Despite the overwhelmingly positive reception of To The Moon by both critics and players, it remains a game that is somewhat polarizing in regards to how it utilized the medium. Discourse on the game is often prefaced with the disclaimer that the narrative itself isn’t a point of contention, rather how it used mechanics (or didn’t) to create an experience that justifiably explained why it needed to be a game instead of a work of text or film. And subsequently, To The Moon did receive a level of scrutiny being labeled a non-game narrowly focused on its narrative over its mechanical systems, similar to the more recently contentious Gone Home.
And mechanically, the two games are fairly similar. Players through spatial exploration, piece together bits of information left behind by other characters in the form of written memories (journal entries) and other tangible objects of significant meaning. In the case of To The Moon, this exploration is more explicit with the two main characters literally traversing a dying man’s own memories through some high-tech futuristic gadgetry.
But To The Moon is fundamentally different in its approach and overall framework. While my own thoughts on Gone Home were mixed, I did find fault with the game because of its reliant identification of its characters’ being gay. By over-emphasizing a single character trait, I found that the game likely worked against its own ends by simplifying its otherwise well written characters into seemingly being defined by their sexuality.
In comparison, To The Moon while concerned with those with autism spectrum disorders isn’t wholly defined by it. The character of River isn’t simply her diagnosis and creator Kan Gao seemingly took note of straying away from doing so. In fact, the game’s own characters on several occasions make an effort to point out that the game isn’t actually about River specifically, but the dying man in question and his memories of her.
To The Moon posits that in the near future, memories can be altered in order to grant a sort of “wish fulfillment” for those on their death bed. In the game players take on the role of Dr. Watts and Dr. Rosalene, two employees of Sigmund Corp. who make a living doing just that. In To The Moon, Watts and Rosalene arrive at patient/client Johnny’s house without much time left on the clock. As the title suggests, Johnny wants to die believing he went “to the moon” but strangely doesn’t remember why.
Because of this, players must explore Johnny’s own memories to pinpoint where this desire came from, in order to create a new narrative of false memories where he can die without regrets. What follows however is something entirely unexpected for both the two doctors as well as the player themselves. What should have been a seemingly routine job for the Sigmund Corp. employees turns into a rather gripping emotional experience that showcases the incredible yet somewhat tragic life of a man that defies simple explanation.
To The Moon is likely one of the greatest games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, and I say that with no exaggeration. And while it would be dishonest to claim it is a perfect work, it is altogether easy to look over some of its mechanical issues for the overall emotional experience that it provides. Of which isn’t simply a result of textual narrative, but one that actually utilizes its medium despite what some critics have suggested in the past.
But ultimately it is also an incredibly difficult game to examine without going into extraneous detail. To The Moon among many other facets is a memorable work for how meticulously well it was crafted with its usage of visual and musical motifs, believable characters, and its ability to turn the otherwise mundane into something utterly magical. All of which was achieved with rather archaic mechanical systems and visuals. It isn’t an insult at all to state that To The Moon is a game that from a production standpoint, could have been made on someone’s home computer on a shoestring budget. Conversely it speaks to the enormous power held within such a seemingly small production, and questions why exponentially more expensive blockbuster titles are comparatively lacking.
While visually To The Moon closely resembles a 16-bit JRPG (most likely a direct result of being created within RPG Maker X), it plays more along the lines of a classic point-and-click adventure or visual novel. But its 16-bit aesthetic might not simply be an unintended result of the limitations of its production, rather a deliberate maneuver in order to mechanically create a sense of nostalgia in the player. Certainly before the narrative had time to properly introduce itself, the game had me already fondly remembering games of the past like Chrono Trigger or Tales of Phantasia from its visual similarities.
