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Moon Hunters and the Philosophy of Modular Storytelling

“You represent the old ways of idols, chaos, and anarchy,” the sun cultist Sargon informs you. “But there is only one truth…It is written.”

In Kitfox Games’ myth-weaving game Moon Hunters, crowdfunded by Kickstarter and released March 10, the Cult of the Sun has stolen the Moon, and it’s up to you to restore the Queen of Heaven in this rpg/hack-and-slash hybrid. The game is built with local co-op functionality at the forefront, allowing up to four players in the party at any given time-but it also works just fine in single-player mode, particularly since the game design richly rewards replaying with multiple characters.

Because there’s not really a right way to get through the game. Different modules are randomly generated on each playthrough, and the choices your character makes in each determine your mythos and the kind of hero you become as you fill out the constellations in the sky with new and different legends.

One playthrough might take an hour, but discovering the many secrets and story choices in Moon Hunters could take twenty or more repetitions.

This kind of storytelling, which FailBetter Games, creators of Fallen London and Sunless Sea, call “fires in the desert,” allows for a game experience that emphasizes journey over destination. The idea behind the metaphor is that while there may be an overarching direction to the story, it should not be evident to the player, who wanders between “fires,” making choices that determine the shape of their journey.

In using this modular technique, Moon Hunters expresses the game’s pluralist philosophy through design in an unusually elegant way. You see, if you fail to bring an end to the Cult of the Sun, it will lead to a society of technological wonders and discoveries, but one that allows for “only one way to see the world.”

In short, it leads us straight to where western civilization is today, courtesy of the Christian conquest of the west and the subsequent Enlightenment. (I imagine anti-gaming Christians will be ecstatic to finally find a game that is philosophically opposed to their monotheistic belief system rather than having to bang on about witches and magic all the time.)

Moon Hunters draws on myth and story from around the globe, and Kitfox’s Creative Director, Tanya Short, has cited influences from The Epic of Gilgamesh to the Icelandic Poetic Edda. Moon Hunters’ evil Cult of the Sun has a distinctly Egyptian feel and reflects the historical shift to monotheism that the worship of Aten (originally an aspect of the god Ra) spurred under the pharaoh Akhenaten, who changed his name from Amenhotep IV to express his divine link with the supreme god. The pharaoh destroyed statues of older gods and dismantled old systems of worship in his (ultimately unsuccessful) bid to transform Egypt into a monotheistic society.

One god. One path. One truth. And while society in the twenty-first century is more tolerant than, say, the twelfth, we still operate in a world where truth and reality are assumed to be absolute rather than relative. The weirdest thing about arguments over the color of the famous black-and-blue/white-and-gold dress is how angry many people got in defense of their own perception.

The color of a dress has nothing to do with religion, but it has everything to do with the way we understand reality as a stable construct that isn’t dependent on our sensory perception. And the faith we choose reflects the way we understand reality.

But the messiness of ancient polytheistic mythology rejects any absolutes. Gods quarrel; they have multiple aspects that direct their worship in different sects. Is the Greek goddess Artemis a huntress, or is she a bear? It depends on who you ask, and a perfectly good answer would be that she is both, just as one tribe in Moon Hunters invokes the light of the Moon Goddess, while another may have worship centered on the dark of the moon.

The retelling of stories that is central to oral tradition allows for endless permutations on a theme. And it’s arguable that writing as a technology has pushed us away from plural understanding because while oral history depends on the memory as well as the temperament of the teller, written texts have a single, determined message.

Moon Hunters, with its elliptical storytelling and commitment to complicating simple narrative, seeks to undo the “one way of seeing the world,” just as it rejects “one way to play the game.”

Instead it’s up to you. What’s your story? What is your legend? Are you proud or foolish? Are you the cunning rat in the night sky, or the elegant rose? The answer is all about your choices, and the journey you take.

Sophie Weeks
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Sophie Weeks received a Masters degree in English Literature from Mills College in 2006 and completed her PhD in Victorian Literature at Rice University in 2013. She is the author of Outside the Spotlight, Unsettled Spirits, and The Soured Earth.
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Sophie Weeks
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Sophie Weeks received a Masters degree in English Literature from Mills College in 2006 and completed her PhD in Victorian Literature at Rice University in 2013. She is the author of Outside the Spotlight, Unsettled Spirits, and The Soured Earth.

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