Literacy in Myst Games, Part 2: Riven

Say “Myst” to any reader or gamer, and they’ll probably think of that puzzle game with a strange magic book. While none of its sequels were as famous, the one with the highest reputation was the first direct sequel, Riven. In the past post we talked about literacy in Myst. Let’s now look at how literacy is explored in Riven.

Riven_CoverartIn the sequel to Myst, the metaphor of literacy is expanded as a tool. Now knowing the basic mechanics of linking books (assuming you played the original), you are now sent to a world with a book.  You are immediately trapped, and the book stolen from you. Literacy is a useful tool. One that can be taken from you, but also reclaimed.

Reading gives you access to history. In Myst we learned of a family’s personal history, but in Riven we learn of a cultural history, a tribal history. since Atrus doesn’t have time to describe it, he makes you read it.

As you explore the massive, divided, worn age of Riven, you find that the power of linking books, and of literacy in general, can be used as propaganda, controlling a population. The Rivenese are disallowed from participating in the writing of ages, which belongs to the ruler of the age. An illiterate population is easy to sway, imprison, deceive, enslave, murder. The creator of the age, Ghen, is seen as a god because of his power to create ages.

In relation, illiteracy is also a prison. While Ghen can create worlds, he apparently can not distinguish a good linking book from the prison age his son creates. His lack of skill imprisons him. He literally gets lost in a bad book.

In response to Ghen’s efforts at control, the Moiety are those in Riven who choose to rebel against Ghen and flee persecution into a new age. Despite their inability to create worlds, they can still navigate them and even subvert their original use, thanks to the help of Catherine. They can still make a home for themselves. Reading and writing can be an act of rebellion, just like the daggers you find driven into the soil of the age.

But there is also the work of Atrus behind the scenes, trying to save the world of Riven, where his wife and her people live. Writing to him is also about maintenance, about mending. Atrus has to constantly write and rewrite, changing the nature of the world to keep it afloat. Of course, no amount of writing can mend the relationship between him and his father, but he can at least save his wife. Ghen is only a creator, but Atrus is also a nurturer as well as a creator.

But as the age of Riven finally collapse, Atrus allows the book to drop into the fissure, in belief that the craft can be salvaged even when a world collapses. But the writing of Atrus was able to preserve a culture and defeat a tyrant. Even across a great gulf people can communicate and find one another through reading and writing the same thing. The ending has not yet been written.

Because we are always writing and rewriting.

Next time we’ll explore literacy in Myst 3: Exile.

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