And while it might seem like a limitation, the aesthetic and format of the game does provide for a certain storybook appeal that is able to maintain a surreal and fantastical tonality that wouldn’t come across if the game had simply been done to a more realistic degree in the Source Engine like Dear Esther or The Stanley Parable. It is somewhat reminiscent of older Hou Hsiao-Hsien films like Dust in the Wind or A Summer at Grandpa’s which cemented Hou as a master of minimalist film despite that certain “style” merely being an indirect consequence of his limited budget at that time. But regardless of whether his certain aesthetic was intentional, there was a definite beauty to his long naturalistic shots that favored meticulous mise-en-scène over camera movement. In the same manner, To The Moon with its 16-bit graphics evokes a setting that is equally analogous to the real world, yet retains a decidedly other-worldly nature to it with its caricatured sprites and dollhouse-like structures.
From a mechanical standpoint, the framework of a JRPG also places players into the traditional top-down “bird’s eye” view of the events taking place. Typically such a viewpoint works against players immersing themselves into the characters on screen, but also allows for a certain holistic look into the space at hand which is fitting for a title that has players trying to piece together an over-arching narrative through investigating various memories in the form of isolated game spaces. Much like Rosalene and Watts, players aren’t meant to see events from the eyes of Johnny or River, but as far away spectators voyeuristically peering in.
With the game’s emphasis on Johnny’s life and his mysterious desire to go the moon, the narrative unfolds in reverse. In the same manner that Lee Chang Dong’s film Peppermint Candy starts from a man’s ultimate suicide then through reverse chronology explores his life to pinpoint whatever trauma led him to his tragic fate, To The Moon has Watts and Rosalene attempting to figure out where Johnny’s deep-seated desire to go the moon originates by primarily exploring his life long relationship with his currently deceased wife River.
Because Johnny’s life plays in reverse, much of what is initially revealed is difficult to digest and properly make sense of. The house is littered with hundreds of origami rabbits, both Johnny and River keep referring to someone else named Anya, and there is seemingly no inclination that Johnny wants to actually go to the moon. There are various other motifs that frequently occur as well whose significance is a mystery such as River’s affection for a toy platypus or the song Johnny composed which other characters criticize as being “repetitive.”
What is initially apparent however is that River and Johnny shared a deep and profound love for one another, and that likely his desire to go to the moon must be linked to River. And through the events of the narrative, Watts and Rosalene jump from pivotal moments in the shared life of Johnny and River to more deeply understand these characters, and where Johnny’s desire might have come from.
Emotionally the game jumps from the tragic passing of River as the first accessible memory, to living through Johnny’s life in reverse which is comparatively happy seen in nostalgic remembrances of his time with River. These moments are often captured merely through the textual exchanges between River and Johnny at times like their wedding night or on the cliff-side overlooking “Anya,” however many of these scenes transcend simply being about the written prompts. For example, Johnny and River dancing atop a lighthouse silhouetted against the night sky like hand shadow puppets or riding horses together is all cleverly captured within the limitations of its lower resolution and 16-bit aesthetic without the need for expository text. But despite this, their life together isn’t painted in overly saturated bright colors and there is a lingering sense that something was off.
And certainly later in their lives, Johnny is seemingly at odds with River in the sense that he cannot internally come to terms with her last wishes but also doesn’t understand what she is apparently trying to communicate. With money tight, Johnny rationally chooses to put their remaining money into helping the sickened River instead of finishing their dream house. River on the other hand wants Johnny to finish building their home and look after Anya, later revealed to be the abandoned lighthouse that stands next to their property and was a site of many of their past memories together.
The suggestion is altogether strange but it becomes more properly understood when players learn later of River’s Asperger’s diagnosis and the different perception she might have to a neurotypical like Johnny. Ultimately out of love, Johnny relents to River’s wishes although he can’t shake a certain sense that she was trying to tell him something else before she passed away. Her relentless folding of origami rabbits and inquiries into a special blue and yellow one she folded specifically for him, points to a missing link that players don’t fully grasp until the narrative is within its last moments. If anything River’s action in the last stages of her life seemingly point to her own irrational and unstable behavior such as cutting her hair and then lying about it to Johnny.
