Type of game
Two scientists approach an old man, who contemplates the scenery from a cliff. They present themselves as part of an organization: the Sigmund Agency of Life Generation. At that moment, the man realizes that he is going to die shortly.
“…I suppose I had a good run”, he says to himself.
“Not good enough, it seems”, replies Dr. Watts.
To the moon is a short indie game created by Freebird Games that presents the Matrix query of blue and red pill from a different perspective. Would you trick yourself into thinking you had a perfect life, even if that was not the truth?
An agency to fulfill your dreams
The game starts as Dr. Watts and Dr. Rosalene walk into an old man’s house. John is in a comatose state, with only a few more days to live. With the aid of a machine, the two scientists can enter John’s memories. In one of these, John explains that he has always dreamed of getting to the moon, but he cannot explain why. The scientists’ job will be to explore John’s memories (thus proceeding backward in the story, much like What Remains of Edith Finch) and to manipulate them to fulfill his dream.
The gameplay of To the moon is closer to a visual novel than a game: aside from being very short, it is the story that takes the larger piece of the cake. Most of the player’s interactions revolve around moving from one spot to another, looking for objects, or solving simple puzzles, but it is clear how little impact this has on the narrative: completing the puzzles more efficiently has no real impact on the game. Like Night in The Woods, To the moon thus does not give the possibility for choices. John’s story has already been written: he is at the end of his life. The only job of the player is to witness how it unfolded.
The fear of mediocrity
One of John’s biggest fears as a teenager was to be just like everyone else. That is a fear most can relate to, especially in their youngest years. River, instead, seems to be “special” ever since her childhood.
River is a girl that goes to John’s high school. She is one of the smartest students with an incredible memory, but she also tends to isolate herself from the others, sitting alone with her platypus plushie. John notices that and feels drawn to her. He thinks that, in some way, sharing her uniqueness will make him less mediocre, as the moon reflects its shine from the sun. This story is the opposite of Federì’s problem in Via Gemito, a novel by Domenico Starnone, in which he feels outshined by the extraordinariness of his wife.
However, John’s friend does not support him. “Do you even know if she wants to be different?”, he says. In fact, River (who it is heavily hinted is on the autism spectrum) does not want to be different at all. She wishes she could fit in, but she is forced by her nature to stand out. This big difference between the two, once it comes to light, will be what ruins their marriage.
Realism against romanticism
Their different view on mediocrity is not the only dissimilarity between the characters of River and John. In To the moon, one of the main themes is a contrast between realism and romanticism.
River, the realist, sees her condition as what it is: a condition, with its struggles and its benefits. She sees life as the totality of her choices and does not wish for that choice to be stolen from her, even on her deathbed. John, instead, is a romantic. He romanticizes his relationship with River and the woman herself, making her the lighthouse for all of his life. However, that means that he is not ready to accept for this reality to not go as planned. That is why he is willing to modify it in his memories, even though that changes nothing about the reality that he lived and that he shared with River. To him, dying with a fake yet perfect ending is better than accepting regrets as an inevitable part of life.
Freebird Games has kept on working on To the moon‘s premises, releasing two other games set in the same universe – Finding Paradise and Impostor Factory -, two comics that explore the To the moon characters, and even confirming an animated feature movie in the works. In the end, the purpose of the game is to make the player think about how they view themselves and their life. What would you do if you were in John’s place?