The first time it happens is thrilling. I'd spent a couple of evenings gliding across the shimmering deserts of the Journey beta, desperately seeking someone, anyone, to share the experience with online.
But I remained a lone, small figure in a vast, empty space beneath the mountain that looms far in the distance as the game's mysterious objective.
As with Thatgamecompany's previous releases, flOw and Flower, I was content simply to soak up the experience and admire what is the most beautiful game I've played this year (and do watch the latest episode of The EGTV Show below to see why I think that).
And then, all of a sudden, we were two. Bundled together into the sand at the start of a new section, it was here that the game's refusal to follow the multiplayer rulebook proved as exciting, charming and unsettling as I'd hoped.
"I think it's unfortunate that today's online games mostly rely on voice chat and text chat as the way to communicate, to be social," says Jenova Chen, the principle creative force at Thatgamecompany, currently perched thoughtfully on a beanbag in a tiny room at PlayStation HQ in London.
"The problem with that is, in a game such as Journey, the character is not a human; he doesn't speak. If the player communicates with language - English for example - that does not belong to the world here.
"When we design the game we want to create a social experience that means the player needs to care about the other individual. They have to be interested in that person, to want to communicate with them".
There are, of course, loads of multiplayer games where the experience is defined by having an "interest in" and a "want to communicate" with others. But not like Journey.
Chen explains: "We intentionally keep the player anonymous because if you can read a player's PSN ID, it's like "ILoveKillzone" and then immediately you start to think, this must be a Killzone fan, rather than thinking this is another character who is also on his path moving towards the mountain."
An online ID, a Gamerscore, a customised Avatar, an accent: all these things are clear markers of identity and a player cannot help but judge another based on them. The beauty of Journey is that you are forced to interact based on actions alone, with all other forms of communication stripped away.
The result is a surprisingly intense, raw experience that makes you consider the other person as, well, a person. Are they passive or assertive? Collaborative or selfish? Serious or silly?
In asking these questions of others, the game may by design cause the player to discover something of themselves, too.
"That's certainly our hope," acknowledges Chen. "If you do screenwriting, when you define a character, it's not about what they say, it's about what they do. In a game we have what they do. You should be able to tell what someone's like based on their actions. There's some beauty about that – not really relying on language, just action. You can actually communicate."
Against a background of the phenomenal popularity of social media, in which individuals share the most intimate details of their lives in words, images and painstakingly constructed profiles as a means of defining themselves to the world, is a truer sense of someone's nature actually revealed in actions alone?
"We just want to create a more pure environment for more pure, simple communication between the players," Chen notes.
It's a fascinating, refreshing question for a videogame to pose. And one, of course, only an interactive form of entertainment can ask in this way.
My own experience bears this out. Having found another player after days of solitude, I was desperate not to lose my new companion. We ran around in the sand, always keeping an eye on each other, but the other naturally assumed the lead.
After a few minutes, though, the other player's character fell still. Had their game crashed? Had they quit because I wasn't interesting enough to share the moment with? While my brain tied itself in knots of insecure over-analysis, the character suddenly sprang back to life. A phone call? A toilet break? Such uncertainty is the point.
"Because the game is much more about the character itself rather than a weapon or the power they have, I think the bonding between the players will be stronger," says Chen.
"This vast, barren landscape and loneliness will certainly be the feeling if you're playing by yourself. Having a companion then losing them is going to be much, much more intense than losing your teammate in a first-person shooter.
"We really think there will be some new emotion you will experience when playing such an online game."
The multiplayer aspect grew out of a prototype the studio was working on for a 2D game called Dragon. The inspiration for the central theme of Journey, however, is The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, an American writer whose works on philosophy and mythology most famously influenced George Lucas when penning the original Star Wars.
"A lot of games are about the hero's journey," says Chen. " To put it simply, the story arc is almost like a story of transformation. The hero doesn't necessarily have to be a person. It could be anything - as long as it's a story of transformation.
"In the past many games have done that," he adds. "But to me what is very interesting is that when you put this hero's journey into a multiplayer game, what happens? Everybody's a hero, everybody's on their way towards a transformation.
"What if two heroes run into each other? People say when you put two different individuals together, they might hate each other, but if you put them together through a very difficult time, afterwards there will be a bond created between the two."
But let's not forget that Journey is a compelling and spectacularly gorgeous experience for the solo player. In terms of sheer overpowering isolation, it's the loneliest game I've played since Shadow Of The Colossus. A comparison Chen enjoys.
"Ueda-san [Fumito Ueda, lead designer of Shadow Of The Colossus developer Team Ico] also said he really liked the atmosphere in Journey," he beams. "I think it's because Shadow of the Colossus and Journey both want to create the sense of awe, a sense of small.
"The land is so large that the character himself is lone and weak and by himself. The feeling is very similar. No wonder a lot of people compare our games. [But] if you look at the core of the game it's quite different: in Shadow Of The Colossus you are empowered as a giant-killer; in Journey you can't kill anything!"
He's really not wrong about a "sense of awe". Chen's previous game, Flower, was rightly rewarded with a BAFTA for its unique artistic merits; Journey must surely be a strong contender for next year's prize.
The technical achievement behind the gleaming, rippling sands is remarkable enough, but the way this mechanical, mathematical feat has been deployed on the artist's canvas of magnificent vistas, epic scale and detail is wonderful to behold.
From the powerful minimalist opening as the mountain emerges ominously from behind the top of a dune, to the breathtaking pastel-skies of the third section's initial panorama, I doubt I'll clap eyes on a prettier game this year. The simple elegance of the interface in the studio's previous titles has also been preserved, in accordance with Chen's ambition to make experiences that appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
"Our design philosophy over the past few years from fl0w to Flower to Journey has been refining," he says. "I think it more and more feels like a Japanese garden: when there's nothing else you can trim then that's the best design!"
Unlike a Japanese garden, if you trim too much in a video game, you can just as easily add it back in again. I meet Chen before the beta launches, at which point the in-game camera is controlled exclusively by SIXAXIS motion-control.
"You don't use the stick to look around," he insists, arguing that it would exclude those not familiar with the traditional "grammar" of video games. The beta launches with this feature intact, but an update swiftly introduces right-stick camera control – a clear improvement, and a good example of the importance of user feedback.
Another chapter in the book of gaming grammar Chen has torn up is the way in which multiplayer games are accessed. "We want to create something that is very intuitive, but in an online game, you pick a multiplayer game [from a menu] and then you create a lobby, wait for people to join, check latency, confirm, start the game… All this work that is not actually the game."
His team is guided by the principle of what is the most "human" design decision, he explains. So there is no lobby. Other players simply appear in the game seamlessly.
Reducing complexity to attract more users has been a major part of the global gaming business since Wii Sports grabbed its first granny. For Chen, it's a technological issue that has not just stunted growth, but also the medium's emotional development.
"It has a lot to do with what the technology is good at," he argues. "When games first evolved it was easier to simulate physics-based things, so a lot of games are very physical and action-oriented. But if you look at any entertainment medium, if you want to have everybody enjoy this medium you need to have a wide variety of genres.
"[That's why] games have been very much focused on actions, empowerment, competition, conflict, anxiety and adrenaline feelings. There are very few games about the feeling of romance, relaxation, zen, peace, harmony – any deep feeling or slow feeling, it's not there."
With Journey's release date pencilled in for later this year, smack bang in the middle of the angry pyrotechnics of Call of Duty, Battlefield and all the other big budget, big balls blockbusters, any one of those feelings should make this a trip worth taking.