In many ways, To The Moon plays out like a complex puzzle similar to the ones players themselves are required to complete in order to delve further into Johnny’s past. At the beginning, many narrative facets like those described in River’s later days seem nonsensical and only begin to piece together as players progress. But also it’s not a game that overtly tells players every little detail through its text or dialogue. After hearing Johnny inquire about River’s supposed early visit to a hair salon, players can investigate on their own volition to find strands of orange hair in the garbage bin in her room, a detail that could otherwise be missed and seemingly wasn’t known to Johnny himself.
And as the game progresses further into Johnny’s past, while it retains a certain sense of nostalgia Johnny seems to exhibit a degree of regret that provides the only lead into where his desires of going to the moon might possibly originate. These regrets themselves are often ambiguous and hard to discern often being linked to his own actions concerning River.
Many of the instances of interaction between Johnny and River can be characterized by a certain level of contention or misunderstanding. Before the final revelation of Johnny’s “true” past, one of the earliest memories of Johnny that Watts and Rosalene access is one where he went on a date with River to the theater in middle-school. It is seemingly their first official meeting and the whole affair is unsurprisingly awkward.
By all appearances it looks as if Johnny was stood up and after awhile, he steps out of the darkened theater. Moments later River comes out of the same theater not understanding why Johnny left. Johnny having not realized River was in there but apparently seated elsewhere is confused but ignorantly laughs off the whole affair as they both head inside together.
While this particular scene comes off as playful and only serves to reveal the difference in perception between Johnny and River, it does connect strongly to the proceeding scene that takes place beforehand. Immediately after Johnny asks River to the theater at school, he confesses to his friend Nick after being questioned why he is attracted to the somewhat strange River of all people, that he was interested in her because she wasn’t like everybody else and “not normal.” Nick points out the troubling nature of this sort of attraction and how it could be hurtful, stating that maybe River actually wants to be like everyone else.
Later in their lives and earlier in the narrative of events for players, Nick asks Johnny about confessing to River about their first meeting stating she didn’t take it too well. Given the context of River’s condition, Johnny’s confession could have regretfully been painful for someone who had trouble fitting in socially with others her whole life. And while in retrospect River’s discomfort is likely not due to Johnny’s confession directly, Johnny obviously read the situation as being at fault himself.
Furthermore it isn’t exactly clear how Johnny himself viewed River’s Asperger’s. In a later moment in their lives when River was officially diagnosed as a young adult, the doctor suggests that Johnny read Tony Attwood to better understand his partner, a suggestion which he refuses. In context to their first meeting as children, Johnny’s reluctance to academically understand River might simply be a case of wanting to preserve his own image of River free of some sort of medical breakdown. He was admittedly attracted to her because she was different and the notion that this trait might be a disorder could have been a hard notion to process.
Johnny himself however remembers this particular moment as a significant point in his life, which suggests a certain degree of understanding. And Johnny did however seem to actively take on the suggestion of trying equine therapy for River. However from the earliest moments of the narrative which reveal their later days, it doesn’t appear if River ever properly managed to overcome her disorder, at least not to the same degree as Isabelle who was diagnosed at an earlier age and admits to “acting” to appear normal in comparison.
Circling back to River on her death bed, Johnny openly tells Nick how it seems like River has been trying to tell him something through her actions yet he has no idea what it could be. The blue and yellow origami rabbit for example is obviously some sort of attempt by River to say something as she kept asking Johnny to describe it and tell her what he sees. He just sees a rabbit clearly missing “something” and this failure to understand is seemingly linked to River’s inability to communicate normally, and Johnny might in retrospect regret not going through greater efforts to understand how her mind worked.
In this sense it becomes clear like the very premise of the game itself that the story of Johnny and River wasn’t so much characteristic of River herself or her diagnosis, rather of Johnny and a certain sense of lost memories. He doesn’t remember why he wants to go to the moon nor does he understand the significance of the colored paper rabbit despite River suggesting he should.
