At the risk of sounding like a Penthouse Forum letter: I always thought these kinds of stories were made up, until it happened to me. I decided to marry someone because of a videogame. And both the game, and the woman, are extraordinary.
I spend too much money on toys. Sitting here at the end of 1994, I can look around the apartment and see far, far too many dollar signs attached to goofy toys. I moved to San Francisco a few years ago, and for the first time in my life I had a little disposable income. I moved into a basement “loft” in a very sketchy part of town (South of Market Street) and proceeded to fill it up with toys I’d always wanted. I bought a pool table, because I loved the mystique of pool, and wanted to get good at a game I was too ashamed to play in public. I bought a Tempest cabinet because it was always *so damned hard* in the arcade, and, as a kid, I'd never had enough quarters. And when the entertainment value of those toys from my youth waned, I started buying newer, shinier toys.
But it was the PowerMac that changed my life. I’m pretty certain that, because of the PowerMac — and specifically because of one especially shiny game I bought for it in January — I’m now making a pretty big life choice.
Perhaps I should back up. There are two stories here.
The game is Myst, a point-and-click adventure from Cyan. If you’re a dedicated Mac gamer, you may know them from their previous classic, Cosmic Osmo. Cosmic Osmo was easily the best game you could play on a personal computer in the 1980s, leveraging Apple’s revolutionary Hypercard system to deliver an intense — if childlike — point-and-click adventure with advanced video and sound … far beyond anything we’d seen on Nintendo or Atari consoles to date.
But Myst … Myst is something different. Myst is something special. Myst (and the unbelievably good Doom-clone, Marathon) are the reasons the Macintosh is going to change the face of gaming for good.
On the surface, it would be easy to dismiss Myst as a prettier, color Cosmic Osmo. In a laundry list of “What does it do?” it would seem quote-similar. You progress through various environments (like Cosmic Osmo), basking in the joy of discovering a quirky world (like Cosmic Osmo), ferreting out secrets and solving puzzles (like Cosmic Osmo).
All of this is true. It’s also true that a "Royale With Cheese" and a filet mignon are both “beef.”
From the very first moment you launch Myst, it’s clear that you’re onto something special — an arcane mystery that's truly unique. A narrator informs us:
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, however — such conjecture is futile. Still, the question of whose hands might someday hold my Myst book are unsettling to me. I know that my apprehensions might never be allayed, and so I close, realizing that perhaps, the ending has not yet been written.
It’s an opening monologue worthy of a classic film. And in fact, that’s what you, as the actor in Myst, are in. Visually, it’s still not as impressive as, say, Trilobyte’s 7th Guest, which really did push my new Mac to it’s knees, but from a narrative perspective, Myst succeeds in ways 7th Guest never even tries.
And yet, there’s hardly any narrative at all. In Myst, I am as silent as the protagonist in Doom. I interact with the world by wandering, solving puzzles (often deviously tough), and occasionally uncovering a cleverly integrated Full Motion Video sequence, usually illustrating one of two dueling narratives — the story of two brothers, both seemingly needing your help.
But for the most part, my journey is one of discovery. And the world (worlds, really) I discover are more imaginative and fully realized than anything that’s ever been put on the computer screen. Along the way, I meet characters who are convincing, disturbing and comforting. I listen to the sound of waves lapping on the beach. I contemplate the role of humans in the natural world. And I unravel one of the most interesting mysteries I've ever experienced.
So, yeah. It’s a totally awesome game.
Which brings me to Jessica.
I first met Jessica scuba diving in the Caribbean. She was beautiful, strong, funny and intelligent. Astonishingly, she spends most of the week on the cattle-car dive boats flirting with me, a pasty-white, out of shape, balding guy. It turns out we both live in the Bay Area, so when we come back from our time under the waves, we hang out.
We hang out a lot.
Our first date is Star Trek: Generations. It's my choice, and yet she still wants to hang out.
I know she has gamer chops: She sets the high score on my Tempest cabinet the first time she comes over for dinner. We spend our weekends going to the Virtual World Battletech Center in Walnut Creek, California, piloting Mechs. She reads science fiction. I am tenuous, lest I spook this seemingly mythological creature who keeps agreeing to spend time with me.
Then one evening as we were watching TV over a bottle of wine, I start talking about this amazing world of linking books and stone ships and amazing music and crazy puzzles. And, half drunk, she says, “Show me!”
So I do.
12 hours later, I get out of bed and come back into the office. She stares, blankly, at Atrus, sitting at his desk, unaware of our presence — the master of the linking books, quietly working in his library. It's the end of the game. It's on loop. She could have been staring at the closing screen for hours.
“Holy crap,” she says.
“I know,” I reply.
We dress and walk down the street to the terrible diner. We order eggs and coffee. We are silent for some time.
“But Sirrus …” she starts.
“I know, I thought so too,” I agree.
“And after how he was acting, Achenar …”
“Freakin’ insane right?” I agree.
She nods. Her eyes are bloodshot. She sips her coffee. She’s so beautiful, my chest is canon-shot.
“Thank you,” she says.
She looks me in the eyes. It lasts longer than it should. It's a different world on the other side of that stare. A mystery I ache to understand.
And that’s when I decide that I’d going to spend the rest of my life with her.