Hathaway Brown School
Instructor: Scott Parsons
To the Moon: An Illustration of Humanity
To the Moon: An Illustration of Humanity
A few weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to check up on a game series that I hadn't thought about in a long time: To the Moon. Developed by Freebird Games, the first two games center around the work of two scientists, Neil Watts and Eva Rosalene, who edit the memories of their clients on their deathbeds to fulfill their last wishes. Each game focuses on the life of one of their clients. To my surprise, the third game in the series, Impostor Factory, had just been released. Immediately, I played through the game, setting aside a good few hours of time to go through it all in one sitting. At first, the premise of these games seem unethical, inhumane. Who are we to play god, to decide how to restructure memories, how to edit them? Even if we are fulfilling the dying wishes of someone, how do we know that we are giving them happiness? Isn't it an invasion of privacy, traversing through a person's memories? Is it even worth it, when a person is about to die? However, instead of telling a story of mad scientists and their company (Sigmund Corporation), they instead showcase humanity brilliantly through beautiful stories with carefully crafted scenes and dialogue.
The first game, To the Moon, tells the story of River and John Wyles. The game does a phenomenal job telling its story. As a nice bonus, the music is also beautiful. The game explores themes of grief and loss, as well as nuances in human desire and wishes. During River's sickness, she displays a desire to keep the lighthouse— an extension of her childhood belief that stars were distant lighthouses, and her desire to befriend one— rather than paying for her treatment. John struggles to understand her wishes, leading to him planning to lie to her about how much money they have and just pay for her treatment, and not the property. He doesn't understand why she's prioritizing the lighthouse over her life. However, he does end up acquiescing, even though this results in him not being able to pay for her treatment. This struggle illustrates the delicate balance between helping other people do what they want to do, and doing what we think is best for them. There is no objective "best decision" in this case, and the dilemma is amplified by River's life hanging in the balance. Yet, by not forging ahead in what he thinks is objectively the best decision for her, he recognizes her humanity and the fact that she is her own person with her own motivations influencing her choices.
As we have progressed through the pandemic, these types of dilemmas have surfaced. Sometimes, when we're only looking at what we think is right, it's easy to demonize other people who we think are harming themselves or others. It's easy to forget that these are people who are also scared, who are trying their best to do what they think is right. The widespread access to news sources, which are often biased in some way, makes this even easier, presenting caricatures of people on the internet, showing us only certain aspects of them. We can sometimes forget that decisions are messy. Emotions are involved every step of the way, and they're not always easy to process. There's not always a clear right and a clear wrong, and by recognizing that, we recognize the flaws in humanity, that we aren't cogs in a perfectly running machine, that we can stumble and fall, but we can always get back up.
The second game, Finding Paradise, delves into what it means to truly be happy. This time, the client, Colin Reeds, wants Watts and Rosalene to change as little of his life as possible, but clean up things that could be considered past regrets, essentially giving the scientists free rein over his memories. As Watts and Rosalene go through Reeds's memories, they are unsure of what to change. In the end, (spoiler alert) the only thing they end up doing is erasing Sigmund Corp and Reeds's experiences with them from his memories, making it like he had never found them. In this way, they fulfill his wish. When he found out about Sigmund, a company that could erase his past regrets, he got too entangled in thinking about his past regrets.
We can get so caught up in thinking about our regrets that we miss the small happinesses in front of us— the feelings of love, the stories, the memories that we will have for the rest of our lives. However, another end to this is that we are so focused on our goals that we can only focus on the successes that we have related to those. Either way, we get so caught up in looking for happiness that we completely miss it when it's right in front of us. Flaws are a completely natural part of life— without them, humanity and life would be completely dull, like a mechanical thing that does the same thing over and over again. And in a way, by leaving the flaws in Reeds' life, Watts and Rosalene give him a more fulfilling life than if they erased all of them from his life.
The third game, Impostor Factory, instead of focusing on the work of Watts and Rosalene, focuses on a set of characters that is loosely related to the first set. Quincy and Lynri are the main pair this time, and we watch as Quincy goes through Lynri's memories. This story expands on the themes of difficult decisions and happiness, as well as adding on themes of legacies. There's a line of dialogue between Lynri and her father that evolves over time, on whether she'd rather be a lavender or a star. When initially asked this question, Lynri answers that she'd rather be a star than a lavender, even though lavenders are her favorite, because she would like to illuminate the other lavenders for people to see. Yet, when this conversation is brought up later, Lynri says that she only said that to impress her father, and asks if it's really ok to want to be just another lavender in the field. Her father says that it's ok to be just another lavender in the field, and the events in her life mirror this message. This demonstrates that it's ok to not change the world and live just to live, and that it's important to live how you want to live, as you only get one shot at life. Even if you don't change the world, you change the lives of the people around you, and create stories and memories that will far outlive you. We don't always have to strive for success, we can just enjoy being human. Humanity is not about always achieving far reaching goals— we aren't robots programmed for progress. Humanity is the experience of living, of finding whatever it is that you want to do in your life, not what others have preordained is the best path for you. Humanity is not about the endpoint, it's about the journey. Just being, just living, is okay.
Through these games, Freebird Games demonstrates the beauty in humanity, despite all of its flaws. As we go through life, there will be dilemmas and arguments with others, regrets, and times that we feel we need to live up to great expectations. However, it's important to remember to stop and to smell the roses, to live our lives, and not just watch them pass by. Humanity isn't a ticking time clock where you have to be perfectly amicable with everyone and do everything perfectly and accomplish great things; it's just about the experiences that you go through, as well as what we collectively go through as a whole. Humanity is a living breathing thing, not a machine, and it's nice to be reminded of that. Even though it's a game with relatively little action, the story and music more than make up for it, illustrating beautiful stories of love, humanity, and loss through 8-bit characters. Even if these deeper themes don't interest you, the franchise is a wonderfully crafted set of poignant stories that interweave with each other and that will leave you teary eyed.
To the Moon. Windows PC Version, 2011.
Finding Paradise. Windows PC Version, 2017.
Impostor Factory. Windows PC Version, 2021.