In another scene that occurs later in their lives at a bookstore, Johnny approaches River reading The Emperor’s New Clothes, at which he remarks that she is reading a children’s book. River seemingly upset questions Johnny on why that should be an issue, and even further inquires why Johnny himself has kept books from his childhood yet doesn’t read them anymore, merely sitting in the basement collecting dust. Johnny doesn’t seem to know how to answer what he likely thinks is an obvious inquiry. He replies that as an adult, he can’t really relate to the Animorphs novels of his youth.
On one hand there is a sense that River as a character is constant throughout the narrative. It isn’t readily apparent whether this is a symptom of her diagnosis or whether it’s simply a character trait. Her love of The Emperor’s New Clothes doesn’t change from when she was a child to an old woman, and furthermore there is a definite sense of material importance she places onto certain objects. Her toy platypus accompanies her as a child and is ultimately resting beside her on her death bed. And her later folding of paper rabbits might also be related to this notion.
What is most significant about this however is River’s implied efforts to make Johnny understand this supposed importance on items he has either forgotten or no longer cares for. The Animorphs novels are one facet of this, but it’s a motif that emerges later on in the narrative and earlier in their lives.
On their wedding day, River is seemingly distraught over a rabbit that got run over. Johnny is unable to understand the significance of this event, but players having already been acclimated to the origami rabbits can draw an immediate connection. However the actual significance of it is still ultimately masked. What is apparent however is that River’s negative reaction to the roadkill isn’t merely one of a loss of life, rather what it potentially represents. Something that neither the player can currently understand and Johnny has long since forgotten.
As I have already mentioned, one of the most impressive aspects of To The Moon is how well everything was crafted to a high degree of coherence and self-consistency. While the narrative is initially confusing and inexplicable, the manner in which all of its various misunderstood facets ultimately comes together is rather remarkable.
And much like the reverse chronology in Peppermint Candy, To The Moon similarly explores a past trauma that has inadvertently effected the lives of both Johnny and River. In the main characters’ investigation, they ultimately hit a wall being unable to access Johnny’s earliest memories. By going back through previous moments and piecing together key mementos, they are eventually able to break through and reveal a hidden past that Johnny himself had forgotten. There are two memories specifically that hold major significance and largely bring sense to the narrative as a whole, his first true meeting with River and the death of his twin brother Joey.
Joey whose existence wasn’t even known about before is an intriguing revelation. It’s clear from the revealed memories that the twin brothers were deeply close and that he should have been present in at least some of Johnny’s later memories. Watts and Rosalene discover that Joey was accidentally run over by their own mother as he carelessly ran behind her car as she was backing out of their driveway. The traumatic event left their own mother mentally damaged which is something that wasn’t clear before, but in retrospect explains her odd behavior. For example, calling Johnny as Joey which was previously thought to be a nickname instead of actual confusion or dissociation. But also there were clues throughout the game that pointed to this, such as Johnny sleeping in a bunk bed when he is seemingly an only child, or his obsession with pickled olives and Animorphs, both things it turns out he adamantly disliked.
Johnny himself doesn’t recall this particular trauma because their mother dosed him with beta-blockers to induce memory loss but it is clear that while it mostly succeeded, his subconscious still retained a recollection of it to a degree. For example his latching on to pickled olives and Animorphs which were both things his brother loved.
However while the blocked memory of Joey does provide what could be considered the primary revelation of the narrative, it still doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, nor does it explain Johnny’s desire to go to the moon. And rather unsurprisingly, it circles back to River in the end.
In the proceeding memory which takes place shortly before Joey’s death, Johnny and his family are enjoying a night at a carnival where he gets into an argument over a toy. After both brothers have won a game, Joey gets the train set they both wanted while Johnny is left with a toy platypus he isn’t particularly fond of. Upset, Johnny goes off on his own and find an isolated cliff overlooking the starry night sky. After a few minutes and hearing a rustle in the bushes, a girl approaches and then hesitantly leaves. Johnny chases after her convincing her to stay. Johnny and the young girl revealed to be River get into a discussion over their names. Johnny dislikes the normalcy of his name, while River wishes she had a name like “John” so she could be like everyone else.
