Are John’s final memories a happy celebration of life or a somber fake reality?
(Please note, this article contains spoilers of the entire game)
To The Moon, developed by Freebird games, has been widely downloaded and revered by many gamers as a riveting and heartbreaking narrative. The game is short and is best experienced with a straight playthrough, taking about 2-4 hours to complete. To The Moon is the story of Johnny’s final wish on his death bed and the mission of Dr. Eva and Dr. Watts to enter his mind and make it happen. You play as either Eva or Watts, who work for Sigmund Corps and connect people to a machine to fulfill their dying wish within their memories. As his final memory, Johnny wants to visit the moon, but to make it happen Eva and Watts need to track the earliest memory of why he wanted to visit the moon in the first place. The journey takes the player through his entire life backwards Benjamin Button style, from old age to a kid, until they reach the moment when he wants to visit the moon.
*Note, these are spoilers on the finale*
At the end of the first act, the player goes back to his earliest childhood to find blank memories. These blank memories are the reason he wants to go to the moon, so Eva and Watts need to reach them by pushing the limit of the machine. What they find out is that Johnny used to have a brother, Joey, who passed away in a car accident (who would’ve thought the intro scene of Watts running over an animal would have been foreshadowing). Because of his traumatizing death, Johnny was given blocker medicine to forget memories that have registered thus far in those past few days.
One of the memories block: days before Joey’s accident, Johnny sneaks off at a neighborhood carnival and finds a lookout spot to the stars. There he meets River for the first time in his life, and the two have an awkward but sincere bonding about space and going to the moon. They bond in those moments, and motifs throughout the game (bunny origami, a platypus stuffed animal, yes play the game!) suddenly make sense. Joey and River make a promise to meet each other at the same spot next year, “to the moon” (yes, the title of the game). But that memory happened close to Joey’s death, and therefore forgotten.
Johnny never remembers this moment, and when Johnny and River meet in the future River is trying to break sense into him and remind him of their first memory. Johnny never budges, and although the two marry, they can never connect fully on his desire to go to the moon. Eva realizes the solution to fulfilling the contract and getting Johnny what he wants is by making sure Joey never dies in his memories. Therefore his real memories are altered and a new life is created where everyone is alive and Johnny makes it to the moon with River next to him.
To The Moon’s ending challenges the player to decide for themselves what is morally right and wrong for Johnny: is it right to alter his real memories to give him his happiest but fabricated timeline, or is it right to keep his real memories but know that his final wish for happiness would not be fulfilled? The game does an excellent job presenting the conflict with its two characters meant to save the day: Eva, who is dedicated to the solution and is willing to complete the task skindeep, and Watts, who at first seems disinterested but after invested time in Johnny’s memories realizes he wants what’s best for him even if he doesn’t do what he is contracted to do. Eva and Watts are satisfied in the final scene, at least for themselves. Everything is a product of Eva and Watts and what they want for Johnny based on their empathy and connection as they went through his timeline.
Just as important, the game brings conflict on River’s ultimate happiness in the mind of Johnny. The biggest twist of this game for me was not Joey’s death but the tragic descent of River into an “insane” or “troubled” person when this entire time she was trying to remind Johnny of what he forgot. What seemed like random moments to do bunny origami and bring the platypus doll everywhere was desperation to try and convince Johnny to remember their carnival memory. River never had a chance because of his blocker memory loss, in a way almost dying in vain. The fabricated timeline also benefits River’s story, with River reconnecting with a Johnny who did not need to take blocker drugs. Therefore, their presence meeting each other and relationship ignited the dream to go to the moon. Together. But the reality is, River died in vain, and these final memories are conceptualized in Johnny’s mind.
The scariest part of this ending is it’s a foreseeable future in real life (or maybe I’m watching too much Black Mirror). This is technology being worked on as we speak, and in 50-100 years this type of thing may be accessible. What exactly is right and wrong?
Let me know in the comments your thoughts on the final ending!