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Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Infinite World of Possibility (or, Video Games! Woo-Hoo!)

If you owned a computer in the 1990s, chances are you heard of a little game called Myst. I won't go into details as to how wildly popular it was, or how it changed the face of gaming, as all that's already been well-documented in various places. However, it's important to note that there were a bunch of sequels, and, perhaps more importantly, three tie-in novels. All of this is incredibly relevant when discussing the development of a cute little girl with blonde pigtails.

I'll admit to not completely loving the game at first. To be fair, I was probably too young for it when I first started playing it, and I relied heavily on the guidance of my neighbor (who had been the one to introduce me to gaming). Also, I was a rather neurotic child (who grew into a rather neurotic adult), and even though dying is pretty damn difficult in Myst games, parts of it scared me a little.

A few years later, I was able to appreciate it more. Around the same time I got older and wiser (or at least graduated to middle school), I learned about the books and devoured them. By the time both the long-awaited sequel and the third book came out, I was completely enamored with this series, and wanted to immerse myself in this fictional world.

I had a friend who was just as much of a fan as I was. (Here I'm going to out us as total nerds.) We developed a code language based on symbols from the games. Our nicknames for each other were from characters in the books. And in our truest moments of hard-core geekery, we would sit up in my room and pretend we were writing the books that would link us to new worlds of our own imagining (and a little part of us would be disappointed when they didn't work).

Well over a decade and various sequels later, I still love it. I really do. I'll admit that I haven't played the last two games yet (still waiting for the price to come down...) and I am sorely disappointed that there were never any more novels, but the series still holds a certain magic for me. And now, as I write my own stories, I think the influence is blatantly obvious if you know what you're looking for.

This scene inspired the setting for an interlude in my second book. Also, I really do look like that.
Now that I'm even older and even wiser (maybe), I'm trying to figure out what made that series so special. What grabbed hold of my imagination and refused to let it go? What made a part of me truly believe, as I sat in my room with my friend, that the simple act of putting words on a page could unlock a portal to the other side of the universe, a place only I could see?

In discussions on writing fantasy, there is much talk of "world-building". What sort of society are you creating, how does the environment of your world affect the people, what laws do they have, what are their morals and values...I could go on for pages. The creators of Myst took it a step further: they built a world about world-builders. Ooh, meta. By writing descriptive books, the characters would link to other worlds. Writing was a highly-respected art form, and with that skill, they could literally travel anywhere they could dream up.

There were rules, of course, and one had to be responsible and treat the worlds that were created with respect. But I think the concept seared in my mind forever was the idea that nearly anything is possible. Want to create a world with three suns, two moons, and a purple sky? Go for it. How about a planet three times the size of ours, with various races and cultures? It's all yours. Some of the worlds were quite complex - that screenshot up there was grabbed from a world with wildly different rotating phases, created by a man who wanted to convince people that he had the ability to control the passage of time. I say again: anything is possible.

I know a lot of people roll their eyes at fantasy as a genre, but that endless possibility calls to me. It's a great exercise in creativity - how far can I push the boundaries of believability? How can I make a wild, surreal idea the most natural thing ever for a reader? How can I not only show someone what's inside my head, but drag them into it and make them never want to leave?

You know, as I try to wrap up this blog post, it occurs to me that I'm probably waaaay overthinking things. Maybe the point the creators were trying to drive home is quite simple: Books are awesome. Books will take you places. Love books, and they will love you in return.

Even as an adult, there's still that teeny tiny part of me that thinks every time I open a new book and touch the page/screen of my e-reader, I'm going to hear the "linking" sound effect and be physically whisked away to a different time and place. It could happen one day. Anything's possible, right?


  1. Great post! I played Myst when it first was published and fell in love with the game. I was such a fan that I purchased Riven and Exile as soon as they came out. I was turned off by the openness of Exile (Myst III) that I didn't get into much of the others when they came out.

    Thanks for sharing this. I might have to check out the later sequels.

    I guest posted on the subject of the epistolary form of storytelling and I even mention the original game as having this sort of compelling element peppered throughout. If you get a chance, please feel free to comment.

    Epistolary Form

    1. I didn't mind Exile, though I wouldn't say I LOVED it as much as the first two. The soundtrack was pretty cool, and it scored some bonus points for starring the always-phenomenal Brad Dourif. Uru/Ages Beyond Myst was highly enjoyable, once I got used to the controls. I definitely recommend it!

      Thanks for reading! *scoots off to read about the epistolary form of storytelling*