The 1993 video game Myst has haunted me since I first saw it in a Harvard Square cafe called “Cybersmith” sometime in the mid-nineties. Two men were working methodologically through the game with a notebook to keep track of hunches, experiments, and clues within the puzzling serenity of a game without opponents, platforms, directions, or enemies. They left with a few minutes on their session yet to be played, so I sat down and tried to figure out … art. That’s all I could make of it. Beautiful art.
I did not play it for at least another decade.
I used college as an excuse to get the tools to make sense of the game. A modern culture & media concentration at Brown University was a convenient bag of criticism, media theory, manifestos, and exploratory academic structures for re-approaching a game that did not feel like one. A game that felt like literature (and indeed aspires to be) and a game that in the words of friend Jason Lee (studying for a Master’s in Game Design at Georgia Tech) won the battle for the most popular game in the nineties, but lost the genre war to Doom and her ilk. We’re still playing shoot-em games, but the so-called “adventure” genre is increasingly lost.
My honors thesis is an attempt to re-engage Myst as a media object worthy of critical analysis. Inspired by the work of film theorists and game theorists like McKenzie Wark and Alex Galloway (who even agreed very generously to be my second reader). The project was supervised by Wendy Chun, whose coursework has formed the heart of my inquiry into digital media and media theory at Brown, and who appears in my mythological understanding of my studies as a veritable virgil.