Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dwelling in the Myst

When I was growing up, both my parents spent a ton of time at their respective jobs. My mother ran a day care center out of our home which offered her the chance to take care of me and my siblings while still earning some much needed income. My father, on the other hand, had a soul-destroying rat race job that had him flying all over the world on business trips throughout the vast majority of my childhood.

I loved my father. I still do, he's a great guy who was willing to do whatever it took to keep his family in a comfortable home so that his children could grow up in a safe, loving environment. I have a lot of respect for what my parents went through during those years, but it didn't change the fact that I barely knew my father.

I don't remember if it was a present for some gift-giving occasion, or an educated impulse buy, but during one of his elusive months home, my father purchased a copy of Myst. He and I installed it in our relatively new family PC and spent the whole night just walking about the main island and drinking in the (then) unparalleled visuals.

After attempting to solve a few basic puzzles, it became apparent that we were going to need pencils and a notepad before continuing. Within a few days it became a tradition, one of us would man the helm and steer our voiceless, faceless avatar through the intricate D'Ni landscapes while the other would steer the pencil over the yellow legal pad, recording every pin and valve of each puzzle.

Given my dad's stressful job, he enjoyed going for long runs or throwing the baseball around in the back yard to relieve stress. Well, my younger self was more content savoring the moments when our second-hand television was free so I could play Primal Rage or Super Mario World. So my father and brother got to bond over a baseball, but by the glow of a monitor, my dad and I found our common ground.

One of the most memorable nights was when we set about exploring the tunnels beneath the mechanical age. In a small mini-sub that ran on tracks, my father and I cruised about a submerged ruin and listened to sonar beeping and static crackling over the submersible's on-board radio.

We moved between track intersections with the casual mouse clicks that defined the game, each intersection produced a different tone as we engaged our on-board radio. I proposed that we should probably follow the sound, if it grew weaker from one point to the next, we should back track and take a different route. My dad seemed to nod at the possibility, but insisted that we navigate each and every tunnel. We went back to the beginning, turned the legal pad to a fresh page, and began drawing a map.

Our radio crackled as we moved further and further away from the exit and each new chamber and intersection we came to looked almost exactly like those we had seen before. But we had a purpose and a direction; and with each new line on our legal pad we could avoid completing our goal for another few minutes.

We didn't discover any epic treasures along the way, we didn't find any shortcuts or magic potions, but after a delightfully long evening we did end up with a full map of the tunnels.

And while it turned out that the loudest, most pure sound in our radio was indeed at the exit and my hypothesis had been correct, my dad's method meant that I got to spend a night exploring a submerged underground labyrinth with my dad.

And let's be honest, what eight year old kid wouldn't want that?


  1. Aw, that actually brought a tear to my eye. Very sweet. It's lovely to hear positive stories about gaming; playing video games with my older brother helped us remain more of friends than the typical "sibling rivals." Some of my favorite memories are of playing R.B.I. on the NES or Super Mario Kart against him. Even though it was probably the very definition of "un-cool" to play with his little sister, it means that now that we're older, we still have fond stories to share.

  2. I remember your dad talking about how much he liked exploring Myst with you. Don and I got it because it sounded like fun. We never got too far. I'm thinking that our computer may not even have had a speaker while we were playing that game!

  3. I played an old game called Monkey Island. Did Steven Spielberg, or George Lucas or something have something to do with that?

    Also, from the Sims people (before they were EA, I think) had a game called SimFarm that Don got as a demonstration from a job he had. It was really interesting, but my computer was too wimpy for it. Growing crops, husbanding animals, selling at market!