Reality and Making Reality: The Two Greatest Video Games You’ve Probably Never Played

Luke Nicosia ’21, Guest Columnist

I don’t exactly consider myself a video game expert. While I’ve made a habit of attending the Gaming Club, play on my Switch in my free time, I don’t know everything there is to know. What I have to offer, however, is a story about two games that for the past several years has stuck with me, two games that are in succession of one another. It’ll be my attempt to explain to you, and perhaps to even myself in doing so, why I can’t seem to forget about them, and why their idea takes away from the idea of a video game being your experience, but that of someone else that you are thrown into.

The first game is called “To The Moon.” It came out around 2012, and gradually saw a lot of dissemination across let’s-players. That’s how I first came across it at least. The story is rather simple to follow: an old man on his deathbed has enlisted the help of Sigmund Corp. to fulfill his dying wish. This company is unique, in that it is able to change the memories of a client, so that in their final moments they are convinced that the life they lived was better than the one that they had. Johnny’s wish is to go to the moon, but it turns out that is not just that. The Sigmund Corp team’s job is to go through the memories of Johnny’s life, and figure out what needs to change over the course of his memories so that his dream can be realized. 

At the center of all this is Johnny’s late wife, River. From traversing through Johnny’s memories, from the latest all the way to its beginning, one can see that there is something missing. Yes, even as River was his first crush, whom he ended up marrying, it didn’t make Johnny happy. It turned out that what he wanted was to fulfill a promise he made to River the first day they met, that if they were to ever become lost, they would regroup on the moon. Because that reality never turned out to be true, there was a lingering emptiness in Johnny’s life that perpetuated even through his marriage to River. Sigmund Corp., seeing that this wish to go to the moon meant more to Johnny that simply marrying River, decide that what they must do is prevent River and Johnny from falling in love in high school. Yet this would seemingly disrupt everything else that defined Johnny’s life. Yet, this was exactly what needed to happen for Johnny to find his way to becoming an astronaut, becoming hired by NASA, and sure enough, finding River, thus completing his wish. In short, a fiction that was created only in Johnny’s mind by Sigmund Corp. was precisely the reality that Johnny needed to let go.

The sequel to this game produces the very antithesis to this idea. In 2017, FreeBird studios created the sequel, “Finding Paradise.” Again, it follows the story of an old dying man, Colin, who wishes that his life be changed somehow, but changed not at all. Again, his memories are traced, and a pattern soon emerges. A girl by the name of Faye is central to Colin’s life, yet no one seems to know who Faye is. Yet, she is there for everything in his life, from learning to fly a plane, to play a cello. Faye’s importance is strange, considering that Colin was happily married to someone else happily for his entire life. But Faye’s existence is even more complicated by the fact that she wasn’t a real person. Colin had created Faye, an imaginary friend if you will, to fill the gaps of loneliness that he had endured for his entire life. She wasn’t real in the sense of tangible, that you or I could see, but she was someone real exclusively to Colin, to fill a void of emptiness. 

Sigmund Corp. thinks at first that the existence of Faye is what has caused Colin’s sadness, but this is not the case. In fact, they find out by confronting Faye within the memories that removing her from Colin’s memories would worsen his condition. They soon realize that the source of his discomfort is that he gave up on Faye, ceased to write about her. This seems to coincide with the idea that a machine could change his life for the better, by replacing the negative memories of his life with more positive ones, and that knowing that is what has made him unhappy. Sigmund Corp. then erases itself from his memory, and this is what satisfies his wish. What Colin needed here was that his reality, the misgivings and mistakes, the pains and shortcomings, they were a part of his growth that made way for what him, well, him. Any dereliction would change who he was. The fiction that he had internalized, thus making a reality, was the only reality he ever needed.

These two tales show a striking similarity, yet an intriguing dichotomy. On the one hand, you have Johnny, whose emptiness came from an unfulfilled wish from his youth. On the other, Colin merely saw what Sigmund Corp. had to offer, and looking back at his own life, felt a wrongful impression that his life was somehow lacking. I take both these games take different approaches to evaluating what a life means, and moreover, if you could change how you remember the past, would it make you feel happier? The answer is hardly the same across all cases, even in lives that are remarkably parallel and in circumstances very similar, the result of changing one’s memory and reconfiguring the past can offer contrasting paths.

Both “To The Moon” and “Finding Paradise” aren’t merely games. There isn’t a lot of combative action, there is no score, you don’t win or lose. These games constitute stories, a looking through the life of fictional characters, but the reality and complexity to them is so similar to reality, one has no choice but to make personal attachments. It’s video game as storytelling, and while they are not the first, these games are but prime examples of it done right. There’s a lot to love about these games, the music, the plot, perhaps even the simplistic art style. But the considering of the past and every aspect of one’s past that defines one present is but one facet that has captivated me for years.