Tuesday, August 7, 2012

MYST: Videogame as Engaging Text

MYST: Cover Image
Sometime in the late-90s our son played a videogame called MYST.  After a few hours of playing he wanted to show it to me, thinking I might like it.  At the time he had been playing a lot of Sonic-like games that involved running around, collecting things, and being thumb-eye coordinated enough to jump around from level to level avoiding things.  In other words, games I was too incompetent at to have any interest in playing.

It only took a minute of watching him start MYST for me to know that (a) this game was unlike any other I had seen and (b) if I started playing MYST I could get so sucked into it that I wouldn't get anything else done until I had finished it.

The cover to MYST tells you exactly what you know at the start of the game: you have fallen from the skies and landed on a small island.  As you start to explore the island you find buildings and artifacts, some of which you can interact with.  Doors open, buttons 'click' as they're pushed, wheels turn.  

One building, a library of sorts, has a collection of books along the walls.  From those books you start to get an idea of the world you have entered.  You also start to understand what your purpose there might be.

Most engaging of all, you are the main character in this story.  The puzzle pieces are all there, but it is up to you to put them together to make sense and create the solution that frees you from the island.  Like any good story, there is far more to both the story and your adventure than this introductory island and each new discovery leads to another problem to be solved.

I know all of this about MYST because a few years ago I finally gave in to its siren's call .  If anything, it was even more engrossing than I had imagined it would be.  MYST was the most engaging mystery I had ever experienced, in large part, because there was nothing passive about the experience.  As well, I wasn't just participating in the adventure, I was making all of the choices where to explore, what bits to try out and where I should go next.
MYST: Library as seen from the main pathway

In fact, it was so much so, that like a good book, I kept going back to MYST even when I wasn't playing it, trying to work out what all I had missed and where I could have missed them.

Recently I've given into the temptation to play RIVEN, the sequel to MYST.  Playing it has made me wish I could write a book that was this engaging.  The problem is, however, unless I wanted to write a Choose Your Own Adventure book, the reading experience is still, at its core, a passive one.

At best, exploring MYST is like the writing process.  However, since I've been quite clear that writing is like writing and nothing else , I won't go that far.  Instead, for any writer interested in a good adventure mystery, I recommend you think outside the book and give MYST a try.  I think you'll enjoy it.

Have you played MYST or any of the sequels?  What did you think about the experience?  I'd love to know your thoughts in the comments section.

-- Tom