Myst – “Journeying Through Ages Past”
When I first laid my eyes on the Miller brothers’ “Myst”, I knew it was something different. I couldn’t quite grasp what it was at the time – I was only twelve you see – but it was powerful enough to stay lurking in the back of my brain for all these years. My father, a man who appreciates cinema and classical music, but thoroughly belittles video-games, looked at “Myst” and sensed the same thing I now do: amazement. He couldn’t understand it, just as I couldn’t have, but he perceived enough to know it was special. And special “Myst” is, of that there is no doubt. It is as special as only a handful of video-games have ever been.
Like the player, the game’s main character is literally thrown into an island covered in mist, surrounded by an endlessly sprawling sea. Left entirely alone, the player is invited to embark on a voyage of discovery through a strange world, in hopes of deciphering its origins, and the reasons behind its emptiness and desolation. Faced with the ceaseless solitude, you can hear the gentle sound of the waves hitting shore, the sea breeze blowing softly, even bird’s chanting at times; your mind gently enters a state of calm and introspection. As you explore the scenery, lulled by its soothing ambiance, you encounter a dreamy realm, filled with breathtakingly beautiful natural scenery, but also an eerie mix of human constructions, from an impressive dome of classical architecture, to a sunken ship made of stone, not to mention a Jules Vernesque flying rocket. These remnants of the island’s inhabitants are the narrators of the story, as each building holds inside its history, either literally inscribed in it, in the writings of lost journals, or present in more subtle ways: imbued in its architecture, decoration or secret puzzles.
The puzzles thereby serve as the perfect metaphor for the unveiling of the hidden mysteries of the land. Solving them is a delight, not only because the game’s simple interface and elegant design makes them brilliant exercises of deductive reasoning, but also because they blend beautifully in the landscape, becoming a seamless part of that world. Simply put, every image, sound and object in “Myst” is a clue, making the aesthetic itself a part of the puzzle, a physical materialization of the secrets of the realms of “Myst”. The haunting atmosphere also becomes the embodiment of that story of ages past, with its atmospheric soundtrack (Robyn Miller) and realistic sound effects (Chris Brandkamp) serving as a natural complement to the surreal imagery.
“Myst” is a spatial painting that players are invited to explore with their senses, but also an enigma which they must decipher with their minds. A hypnotizing interactive museum built in a world of utopia, where players are enticed to unveil the shrouding mystery that covers its past. More than anything, it’s a journey through many different, fantastic universes, a mesh of places where magic and technology merge into physical marvels that one can only observe in wonder; places where the most idyllic dreams of men have become a reality… All of this, condensed into an arresting piece of interactive entertainment and art. In other words, a Masterpiece.