‘Moonkid’: A Fantasy of Powerlessness

Save the world. Save the princess. Save yourself. Moonkid is a video game about what you can’t do. It isn’t a power fantasy. It’s a fantasy of powerlessness.

It’s appropriate that the titular character, Moonkid, is the role that the player takes on in a story about not saving the world. After all, a child represents the opposite of what most video game characters normally do. Children are vulnerable, often incapable, lacking in skills and abilities that we think are requisite to accomplishing “important” tasks. Instead, children bear witness to the world.

And bearing witness is really the only activity of any value in Moonkid. Moonkid features a game world that you can explore and interact with, as is the case in any video games. You can climb into bed, sit at a table and eat, sit on a couch, or open and shut drawers. These actions are, as they sound, inconsequential. The only truly relevant act in Moonkid is to observe.

Moonkid takes place in a town about to suffer a terrible disaster. Actually it takes place in a larger world that is about to suffer a terrible disaster, a disaster that you can realistically do nothing about. A timer appears at the bottom of the screen that progresses the story through time.

Like The Last Express as you move through the game world (in this case, the neighborhood where Moonkid lives), a variety of events will take place as you encounter people living their lives. You can stay at home with your dad until the timer reaches its end, follow your mom as she goes off to work, or observe how the neighbors react to the earthquakes and steadily growing moon that appears in the sky above the town. You can’t effect the actions of these adults. They will do as they please. You can simply learn more about them and how they do or don’t struggle with their growing sense of an ending that is inevitable.

Each group of characters, your parents, a couple of brothers living together down the road, an older woman and her son, and an indigent man, each have a story that you can follow if you wish, or you can mix all of their stories and experience them in fragments by not following any particular character, simply wandering through town as you will as the timer ticks down. Again, you serve as witness to events, witness to lives that are about to change, nothing more.

Stories intersect, and as such, the game can lure you away from one thread by allowing you to follow a character as they interact with others or move along with a newer character as they depart. Since the story is a tapestry of events, some of what Moonkid sees doesn’t make sense unless you witness the events again, but from another perspective. As such, it’s a game about learning about the world and the motivations of its characters. Again, this may define the role of a child more clearly than anything else. Your job is to learn, not to effect situations until you more fully understand them. You know, when you’re grown up. But, of course, that will never happen in the context of the game’s fatalistic drive towards tragedy.

Of course, this sense of ineffectuality extends in reality to all the characters, suggesting that even the mature, Moonkid’s parents, a couple of idealistic young adults, and even our “wiser” elders don’t really have much power to effect their world either. Various characters attempt to understand and act in response to the disaster that they slowly become aware is coming, but what all the stories ultimately teach is that powerlessness is the lot of the player of the game of life itself. Adults all become children in this context, witnesses that pretend they have power and agency, but subjects to the whims of a much larger universe than themselves.

Moonkid might then seem a series of distressing vignettes that suggest a deterministic and uncaring universe. However, it also champions the idea that witnessing and knowing may be a pursuit that is still worthwhile, as the things that are revealed about a group of people that find themselves subject to fate still manage to represent those who act nobly, ignobly, in uncaring, and in caring ways. Thus, Moonkid suggests that it isn’t whether you save the world by the end of the game that matters, but how you approach and observe the world and the attitude that you have to what and who is within that is the only thing that is of any real significance after all. In that sense, what Moonkid suggests is that only the smaller matters of the world are what really matters.

The world doesn’t need saving. Moonkid asks instead for its player to appreciate what makes a world what it is.

You can attempt to play the game or merely observe the world of Moonkid at NewGrounds.com.