When you’re warned that To the Moon is a ‘tearjerker’ game you become very conscious of your own reaction to the game. Which annoyingly kinda works against emotional immersion.
Anyhow while I didn’t cry buckets (only thimbles) I was certainly 100% invested in the story throughout. Which is an impressive accomplishment (for the game, not for me) as my involvement in the ‘game’ is restricted to solving a few simple puzzles, exploring some small environments and pressing the space bar to progress the lines of dialogue. Essentially, if the possibility of losing is an essential part of what makes a game a game, then this is not a game. However, despite the limited nature of interaction in To the Moon and the fact that the story is the draw here, I suspect that interactivity is part of what makes it such a succes at being whatever it is.
Ridiculous as it may seem from a logical standpoint, my hypothesis is that my pressing that space bar, my clicking the mouse to move the protagonists from A to B tricked my brain into empathizing with the characters and the story more than it would have done, had the thing played itself. The tasks that To the Moon demands of you to play are challenges you could leave to three year olds. They wouldn’t understand the story, of course, but the mechanics of the gameplay are no more complex than that. As the puzzles are largely divorced from the story, I don’t think they really enter into the equation. For me they were certainly just something to get out of the way so I could progress the story.
The fact remains that I felt like a real part of the story, not just a hanger on who was there to take care of menial tasks like opening the door for the true player, the game itself.
In short To the Moon has been a wonderful experience that has proved that games can be vehicles for stories that pack an emotional punch. And maybe that there’s more to interactive storytelling than puzzles, minigames and gameplay mechanics.