Myst – Thoughts After Playing

Note: I was playing the original Myst; not realMyst or the 2021 remake.

Myst was one of the first two games my family purchased for our brand-new Windows 95 PC back in the early 90s (the other being Sim City 2000), and so my recent playthrough had a very thick layer of nostalgia settled over the entire thing. As a 7-year-old I wasn’t able to solve many of the puzzles, but I was still able to make varying amounts of progress through trial-and-error, random fiddling, and a decent amount of luck. Even still, playing it decades later, I could vividly remember many of the locales, mechanics, and even the broad details of the story.

Nostalgia aside, I felt that the game held up relatively well for its age, though parts of it certainly feel dated. It occupies an interesting space where the designers clearly took a lot of care and attention in their craft, but the medium and technology were still new enough that a lot of modern design conventions didn’t yet exist. For example: as part of one mechanism, something changes from white to red to indicate it being “active” in a context where, as a modern player, my first thought was that it was telling me something was wrong. Since the colour wasn’t the only piece of feedback being provided it wasn’t difficult to ultimately figure out the correct meaning, but it did lead to a bit of wheel-spinning that likely wouldn’t have even been an issue to folks playing the game closer to its release. There are also a few puzzles that rely more on tedium than cleverness to solve, but still I found these interesting from an anthropological perspective more than they were frustrating.

One thing I’ve always appreciated (and continue to appreciate) about the Myst series is that they try to make the puzzles feel like they arise from the logic of the world, rather than appearing solely as an obstacle for the player. The level of success here is variable, but if I accept that the story’s characters have a compulsion to build needlessly complex mechanisms for relatively simple tasks, I can find myself believing in the worlds as real spaces that served a real purpose. And, in return for hand-waving away a bit of contrivance, we’re rewarded with a very integrated-feeling experience, and a very impressive and fantastical visual style.

I’d recommend this game to folks who played but weren’t able to finish the game as a child (I was able to knock it out in a single 4-5 hour sitting); folks with general nostalgia for early-90’s FMV/point-and-click puzzles games; folks with an interest in historical game design; and folks who want to play through the whole series should absolutely start here. I don’t have any particular cautions, as I feel like the game is pretty upfront about what it is.

I’m continuing to play the series! Here are my thoughts after playing Riven: The Sequel to Myst and Myst III: Exile

Bonus content: I love puzzle games that require taking notes. Something about puzzle solutions that can’t be held in my brain all at once plus the act of writing on a physical medium I find very satisfying. Here are the notes I took while playing Myst (excluding the page with the final puzzle’s solution):

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