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June 1, 2011 / jwaxo

Myst (Fear Confrontation)

Silent protagonist? Try “Disembodied Hand” protagonist.

Last week I realized that I had, at some point during Wednesday, been bitten on the back by something possibly eight-legged. It itched like heck and has, by now, turned into a pockmarked scab that ,according to the nurse I’ve talked to, is probably completely unrelated to my dizziness and nausea (she said low blood pressure and that I should stay hydrated and eat lots of carbs). I’m less concerned about that, however, and more concerned about how I got bitten. Where did this spider and/or tick manage to crawl up my shirt and inject its toxins into my skin, not only causing slight swelling and achiness, but the worst itching ever?

So I lay in bed at night, reading, and knowing that the best time to sneak up on me unawares is when I’m sleeping. I woke up on Sunday, 3:00 am, and realized that my shirt had crept all the way up my back. “Idiot!” I chastised myself, “you’re leaving yourself wide open for the enemy!”

I’ve inspected underneath the bed for anything resembling webs, have checked all of the closets and drawers, and tried to assure myself that spiders just aren’t motivated enough to crawl up the nineteen floors to get to me. However, no matter how logically I approach the subject, it doesn’t matter: I still have to lay, eyes forced closed, back firmly against my mattress, and try to will myself to sleep, and overcome this stupid fear that a spider will somehow bit me again, despite the months of this not happening and complete lack of evidence that it will happen again.

It is this irrational fear (and the fact that spiders are bugs, which plays a big part in the next paragraph) that made me think of today’s blog post.

Back in the days of Captain Comic II my sister had the biggest, stupidest fear of these bugs that the game had.

Typical reaction here.

Seriously. I mean, it’s probably more proof that my family is more than a little cruel, but man if we didn’t make fun of her for it. I would go to the level that had the bugs and just hop around them, shooting them with fireballs, and tell my sister to come over, she had to see something. And she always did, and always flipped out.

Problem is, I was a huge scaredy-cat back in the days. I’m more than willing to chalk it up to an awesome, inspiring imagination, but I will flatly state that I was a tiny, easily frightened child. I don’t need to bring up the nightmares that Child’s Play or The Blair Witch Project or Child’s Play 2 or Are You Afraid of the Dark? or Bride of Chucky or even Twister gave me. Because this is a blog about video games.

No, sir. I’m going to talk about Myst.

You’ve played Myst, right? Everyone has. It’s commonly reputed to be the game that made CDs a viable platform for games, and introduced the idea of a heavily story-driven game with very little actual story input. This game, like so many that I bring up here, is what TV Tropes refers to as “Seinfeld is Unfunny“: the idea that, like Seinfeld, some products inspire so many imitators and take-offs that the original product, at one time unique and interesting, is now a passé fad.

You may not remember it, but the concept of a puzzle game where the user clicks around on likely paths and then travels down them, exploring a prerendered 3D environment, was a huge, booming industry, and it all started with Myst. Now that rendering on-the-fly is a much cheaper process, these games have passed right through passé and right into obscure again. But there will always be Myst.

Myst and its freaky isolation. Myst and its boxes full of heads. Myst and its torture chambers and skeleton chandeliers and horrifying, apocalyptic journals.

Not to mention impossible puzzles, but that’s not really the purpose of this blog.

Stupid submarine thing.

My brother and I played the game somewhat-together, taking pecks and peeks at it at various times, sometimes curling up on cold Saturday mornings to explore through the giant redwood forest or the cold mechanical halls or the creaky underwater boat. I’ll always remember that the Stoneship Age was my brother’s Age, as he solved the puzzle in the courtyard. The Channelwood Age I always considered mine, although I remember my brother solving most of the puzzles there, too.

The difficulties of getting the water through the pipes to power that one elevator…

In any case, in every single level, you’d be perfectly fine, traveling along, taking mental notes of the paths you’ve walked and the things you’ve seen in case you need them later, and suddenly, wham, you’d be in a room that had something subtly macabre in it. Maybe a creepy mask, lit from a dim light, while haunting tribal music played softly. Maybe it would be a metal container that didn’t appear to contain anything until the lights from the electrified cage flickered and you saw the screaming faces.

It didn’t help that there were no friendly faces, with the sole exception of Atrus, who I didn’t even see until the internet age arrived and explained the trick with the fireplace (seriously, I hope these random references aren’t leaving you behind, but how else can I explain it?). The two guys trapped in the books both seemed either insane or extremely mean, and the books you could read tended to implicate them in horrible crimes. Their respective rooms always had those twisted notes and evidence, and the mere fact that everyone, everywhere was gone seemed to imply some horrible kind of apocalypse.

In short, the game scared me out of my mind.

Playing the game with my older brother was probably not the smartest choice, either.

So what was the lesson to be learned here? Avoidance. I avoided those creepy rooms like they were a ranting bum on the other side of the street. I memorized their locations and only went in them if I managed to forget, in those twisting labyrinths, which turn I had taken at which corner. I gathered up the pages of the brother that I trusted the most and tried my best to get back to Myst island.

I don’t think I ever beat the game until the internet told me how.

It was just too scary to go on.

Plus, you know. The Mechanical Age. You were seriously supposed to figure out that “bink” meant you were facing North and “sprrrrr-gong” meant southwest? Seriously?

I eventually got over my fear of fiction in general when my mom introduced me to Stephen King. Once you read The Shining with a fever of 101 and have the worst fever dream in the history of the world, things like that just aren’t as horrible as they used to be.

“Can’t get a drink of water, drowned ladies will get me. Can’t get a drink of water, drowned ladies will get me. Can’t get a drink of water…”

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