The Magic Of Myst

Emily Yoshida explores the legacy of one of the first great computer games:

Twenty years ago, people talked about Myst the same way they talked about The Sopranos during its first season: as one of those rare works that irrevocably changed its medium. It certainly felt like nothing in gaming would or could be the same after it. If you remember the game, you remember that feeling of landing on Myst Island for the first time, staggeringly bereft of information in a way that felt like some kind of reverse epiphany, left with no option but to start exploring. This was a revolutionary feeling to have while staring at your PC screen.

And the word-of-mouth carried — people who had never gamed before in their lives bought new computers so they could play Myst. “It is the first artifact of CD-ROM technology that suggests that a new art form might very well be plausible, a kind of puzzle box inside a novel inside a painting, only with music,” came the impassioned, if grasping prophecy from Wired’s Jon Carroll. “Or something.” …

Myst required little more than your eyes, your ears, and a healthy sense of curiosity. And that’s the most important mark it made. Myst arrived before most home PCs had Internet connections; it was one of the first faraway worlds in which you could get lost from the comfort of your swivel chair. Without Myst there’s no Grand Theft Auto V or Assassin’s Creed — but I’d also argue that there’s no late-night bottomless Wikipedia rabbit hole. Maybe Myst didn’t change how we approached computer games, but rather how we approached computer lives.

Update from a reader:

I grew up with computer games in the ’80s and early nineties, and while Myst was revolutionary in its graphical content, it was not exactly revolutionary in the ways Emily Yoshida points out. She says “…left with no option but to start exploring.  This was a revolutionary feeling to have while staring at your PC screen.”

I’m not sure how you can talk about Myst and write that quote seriously without mentioning the Zork series.  Those amazing text based games were essentially a pre-cursor to Myst that created the exact same feeling, but with words instead of pictures.  You could also mention any of the party based RPGs of the time (Wizardry, Bard’s Tale, Might and Magic) with the same feeling. They clearly required a more “nerdy” bent to play a game with characters and statistics and you know, names.  However, they started you the same way.  The game threw you into an unknown situation with minimal back-story and you had to adventure your way through and figure it out.

So yeah, Myst was graphically revolutionary, and may have pulled more people in to computer gaming, but the basic concept was not that novel.

Previous Dish on Myst‘s influence here.