Do you remember your first time playing Myst? In the darkness and stars you hear a strange narration, and find a book on the ground.
For any fan of the Myst series, the story always began with finding a book. With all the puzzles, questions, locations, and characters, the power of books is at the center of this most unique gaming experience. I decided to explore how each game presents the act of reading (and of writing) metaphorically in a different way. Lets start with that first iconic puzzle adventure.
From the beginning of the first game, the player’s first choice is presented simply as the decision to open a book. Before exploring a single world, solving a puzzle, or interacting with a character, you have to open the book. I love that. You can sit there and do nothing but listen to the howling void. You can turn off the computer. Or you can open the book. You have no motivation other than to discover.
Thus the first mystery of the original game is “what’s going on here?” And that is what happens when you first open a book you know nothing about. The first metaphor for reading is solving a mystery. But the overlapping second mystery is discovery. For the first time, we as players are stumbling upon a brand new world.
As we follow the story, we learn that the island and its adjuncts are created by the act of writing books. Here we learn that writing is distinctly act of creation. Worlds for the explorer to discover, puzzles for the investigator to solve. The drama of the plot involves the plans of two sons to uncreate, as an entire shelf of books has been destroyed. The horror!
Books link you to other worlds, you learn from Atrus, and thus another metaphor is given. Reading and writing are linked together, and link us to the many things we read and write about, from astronomy to mechanics to forestry to music to sea navigation to rocket science to energy conservation to family drama.
And then of course are the missing pages. “More blue pages!” “Did you bring the page? You didn’t bring the page!” In a good book, you can’t miss a page. In a good mystery, you can’t not pay attention. If you do, you’re…myssing out.
Reading solves mysteries. Writing can both create mysteries and help solve them. In making choices, we help resolve a mystery, or just keep it going. In the end, we fill one more page in the book. Unless there’s a dead end, the story can keep going.
So many unopened books. So many unwritten endings. Myst is that perfect original mystery, and every flaw in the game is covered over by its ambition, originality, and success at pioneering a distant kind of adventure that has inspired so many other games since.
Next time we’ll explore literacy in Riven: The Sequel to Myst.