Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Congratulations, video games. Steven Spielberg thinks you are art now.
It's true, it's true. Spielberg said games would be art when they made somebody cry.
"To the Moon" made me cry. Therefore, video games are art.
Ignoring the question of why someone who has worked on exactly two videogames in his life gets to be the judge of what is or isn't art, "To the Moon" nevertheless sticks the landing into the art world on its own merits.
The game was made using the humblest of tools, RPG Maker XP, or RMXP as it's often known by fans. It's now aging game-making program that was intended to be used to create Japanese-style Role Playing Games, or JRPGs.
But "To the Moon" isn't a JRPG, it's an adventure game. It tells the tale of two scientists who work for an organization that grants people their dying wishes by rewriting the memories of their clients. To do this, they need to go inside their clients' minds, learn their histories and rewrite them to be what they wanted.
In "To the Moon," the mind in question belongs to an old man who wishes to go to the Moon, although he does not know why he wants to go there. You play a brief prologue exploring his home and then dive into his actual memories.
You progress through memories in reverse order, the most recent first. As the game progresses you slowly come to understand the many questions your initial exploration of the house posed. It's hard for me to give specifics because this game slowly layers the history of the dying man you're helping, one thing on top of another, until you finally see the whole picture. And what a picture it is.
The game play mostly consists of visiting a new area, looking around for "links" to earlier memories. You trigger memories and find a few objects, then you solve a simple flipping puzzle.
You need to explore every inch of each memory to find these things, and while it's never hard it does make you take a good look at the memories in question. The environments are well thought out, and if you're paying attention you might figure out a few things before the game explains them to you out loud.
The two main characters offer their views on the situation to each other. Seeing people's tragic histories is their job; this isn't the first time they've done this nor will it be the last. Funny things happen, too, and there were a lot of times I was smiling -- if not laughing out loud -- as I played.
Funny games are rare, but honestly sad games are even rarer. As I said before, I cried playing this game. The story is so sad, but not at all outside the realm of possibility if we forget the brain-exploring premise for a moment.
The old man's history is well thought out, well realized and genuinely sad in a way that doesn't feel cheap or manipulative -- and that in and of itself is a rarity in any media, let alone video games.
"To the Moon" is an incredible game, one of the finest I have ever played. If you play one computer game I've mentioned in this column this year, make it this one.
It'll run on basically any computer from the past five years. Developed by Freebird Games company, it is available for $9.99 at freebirdgames.com, as well as steampowered.com, gog.com and origin.com.
Take him to the Moon.
Noah Hinz is an art and game design enthusiast living in Walla Walla. Contact him with questions, game suggestions, playing or anything else related to games at firstname.lastname@example.org