Literacy in the Myst Franchise: Part 5: End of Ages

You might say that by the time we came to the fifth installment of the Myst saga (not counting Uru) that the franchise had been long worn out. That they should have stopped at either one, two, or three sequels. And maybe you’re right. But you can’t disagree that End of Ages really does wrap up the storyline in a way that any future installment would have to include none of the original characters and, besides the ancient dead city, none of the locations. Among other things, Myst 5 also brings around the full meaning of what reading and writing can do for people.

As with previous adventures, the player not only interacts with the story, but helps create within the story. And by the end, the player really feels as if they are putting down the pen for good. They’re going to finish. Finalize, End. While at the beginning of the first game, which Rand and Robyn Miller didn’t know would be one of many, Atrus says “the ending has not yet been written.” And while that still rings true for the survivors he’s rescued for the age of Releeshan, the family saga of Atrus has indeed come to an end. And so Myst 5 really helps us ponder what it’s like to write an ending.

And it’s sad. We hate not having more Myst, as much as we hate having not-so-good Myst. The graphics are behind their time, the gameplay seems hurried and lacking in better puzzles, and the huge change in lore seems like a near betrayal. Alien-looking creatures who have been doing this magic work for the D’Ni for ages? Linking inside giant domes? Carving on stone tablets to change the weather? What the…

But in a way, this game calls to attention the sometimes controversial subject of New Literacy. That is, how the acts of reading and writing change as culture and technology change. Literacy these days isn’t just about reading sentences and understanding story and information and subtext, but navigating and creating in a digital world. We got a bit of that in Uru with online chatrooms existing in D’Ni’s contemporary space, but now we also have this sudden change in what it means to utilize D’Ni technology and culture. We have new questions about the future. in Uru we dealt with studying the past, but in End of Ages we transition into the future. What does the future hold for these people who have this power of literacy? Who does it belong to?

It’s a question of legacy. And we must understand that all which we read and write is part of a continue legacy of literacy. Someone taught me. And what I write teachers others. I can’t be blind to that. All that is spoken and written has an affect on those who read it.

Yeesha, now an old woman (but still strangely young by D’Ni reckoning), carries a burden too great to bear. At some distance from her father’s culture, and her father’s father’s culture, how can she wisely direct the future of the D’Ni lost civilization? Writing is a burden. When you have a skill, when you have loads of information to impart, when you have a story to tell, the very telling of it well is a burden. You’ll be haunted by whether you can achieve the monumental task of passing on words.

capsule_616x353And there’s trust that goes along with that too. Can I trust what you say? Can I trust you to repeat what I said? Take these books, take this writing, and publish it. Use it without manipulating what I said. Hitler quoting Nietzche, for example. Is that what the philosopher meant, what this political tyranny wanted? Like Yeesha, we might feel we can’t trust others not to twist our words. We don’t want someone to read our diary, or they can hurt us. Can we trust someone to write our story for us? Or should we do it ourselves?

As Atrus always tried to teach us, we don’t really create the places we create in books. We make links to what was already there. We’re inspired. We find muses. We make connections to our collective subconscious. We’re dreamers. Atrus taught me a lot about the world of books, and the books of worlds. I hope that your encounters with the Myst franchise were as magical as mine were.

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