To The Moon and Asperger’s Syndrome

 

dsc09646

Photo by NDPetitt at Morguefile.com

As I was going through my Steam library in search of games to play I found myself reminiscing back to a gaming experience I had a while ago. It was a little game called “To The Moon”.
On the surface, the game is an adventure game built in RPG Maker XP. However, it offers an interesting window into two people’s lives and the contrasting elements between them.
The game is a real tearjerker, so I would recommend having a box of tissues beside you as you play. But it’s an invaluable experience and I frequently gift the game to others.
Despite this, it isn’t a game that seems to be discussed at length, at least not as much as a AAA title. So I figured I might as well give it my own interpretation.There will be spoilers, so if you haven’t checked the game out, I’d recommend it!

The game is played from the perspective of two employees of Sigmund Corporation, a firm that specializing in artificially creating memories. These people often visit clients on their deathbed to grant them their final wish. In the game’s scenario, the two employees are named Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts. They head to the residence of Johnny Wyles.

Two Different People From Two Different Worlds

Several details about Johnny’s residence stick out from the beginning. The lighthouse nearby has a plethora of origami rabbits. The clocks in his house never tick.
When the process begins proper, the story is told in reverse chronological order as the employees go through his memories in sequence. The narrative quickly focuses on Johnny’s relationship with his late wife, River.
Although the narrative doesn’t explicitly name it as such, she has Asperger’s Syndrome. She exhibits many symptoms of Asperger’s such as struggles with social skills and sensory issues.
This is not a case, however, where it is open to interpretation such as the case where people suspect L and Near from “Death Note” have some form of autism. The biggest hint that River has Asperger’s is when she is given a formal diagnosis and is presented with a book by Dr. Tony Attwood to read. In real life, Attwood is known for writing “The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome” among others. It’s pretty clear that Kan Gao explicitly wrote her as having Asperger’s.
One of River’s friends uses the term “neurotypical”, a term used in nuerodiverse communities to describe someone who is not neurodiverse (i.e. Asperger’s Syndrome or autism).
When Johnny first talks to his friend Nicolas, he dismisses River as “uniquely boring”. Nicolas observes that it’s almost as if “she’s from a different planet” and that she’s always sitting alone. River is depicted as being intelligent, but awkward. She often knows the answers to class questions but remains silent in class.
The bulk of the game deals with the interpersonal conflicts between the couple arising from them coming from two different worlds. The end result is a largely unhappy marriage. However, in spite of this, Johnny loves and cares deeply for River even in their most troubling times. This is made evident when, near the end of the game, it is discovered that there’s a key reason for his final wish to go to the moon.
It is revealed that Johnny first met River at a carnival and they made a rabbit constellation out of the night sky and the moon. This desire was the reason that River kept making origami rabbits. She was attempting to communicate to him her desire to be connected with Johnny, a desire that she could never fully put into words and that he had largely forgotten.
In order to facilitate this, the employees remove River from all subsequent interactions and the process is complete. In his artificially induced trail of memories, Johnny desires to reconnect with River so strongly that he becomes an astronaut. Eventually they meet up once again and they hold hands while launching into space.
 
The portrayal of River is largely accurate and for many dealing with Asperger’s, relatable. My only nitpick is that because we see the story from Johnny’s perspective since we literally go into his head.
However, perhaps that’s intentional. Our view of River is informed by how Johnny views her. While it does not allow the intimacy of her mind’s thoughts, it does show the challenges that people with Asperger’s face while trying to fit into a neurotypical world. She is the stranger in a strange land. I am also intrigued by the decision to focus on a woman with Asperger’s since it is usually described as a “male” syndrome.
I would like to see more media address Asperger’s in the future, and you could definitely introduce someone to the topic via this game. Hopefully, this will become another subject of popular media and not merely relegated to the parenting sections of bookstores.