In one of the earlier weeks of this semester, I had students play Myst (Cyan 1993) and read Mark J.P. Wolf’s Myst & Riven: The World of the D’Ni (University of Michigan Press, 2011). The majority of my students are juniors and seniors, and while I have a graduate student and a few older students thrown in the mix, most of the students in the class are around age 22, meaning they were at most doing some advanced toddling when the game first came out. Despite this, many of them had very specific memories of their parents playing Myst in the years after its release. One student recalled his parents sitting up at night talking about bits of the game they’d figured out; another said his father had traced maps from the computer screen, to study and take notes on. In short, despite being just a shade older than the game, many students had distinct memories of Myst as cultural phenomenon.
To describe Myst as it was is a bit difficult. The game was the top-selling computer game for nearly 20 years — The Sims beat it out in 2002 — and was so hot that people bought CD-ROM drives just to be able to play the game. While it’s common to hear people talk about the video game (read: arcade and console) game craze of the early 1980s, it seems easier to forget the extent to which Myst captured public attention and drove obsession, even among people who may have never played computer games before, and, according to my students’ recounting of parental Myst habits, may not have shown much interest in computer games since. For me, Myst was definitely a landmark, and was one of the first computer games I owned. My family didn’t own a computer until Christmas ’93, and, after much begging and very specific instruction on what exactly I wanted, I received Myst the subsequent Christmas.
In assigning Myst this semester, I wondered how my students would respond to the game. While we’re playing many old games of various kinds (Adventure, for example, and Pong), Myst is distinctive for its emphasis on graphics and its position as a benchmark specifically for computer (not console) gaming. In class, most of my students said they enjoyed the game; I won’t doubt them on this, since they were very frank about finding Adventure exasperating. We also spent a long time discussing how the game’s sound effects serve informational purposes while setting the tone for the game, and how the graphics have aged remarkably well. Part of this, I believe, is the persistence of point-and-click adventure games. Myst doesn’t feel that old because so many games mirror its format. Myst is a historically significant game that also remains compelling.
If you’re interested in playing Myst, you can snag the “Masterpiece Edition” over at GOG for $3.99, and if you’re interested in the game, I highly recommend the “The Making of Myst,” which is a short video documentary that came on the original Myst disc. Fidelity is a little shaky, but it’s highly informative.