Myst may not have been the first video game ever made. This is true. It may not be the most challenging. It may also not be the newest, the funnest, the most flawless or the most advanced. What, then, could possibly be its big draw?
Simply this: Perhaps more than any other title before or since, Myst profoundly redefined the way people looked at computer games.
In a way, it was more of a work of interactive art than it was what would traditionally be thought of as a game. There was no high scores to match, no swarming hordes of enemies to defeat, no time-clock mercilessly rolling down in the corner of the screen.
Instead of all these, Myst simply picked you up, whirled you about and then gently set you down on the docks of a distant shoreline-- unarmed, alone, and without a single obvious purpose for being there. At that same moment, it had already begun to infect your mind, to blur the lines between puzzles, movies, books and art. In the final analysis, this incredible multimedia immersiveness was what gave Myst its true mystique. (no pun intended)
This was the game where all the pieces would come together. From graphics more astounding than the average gamer had ever seen on a computer screen, to the fantastic sound effects, to the seamless and utterly haunting musical score, to the dark and convincing portrayal of the two main characters, Sirrus and Achenar, as played by the game's lead designers, Rand and Robyn Miller... It sucked you in.
It was a bizarre world, but it also seemed to make a strange sort of sense, such that when you unlocked the Buck Rogers rocketship parked next to the library, discovering that it was completely empty except for a box of switches and a grand piano, it didn't even strike you as all that odd. And no matter how many times you told yourself it was just a computer program, you'd still catch yourself leaning in to the monitor, craning your neck as if to see something just beyond the imaginary field of view...
The other thing about Myst that I found truly amazing was its ability to captivate an entire room full of people. Most computer games, even now, are a strictly solitary experience. The last thing you want is a group of people looking over your shoulder, all offering suggestions and vying for the mouse.
Myst changed all that. The first time I played the game, I was hanging out over pizza with some friends, and my pal Josh loaded up his new game while we played a round of cards. Suddenly, the computer started playing that great opening sequence:
"I realized the moment I fell into the fissure that the book would not be destroyed as I had planned. It continued falling into that starry expanse, of which I had only a fleeting glimpse. I have tried to speculate where it might have landed, but I must admit that such conjecture is futile. Still, questions about whose hands might one day hold my Myst book are unsettling to me. I know my apprehensions might never be allayed, and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written... "
Within minutes, the card game was completely abandoned, and the five of us were all crowded around Josh's screen, chattering, gasping and throwing out ideas, as if we'd all been transported wholesale into the same surrealistic world.
Myst was released in 1993. It has since sold more than six and a half million copies, three times that of the previous best-seller, and which no other computer game has yet come close to matching.*
* - I spoke too soon, of course. Fellow noder quoi? informs me that, just recently, Sid Meier's instant classic The Sims has surpassed even Myst's sales records. Hrmph.