"An Editor’s Note And Some Recommended Reading"
I’m going on vacation tomorrow, but blogging will continue semi-apace in my absence, because I’ve been working like a madwoman to get things up in advance. I’ll be back on Monday with Breaking Bad thoughts and plenty of other goodies.
But before I leave, I really wanted to encourage you all to read my favorite thing on the internet this week, Emily Yoshida’s look back at Myst on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary. It’s fascinating to hear from the game’s creators, and to consider why Myst didn’t open up a new frontier in gaming, even given its mass appeal. But I’m almost more interested in the idea that Myst was what got us used to and excited about the internet. As Emily writes:
In Myst, the technomagicology that allows the characters to bounce from world to world is something called the Art, a technique used to write “linking books” that allow people to travel to the worlds, or ages, that they describe. Atrus, the protagonist of the Myst series, is one such practitioner of this art; he learned it from his father, Gehn, and passed it on to his two sons. Not just anyone can learn the Art; it takes a certain kind of talent, and like any great power, it inevitably comes with great responsibilities. Faulty writing will result in an unstable age; one can also just be a bad steward of an age by stripping its resources or forcing its inhabitants to worship you as a god.
It’s an alluring idea — the ability to write words with such power and focus that they could physically transport someone to a place of the author’s choosing — not to mention a tempting metaphor for the Millers’ love of world-building. We want to ascribe such mystical, lightning-in-a-bottle powers to the creator of any work that has an impact on us — including that small band of programmers and 3-D modelers toiling away in glasses and flannels for two years to create what was essentially an extremely immersive HyperCard stack. But there’s a sneaky philosophical catch embedded in Myst’s mythology that the casual player could easily miss: The Art doesn’t allow the writer to actually create a world — only to create a link to it. The world being linked to — its terrain, its people, its architecture, its biosphere — all existed before that first link was created; the writer is merely presenting opportunities to see these worlds.
I tend to get impatient with puzzle games, but I do go back to Myst every couple of years. Anyway, go read the whole thing.