This post contains spoilers for the plot of the computer game To the Moon. If you don’t want to be spoiled, play or watch the game! Otherwise, keep reading. This post looks a bit more at one of the game’s most interesting characters, River. (“River” is a popular name in sci-fi, isn’t it? You also have Firefly‘s River Tam and Doctor Who‘s River Song, both of whom are also very interesting people.)
Following the discussion with his friends in my previous post (or maybe before; the way time flows in the game is sometimes unclear), Johnny joins River in the bookstore, where she is intently looking at a book.
John: Anything new today?
John: What’re you rereading there?
River: “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
River: I loved this when I was young.
John: Still do, huh?
River: Of course.
River: . . . Just for different reasons.
John: When I was a kid, I loved the Animorphs series.
River: I know. Your mother gave you a book from it as a wedding present.
John: Heh, yeah, that was one odd wedding present.
John: I guess I was pretty obsessed with it when I was a kid.
River: . . . Why haven’t you read them since?
River: I saw them. They’re collecting dust in the garage.
John: Well . . . I just grew out of them, I guess.
John: I mean, they’re children’s books.
River: What’s wrong with reading children’s books?
River: They’re comforting.
John: . . . I suppose so.
River: I think I’m going to get this one.
I can really relate to River here as well. I’ve never quite matched the “normal” age categories for interests and activities. To a great degree, I do still like the things I enjoyed as a child (like video games and cartoons); I’ve just come to appreciate what’s good about them in more ways. For a lot of people, growing up means that they no longer enjoy the things they once did; they come to see them as “childish” and want to replace them with more “grown-up” activities.
I remember worrying about this when I was a teenager– I saw my peers “growing out of” the things they used to enjoy and wondered why it didn’t seem to be happening to me. I once asked my parents whether I would stop liking Star Trek when I got older. Part of me wanted that to happen, because it would mean I was growing up like I was supposed to. But the rest of me felt a bit sad about having to leave behind something I really enjoyed. (And, of course, anyone who reads this blog can see that I never did stop liking Star Trek.)
One of the interesting things about River in “To the Moon” is that her interests really don’t seem to change much throughout her life. She still reads “The Emperor’s New Clothes” even when she is old and gray. (I think the choice of story isn’t an accident either; it’s a timeless parable about the simple yet powerful nature of truth coming from the mouth of a child.) On the other hand, when you see River as a little girl, she is reading books about the history of lighthouses that most people would consider her to be far “too young” to understand or be interested in.
River seems to be aware that this is one of the ways in which she appears strange; at one point she tells John she’s “not a child.”
There’s an ageless quality to River’s personality. It’s as if she uses her interests as reference points to orient herself in the midst of a world that is constantly shifting and changing. That may be why I, too, find it comforting to read one of my favorite books from childhood or revisit places in an old video game. It’s not that I don’t change and grow like other people; it’s just that it helps me to have familiar, fixed things to return to, like guideposts.
Like River says in the game, my love for my interests doesn’t change, but the reasons I enjoy them do change. I think one example of that is how I’ve been able to use Star Trek (and video games, in the case of this post) to communicate things about Asperger’s syndrome on this blog. It’s brought a richer level of enjoyment to those hobbies for me, even though the change is really in myself, not in the hobbies. It’s as if I use seemingly trivial things as a mirror or a lens through which to look at myself and the world.