Curious Games – I wish I were the Moon

adventures in gaming, curious games, playthroughs, Process Writing

[A brief sidebar: I’m taking part in the Curious Games Studio/class with TAG/DCART’s Visiting Game Designer, Pippin Barr. Over the next two months, I’ll be writing about the experience, about my own design ideas, and about playthroughs/explorations of what might be called “Curious Games.” And I’ll be making my own curious game! Here goes.]

I wish I were the Moon by danielben

When asked to identify a Curious Game, I wish I were the Moon came pretty much immediately to mind because I had played it pretty recently back in January for the Pixelles Incubator. It’s a curious game for a couple of reasons. It has a small scale (it’s just this one level and one small frame) and unusual properties, like a curio (a small object – usually an art object or artefact prized for its unusual properties and its ability, through its general weirdness or beauty or something, to inspire thought or discussion or just a moment of pause – that people kept and still do keep in curio cabinets). It also has an interesting gameplay mechanic – the player moves objects in the environment around by taking pictures which can then be deposited in other places in the environment. It also doesn’t have any instructions except the unexplained frame of the box that is the player’s only visible tool (not that it takes any time to figure out how to use that tool).

This is a game with eight endings – as soon as the player finds one ending, the game teasingly (teasing rather than pleasing being another element of a curious game) tells the player the name of that ending and that there are 7 Missing Endings. It also reveals the second game tool: Pressing R to Rewind.

Finding the endings has a puzzle element to it – it’s not immediately obvious what manipulations will lead where and part of the puzzle lies in thinking up new things to do. Killing the characters in the game in a variety of ways leads to valid if not “happy” endings, inasmuch as the game seems to be asking the player to find all eight endings (most are fairly tragic). I refuse to look at a walkthrough and I still can’t find the last ending. The game is just too charming and I keep trying different combinations. (UPDATE: I’ve found at least 9 endings now.)

The fact that there is no “right” ending is reinforced by the emoting of the characters on the screen – when the human pair are together on the boat and the Moon is high in the sky, one character looks sad and the other looks worried. Actually, that ending is called “Lost Love” – and of course I can’t ignore that the game’s title is I wish I were the Moon. Who then, is the I?

NOTE: Please play the game before reading further on – there’s potential spoilers just in the names of the endings.

Replaying the game reveals a great depth of narrative – the names of the endings and the simply but clearly illustrated emotions of the characters seems to reveal a story of unrequited love: a woman, in love with the man on the moon – a man who is in love with the moon. If the man sends her away on an (albatross? that’d be symbolic bird), he is telling her to be free, but she cries into the ocean forever. If she tries to join him on the moon, it’s disastrous – she doesn’t belong there and they all sink into the sea. If either of them dies, it’s a tragedy. If they go down together, the woman is selfishly saying that if she can’t have the man, then nobody can. If the man comes down to live with her, the moon will return to its place in the sky, but he will always regret it, and the woman cannot comfort him. If she takes his place on the moon and lets him be free, she loses her reason to live. If she switches places with him, then the moon stays close, the man gazes up lovingly at the moon, and the woman can imagine that he is also gazing at her. So, then, for me, the I was definitely this woman, suffering through an unrequited love that she nevertheless cannot imagine losing.

(I also found an ending just titled “Sunk Boat Secret Ending” but it doesn’t really fit into my story.)

UPDATE 1: I discovered another ending where you can give the far-distant moon to the man to hold — but that doesn’t help our woman with her unrequited love much either.

UPDATE 2: There are actually at least 9 endings.