The two of them immediately bond and ultimately find themselves stargazing where River compares the stars to lighthouses, where the stars can all see each other but can’t speak or communicate with one another given the astronomical distances between them. Comparative to her own social disorder, it becomes clear why River had such a fascination with lighthouses but also how she could personify Anya later in their lives.
River then suggests they make a constellation in the sky and both rather miraculously draw the same one, a bunny rabbit with the moon as its belly. Before departing they make a promise stating that they will meet again next year at the same place, but if they get lost along the way, that they will regroup on the moon. Johnny then departs but not before gifting River his toy platypus.
From this point on players much like Watts and Rosalene are able to piece together the whole narrative. Johnny forgot about his first meeting with River due to the death of his brother Joey and his mother’s subsequent actions, and his desire to go to the moon must have subconsciously triggered after River’s death.
Various other motifs and elements also finally make sense and piece together flawlessly like a jigsaw puzzle. In her own way, River was trying to get Johnny to remember that first meeting before her death. She cut her hair to the same length as when they first met as children, and the blue and yellow origami rabbit was meant to remind him of their constellation but also shared the colors of her wedding dress as well as possibly representing the yellow stars against the blue sky that fateful night. And the run-over rabbit as well becomes a significant marker of both their first meeting as well as the forgotten death of Joey.
At this point the narrative begins to become somewhat problematic in how to actually rectify Johnny’s stated desires and it briefly explores the ethical ramifications of Sigmund Corp.’s work. Watts and Rosalene find themselves at odds. Watts is hesitant to grant the dying man’s last wish as it would likely result in removing River which is the very reason for his desire to go to the moon, while Rosalene states they have no choice in the matter as the contract is legally binding.
What follows however is a rewriting of Johnny’s life despite Watt’s concern. In this newly created narrative, Joey never died and Johnny never met River as a child. He lived through much of his early life now accompanied by his brother with a newly injected interest in working for NASA. And while the story wouldn’t be complete with a return of River who has also made her way to NASA to become an astronaut, the whole affair is somewhat bittersweet.
And as the shuttle launches and players see Johnny and River approach the moon holding hands as the heart monitor flat-lines, it’s difficult to know whether one should feel good about how the story ultimately resolved or question it.
Relevancy to the medium, and addressing common criticisms
The emotional gut punch that To The Moon delivers is unquestionable, however it also presents a conflict that questions whether this supposed cheerful resolution is in fact something worth celebrating or if it conversely presents an ethical dilemma. While Johnny himself sought out the service, it was done without a full understanding of why he wanted it given his artificially blocked memories. And while in this newly lived narrative he still ended up with River, the experience was wholly artificial. None of it actually happened and it seems that while the real life of River and Johnny was by no means perfect, it was still largely beautiful and something to ultimately cherish.
And it bears mentioning that in Johnny’s newly written life no matter how sweet, the original desire or reasoning to go to the moon no longer existed or was even applicable. It strikes up the question of whether or not the whole ordeal meant anything in the end, and if Johnny’s memories were better left untouched. It is certainly debatable whether Johnny himself would still have desire this outcome if hypothetically the two doctors could have told him the full story beforehand.
And the conflict between Watts and Rosalene themselves seem to indicate that Sigmund Corp.’s own employees aren’t completely free of questioning their services. The additional Sigmund Corp. – Holiday Special which is bundled with To The Moon explores this notion in the aftermath of their time with Johnny. Rosalene herself questions whether what they do is right, and is internally torn over her desires to help people and whether she is actually working toward that end.
The bonus short episode is relatively light-hearted concerning a holiday party at the office of Sigmund Corp. that has Watts playing pranks and forcing Rosalene to play through a crude game he coded called “To The Moon” based off his experiences. But the party itself is contrasted with the outside world at the episode’s closing where it is revealed that the Sigmund Corp. building is surrounded by mobs of protestors as it fades to black.
