Eventually I want to do game design and characters for video games," says Sophia, who recently got to show some of her artwork to the creators of Journey.
While her father has passed, she will always remember Journey as the game that brought them together and showed them that everything would be OK, in a time when both of them needed it the most.
"Whatever I make, I just want it to be something people can really connect with. Something where people see themselves in the characters I create."
Sometimes a single story can change your life forever. Stories can move you, inspire you, and teach you valuable lessons. Sophia is telling her own stories now, and luckily for all of us, her journey is just beginning.