Reinstall: Myst

Richard Cobbett at

Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, we explore the eerily deserted, ethereal landscape of Myst.

With six million copies sold, making it the best-selling game of all time until The Sims came along, there’s absolutely no arguing Myst’s place in PC gaming history. It set a new benchmark for multimedia and 3D rendering. It inspired many people who would never have touched a game to give it a try, sucking them into our world. It gave printer manufacturers something to bundle with their products.

Myst, in a word, is a legend.

I hate it. I hate it so much.

"Is it finally time to make peace with this old enemy?"

How much do I hate it, you ask? Go to your bathroom. Brush your teeth. Done that? Now swig a large mouthful of orange juice. If I had my way, that sensation would be called “a Myst.” Put me on a desert island with a computer and the entire series, and I would snap one of the discs in half and use it to slit my own wrists. Probably Riven. And that is but the start of my hate for this series, and all of the 3D-rendered abominations it spawned.

But maybe I’m being too unfair. Maybe. It’s been a long time since I last played Myst—you know, as opposed to taking out my copy of the game and just screaming at it for five minutes straight. Reinstalling it now that its damage to my beloved actual graphic adventure genre has long since been done, is it finally time to make peace with this old enemy, technical pioneer that it was, and move on in a new spirit of understanding, compassion and mutual respect? Hahahahaha, no.

For the record, this is how Myst works. You wander through a deserted, static world, poking and prodding at levers and buttons until somehow stumbling on the designer’s favored brand of moon-logic and manage to open the door in front of you. Fans will tell you that these locations are rippling with symbolism and artistry, crafted and written in magic world-books by the master wordsmith Atrus. I disagree. All I can think about is how annoying it must be to be a visitor in his house, suddenly realizing you need to solve a puzzle involving the orbits of the sun and the moon as they relate to duck flatulence simply to get into his bathroom. At least you'd never be short of paper to wipe with, I guess.

"Creators Cyan realized they’d named a core part of their lore after a slang term for a toilet."

The central puzzle in Myst is collecting red and blue pages from around Atrus’ empty, desolate worlds, which you use to communicate with the two worst actors ever—his sons, Sirius and Achenar. Both are trapped in books in Atrus’ library and need you to repair their books so they can escape.

Unfortunately, both of the sons are complete jerks, and whichever you save promptly locks you in his book and leaves you, with the correct answer being to invite both of them to eat your shorts and rescue their dad instead. Atrus promptly burns their books and... then leaves you trapped in his admittedly prettier world. Nice guy. Totally worth helping.

To grudgingly give Myst some credit, its island worlds are imaginative and beautifully rendered. Myst Island is the famous one, to the point of even cameoing in an episode of The Simpsons once, but there are many more with intriguing names like Stoneship, Selentic, Channelwood, and Dunny, which was later changed to D’ni when creators Cyan realized they’d named a core part of their lore after a slang term for a toilet. I make no comment on this, except a slightly obnoxious snickering sound.

Later games also expanded on the concept in some interesting ways. The sequel, Riven, was still a desolate place, but much better conveyed the feel that it had once known life. A later remake, real Myst, turned the pre-rendered world into a full 3D one, while an online version, Uru, was a bold if failed attempt to create a massively multiplayer game around puzzles and exploration instead of combat and leveling. It’s still around though, and if you want, you can play it for free at mystonline.com.

"Myst reinforced the toxic idea that adventures were about puzzles and boredom."

So why the hate? Why isn’t it simply a game I don’t like? Simple. Myst reinforced the toxic idea that adventures were about puzzles and boredom rather than adventure and fun, and the industry jumped right on board with an endless slurry of games that made it look like a trip to the theme park. Only a precious handful of games—Zork: Grand Inquisitor and Legacy of Time springing instantly to mind—dared to break the mold and be brilliant, and what was their reward? Grand Inquisitor was a flop that killed the Zork series stone dead, while Legacy’s planned sequel never happened because of its creators making... a bloody Myst sequel. Aaargh!

At that point I decided the whole series had become some kind of vindictive beast, targeting me personally. Irrational? Perhaps. Maybe even definitely. But that didn’t matter. Myst and I were now enemies for life, and reinstalling it to give it one more shot only confirmed that, as I knew all along, I was absolutely right to hate it.

So there.

You can buy Myst now for $2.99 on GOG. If you dare.