Many people have a hobby or passion project that they work on during their off hours. Balancing the needs of a day job, the desires of your side job, and the necessities of eating, sleeping and enjoying your life can be incredibly difficult to do. Yet for Will, the protagonist in Digital Sun’s game Moonlighter, the balance comes easy for him; there is no stress or doubt that weighs on his shoulders because he knows balance is a necessity, not only to survive but to finally achieve his dream of being a hero.
Moonlighter, as the title suggests, is about a merchant named Will who moonlights. He splits his time between his main job as a shopkeeper, and his side gig as an adventurer intent on discovering the secrets of the ancient ruins in the town of Rynoka.
The dichotomy of a game is typically between good and evil, hero and villain. Moonlighter isn’t interested in showing the light and dark side of a person, rather the ordinary and extraordinary. The game makes a clear distinction between a merchant and a hero. Even the dungeons post warnings for which caves are safe for merchants to enter. Both merchants and adventurers enter the ruins, both for different reasons. Where vendors go looking for new items to sell at their stores, adventurers go for the thrill of surviving and conquering. Moonlighter uses Will to show that there does not need to be a battle between either or.
Will is both shopkeeper and adventurer. Not only does he defeat the caves that are meant for only heroes, but he also beats the ones that aren’t meant for anyone because they are so dangerous. By doing so, Will redefines what both a hero and a merchant can be.
The most heroic thing Will accomplishes actually lives outside of the ancient ruins and monsters. It’s right there in his home of Rynoka. The village is not in distress from monsters, but from its poor economy. When the game begins, Rynoka is covered with boarded-up buildings and old stores permanently out of business. Very few travelers visit the town because of its economic decline. As players earn more money through their lucrative adventures, they are also able to help the town grow by hiring new merchants into the village. As Will explores more ruins and earns more revenue, he puts his money back into his town and returns it to a state of prosperity. In order to do that, Will needs to be both a merchant and a hero; he needs to know the ways around both a sword and a cash register.
I haven’t quite beaten the final area of the game yet. I’ve attempted it only once and was quickly beaten due to my weak weapons. While I am curious to see what happens once the mysteries of the ruins are uncovered, I’m more proud of the impact I’ve made on Rynoka. That impact is only possible because of Will’s ability to both explore the ruins and sell his wares.
Despite the constant tug between his main job and his passion project as a hero, Will shows no sign of fatigue. Resting in bed has its perks in the game, such as giving Will extra defense, but sleeping isn’t a necessity for Will. Nothing is stopping him from rolling into a dungeon, selling his treasures at his shop, and doing it all over again. Watching him work day and night is exhausting, and obviously unrealistic, but it is also inspiring.
I’m someone who absolutely needs sleep. Even during the stressful, work-overloaded times in my life, I rely on sleep to help me concentrate and focus. All-nighters are not an option for me. I am, however, someone who will not eat until I’ve accomplished some weird, completely-unrelated-to-food goal. Sometimes the mind is so focused on a goal that even the body will obey its willpower, and for a moment, food and sleep are mere options. That must be what Will feels every day.
As the game suggests, a hero can be any unassuming member of society, working away at their day job. For Will being a hero and a merchant are two sides of one coin, and he easily flips that coin to whatever side fits his goal. Though my own side projects do not require any weapons or cavernous ruins, I do see Will’s determination as a reminder to balance the sides of my own coin, and to let my little projects prosper, even if it requires a little less sleep.
Shonté Daniels is a poet who occasionally writes about games. Her games writing has appeared in Kill Screen, Motherboard, Waypoint and elsewhere. Her poetry can be seen at Puerto del Sol, Baltimore Review, Phoebe, and others literary journals. Check out Shonte-Daniels.com for a full archive, or follow her for sporadic tweeting.