And given that we know that To The Moon is merely an episode in a longer series, it should be intriguing how the series will ultimately explore these ethical concerns and the fallout of Sigmund Corp.’s actions, as well as exploring the lives and memories of other future patients. But also ultimately how the events of Johnny and River will figure into a greater whole if at all.
In reaction to my own play-through and possibly as a means of coping, I went on Youtube to see how other players reacted to the game’s closing moments. While there are plenty of “Let’s Plays” of To The Moon, the number of prominent Youtubers that had done a series on it was surprisingly bare. Although it might not be that shocking given To The Moon might not offer the same sort of click-bait appeal that games like Minecraft or Goat Simulator might provide.
But of the people who did play the game, the experience had an unquestionably significant impact on those playing it. A reaction that is ultimately hard to quantify and is markedly conflicted in whether one should be satisfied or upset by Johnny’s final moments of life. Markiplier’s own experience seems to sum this up nicely, where in the closing moments of the game as the credits roll, he becomes visibly upset stating “I know I should be happy…it’s beautiful that he got what he wanted, but how is that better? I don’t know if it was worth it at all.”
This was fairly similar to my own experiences with the ending that had me ultimately torn on whether I should feel content with a tinge of sadness or actually be upset over it. And more then the raw emotional power of To The Moon, the fact that it has proven to be more then a simple tear-jerking tale likely signifies it as a work to be commemorated. This questionable aspect of Johnny’s last moments and Sigmund Corp.’s work are something that isn’t merely a symptom of incoherent writing or oversight, rather something that was explicitly pointed out by the work itself.
At this point it bears mentioning that out of the various common criticisms leveled at To The Moon, the one I find might have the most relevance behind it is the claim that it utilizes a similar formulaic methodology to induce emotional reactions as what has been done for years in film such as in romantic-comedies or Bollywood. Everything from My Sassy Girl to Jab We Met, films like these have for decades been able to consistently draw out a reaction from its audience outside the scope of whether or not the emotional response was relevant to the narrative being presented. In the same way that charity ads often pair deliberately edited/selected imagery with somber music, films have regularly utilized a similar mechanic when the performances of the actors, cinematography, and other facets of the film are simply not substantial enough to evoke the correct response.
And under this context, To The Moon has regularly been criticized as being fundamentally hollow despite this emotional response which has consequently been linked to the musical scoring of creator Kan Gao. However while the score of the game is indeed powerful, I find one can easily gauge a work’s reliance upon such a singular device to otherwise mask its flaws.
Without singling out specific films, I generally find that works of the aforementioned genres can easily be divided into two groups. Those of which I remember for the actual content of the film whether that be a compelling narrative, premise, or memorable performances. And those I primarily recall for its score or soundtrack. And To The Moon in retrospect isn’t so much reliant on its musical score, rather is merely supplemented by it. Above all else I remember the passionate relationship between Johnny and River as well as the external commentary by the game’s main characters as they spectate upon the events before them. The score while incredible, doesn’t in any way shape or form outweigh this.
But ultimately this leads to the final questioning of whether To The Moon despite its merits could have been better served in a different medium. And while I certainly haven’t gone to great lengths to personally defend its usage of mechanics and scope of interaction, the question is ultimately irrelevant given the context.
While I don’t typically find issue with questioning the validity of a work and its relationship to its medium given I’ve probably done it myself on occasion. It has always been done with the understanding that a certain work had the budget and resources to call for such an inquiry. For example, L.A. Noire has often been criticized for largely ignoring its medium with mechanical systems that had no sense of consequence or importance. For example the game utilized an investigative system wherein players were meant to read facial expressions to draw out the truth in interrogations or testimonies. However the game from the standpoint of progressing the narrative (the only conceivable incentive barring achievements) would happen regardless of “wrong” choices.
Coupled with a reliance upon filmic conventions and a monstrous budget of $50 million for development, L.A. Noire could have conceivably been produced as a proper film. This isn’t to suggest that it should have, rather I am simply illustrating the fact that it had the resources at its disposal to “not” be a game if there was a more fitting medium.
