I am so very young and my knowledge of this world is limited. So then is my knowledge of the human being equally as limited. Everyday I meet people who I assume details about. I look at them and project a past of which I know nothing. They could be someone who would become a lifelong friend, a love interest, or a critical teacher; yet, they are instantaneously projected by my mind to be something less. They are humans too; ones who have lived full lives and experienced life entirely different than I. If I could only see their past maybe I could better understand their present and fall in love with their perseverance, convictions, and passions. Kan Gao takes this notion and challenges the gamer to open their mind to another’s life in To the Moon and in doing so challenges the notion that the human being can ever be fully understood, no matter what we know.
In To the Moon, we join two doctors, Dr. Watts and Dr. Rosalene, as they help a dying man named Johnny fulfill his final wish of going to the moon. To do so they must travel back and navigate through Johnny’s life to attempt to plant the idea of being an astronaut into his memory. The concept teems of sci-fi ridiculousness, but it is far beyond the point of the effort. As the doctors travel back through time, they learn about Johnny’s life and relationships, only to find an understanding of Johnny which none of the people close to Johnny, nor did Johnny even have. To the Moon is an exploration of the human life, through an exploration of one fictional dying man’s life. The exploration poses life lessons throughout the 4 hour experience.
One of the more important lessons I was able to take away was how To the Moon posed Johnny’s most important memories. Through backtracking our player experiences the critical moments of Johnny’s life, of which 90% center around his relationship with his deceased wife. I never knew of Johnny’s job, nor had I thought about what Johnny or his wife did for a living until long after the credits rolled. To the Moon made me reflect on my fondest memories and reminded me that love stands out distinctly amongst other experiences. I have been strongly affected by many moments in my life, but likely none more than love and love lost. Johnny is no different and love not only affects his life, but holds it steadfastly in place. It is idealistic, I know, but the love is realistic and imperfect all the same, which adds a needed aspect of realism.
The realism comes in that Johnny’s love is flawed and never understandable. I could not tell you why Johnny and his wife were in love nor could I tell you why they were initially drawn to each other. Despite viewing Johnny’s past openly and without restraint I could still not understand his emotional draw towards this girl. Surely there was reason, but I could not truly know why, and I think that is an important lesson to take away from To the Moon. We can know and judge others based on their actions, but unless we truly understood their reasons and emotional state we truly know nothing about them. That is why it was impossible to understand the draw between Johnny and his spouse and too impossible to understand why people do what they do. This led me to come to the conclusion that I could never understand the characters. I could not understand their decisions, loves, hatreds, and wishes and I was not meant to. I was meant to learn but never understand, because people are a complex and distinctive animal with depth beyond any of our capability of understanding.
To the Moon constantly questions the depth of the human being. To the Moon posed a story, but not a simple one; it was a complex narrative which challenged the way we view of strangers. That which we assumed about every character was not necessarily true and it reminded me I need to work harder to get to know those I love without assuming things about those I do not know. It taught me that video games as a whole can be moving and thoughtful, while being direct and full of conviction. To the Moon was linear, so I assumed nothing because all I could know was given. The game strictly unwavered from its story while keeping details about the characters abstract, in a way starkly and beautifully contrasting itself. Most importantly, it taught me that no matter how much I truly want to know or even come to learn, I can never understand why another human being does what they do. Despite all of this, I know now that I want to learn more about everyone, because it helps, even though I will never truly understand. This alone can free me from trying to understand, and rather accept the beauty of what I know of a person. I will carry that lesson with me for the rest of my life.
Go check out To the Moon when you get a chance. You can find it on its official website and on Steam and be sure to look at what Freebird Games is up to on their official website or on Twitter. Stay tuned next week for another The Why of Indie Games, where I will cover another indie game’s importance to life or to gaming. For all your other indie gaming news keep with Indiegamemag.com.