In comparison, To The Moon which didn’t have the backing of a major publisher or large funds to utilize represents the ability for a wider range of creators to easily express their visions in a format that has become increasingly accessible. The question shouldn’t be whether To The Moon would be better as a film, rather would it have even existed if not for the medium of games.
Hypothetically if creator Kan Gao wanted to craft To The Moon as a work of film, he would have been limited by the type of locations he could scout, availability of actors, and the cost of all of these ventures plus CGI work and equipment such as cameras. While Youtube and advances in technology have proven to lower the entry level of film-making considerably, it has yet to allow for long-form narrative works to be a realistic possibility outside the studio system.
Games on the other hand while having its own limits, allows for a greater range of instant freedom and capability. Instead of scouting a location that resembles what a creator might want, they could conceivably create a whole world to their exact vision.
And games themselves like Minecraft, Landmark, and Garry’s Mod allow for this range of creative expression with an interface that is relatively intuitive and easy to grasp even for children. Subsequently affordably-priced programs like RPG Maker or GameMaker: Studio allows for anyone to try their hand at development where a creator can easily play around with sets, characters, and props with greater freedom then a director ever could, not limited by either real world physics or having to convey their thoughts to other crew or actors. And this continually more accessible interface of game creation has even bled over into film itself with the likes of Source Filmmaker that has allowed for quite the range of possibilities whether that be the creations of an0nymooose or the Saxxy award-winning Ferhod.
But ultimately To The Moon regardless if one is adamant on arguing against its necessity of being a game only really needs to be reminded that as a film or work of text, To The Moon would lack in the capability of self-injection or player culpability. Likely from a mechanical standpoint, To The Moon’s emotional power isn’t merely a result of its narrative or musical scoring, rather the very fact that players themselves participated in the questionable outcome of Johnny.
Taking on the role of Watts and Rosalene, players are directly responsible for Johnny’s rewritten life whether this is an outcome they agree with or not. And this is fundamentally why the game is potentially so damaging upon completion to one’s emotional state. It would be easy to criticize the outcome or give it a more objective reply if it was truly experienced as an audience member who had no part in the narrative’s events. But as a direct participant, the ending of To The Moon is powerful because as a player one likely cannot decide if their own actions were ultimately justified in tampering with Johnny’s memories.
In the end however, To The Moon isn’t so much a game that needs to be discussed rather experienced free of explanation. I find that anything I can state about the game or write down simply doesn’t do the work proper justice. There is ultimately more to be said in the manner in which people have reacted to it, which likely serves as a more honest gauge of To The Moon’s emotional depth then any sort of constructed analysis.
I’ve watched my fair share of Youtube content over the years, with likely a hundred or so subscriptions to a plethora of “Let’s Play”-ers. And something that has often been the case especially with those that have gained a larger audience and make a living off of their videos or live-streams, is that the play becomes somewhat artificial. As someone who simply plays games and a great deal of them, I have reached a point where it is difficult for anything to thoroughly impress me or deal a particularly harsh emotional blow. The repetition of dealing with a medium so thoroughly often serves to make it too formalistic and altogether to easy to breakdown and systematize.
And whether its Mass Effect 3 or Bioshock Infinite, these various Youtubers might verbally express enjoyment at their play-through, but there is often never an honest outburst of emotion. Responses are often exaggerated for the sake of the viewers and despite the impromptu sense of much of these recordings, it is often clouded in dishonesty because the players feel the need to talk or otherwise engage their audience.
And this might be the most telling aspect of To The Moon, in its consistent ability to make even the more cynical of Youtubers into an emotional wreck seemingly throwing them off-script or character. But given the ability for just about anyone to share their experiences and play-throughs, Youtube also provides for down to earth genuine and average players of games sharing their experiences. Those that don’t make a living playing games and might only have a few hundred or thousand people subscribing. And here one especially gets a definite sense that the raw reaction of To The Moon is something that can’t be denied.
Without further commentary, a random selection of players around the world experiencing the closing moments of To The Moon (time-stamped for convenience and consistency):