This week marked the return of Special Topics In Gameology, our occasional miniseries feature. This time, we’re talking about empty spaces in games, and John Teti covered the lonely worlds of Myst and Riven in our first essay. Considering how popular Myst was, it should come as no surprise that there was quite a bit of reminiscing going on in the comments. Enkidum talked about the game’s ability to draw a player in:
Myst was probably the first time where I became consciously aware of the potential of video games. I rented it not too long after it first came out and explored the first island a bit. I was utterly lost by one of the earliest puzzles. (I think it was trying to open the door to the underground chamber.) I looked up an online guide (they existed, even back then) and figured out what I was missing, and I think I had to consult it once more for the star chamber thing. Other than that, I spent 5-10 hours a day during the week that I’d rented it immersed in its world.
I had played games for as long before, but I’d never had the experience of being transported into the game in the way that I had with a great novel. There was a world to Myst, one that followed its own internal logic in a coherent manner. This world had narrative elements, but I had to allow or encourage them to unfold myself. As John says, the silence and contemplative space allowed me the chance to ponder whatever I wanted to ponder, whether it was the view from some lookout, or the mechanics of a gear puzzle.
Thyasianman mentioned how the emptiness of Myst’s world was creepy for a kid (and for a lot of adults, I’d imagine). This reminded The_Helmaroc_King of another, sillier game that spooked him as a youngster:
I don’t remember Myst scaring me as a kid, but I do remember being scared by another point-and-click game from around the same era: Are You Afraid Of The Dark? The Tale Of Orpheo’s Curse was based on a Canadian horror anthology for kids. The game was probably goofy as heck, but I would have been under 10 years old at the time. There was some story about a magician and a wax museum of some kind. The last thing I remember about it is being “chased” by an animated skeleton. There must’ve been something about the musical cues, because I never went back to the game after that.
The game was framed as a campfire story, which was the same setup for the show. You were a new (nameless, faceless) member of the group, and characters from the show would tell you that you were ending the story wrong if you got a bad ending.
Dot Dot Dot provided video evidence of this game’s existence, and somehow, it’s even cornier than it sounds:
Elsewhere in the comments, DL gave us a heartfelt reflection on the subject of this Special Topics series:
This is a topic that sparks my imagination. I feel comfort in open, desolate games like Frontier on the Amiga. I resent the skeletons that arise from the ground at night in Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, as they ruin my chance to savor the open Hyrule plain. I fly as far as I can away from the islands in Pilotwings, and slowly, reluctantly, meander back. I weight anchor in the open waters of Assassin’s Creed IV to listen to the wind and the waves away from shore; nothing but the creaking of wood to remind us of being civilized. (“Quiet down, Lads.”) I watch Desert Bus For Hope every year, imagining the Loading Ready Run crew in the bus, alone, driving through both literal and figurative day and night to reach Las Vegas and Tuscon. When they reset after a crash, I’m ripped from the illusion and wish they’d just watch the bus get towed back.
My wife often gets concerned because imagery of desolation appeals to me, probably given my having grown up on a farm in Indiana and her being a child of 1960s Portland suburbia. She doesn’t want me to move her to some lonely farmhouse in the middle of an open, treeless, wind-swept field. Honestly, nor do I, but I can’t help being deeply fascinated with what life must be like there, and I picture myself being there with her, working out in the sun-baked yard or just watching a storm sweep across the horizon a dozen miles away.
And Zebbart gave us an unexpected but poignant example of emptiness in games:
Obviously Super Mario Kart was not a game that “stripped away the noise,” but the empty spaces in it were a huge part of the allure for me. Once I took gold in all the cups, I started doing time trials so I could drive backward and follow the boundaries in peace, staring wistfully at the hills in the background. I found every place where you could jump over the boundaries—as if there were any possibility of escaping the clutches of Lakitu—or just finding remote corners and pathways that you would never see if you were seriously racing. Boy, what I would give for a Mario Kart/Grand Theft Auto/Myst mash-up where you can jump the barrier and keep going, then explore an empty Mario Sunshine-style Mushroom Kingdom full of secrets but no one to talk to or stomp on.
In our most recent Gameological Q&A, we asked contributors to identify games they love that don’t (or didn’t) need a sequel. It was a tough question to answer because a lot of us don’t mind sequels. NakedSnake reminded us that no matter how bad a sequel is, it can’t take away the love you have for the original:
You know what? It doesn’t matter. I used to feel strongly about the purity of the series I loved, but it’s been a long, hard road since that time. The lackluster Star Wars prequels paved the way, and from there, the slow creep of sequel, sequel, reboot, sequel, reboot has turned everything we consume into rehashed versions of what we already know. The breaking point was definitely “rebooting” the Spider-Man movies a mere 10 years after the last reboot. I’ve stopped fighting it.
Here’s the thing: These games or movies or whatever aren’t sacred. It’s not the characters, or settings, or whatever details that make them special. It’s the quality that makes them special. When something is high quality, then some combination of play, characters, plot, setting, art, music, or whatever just magically coalesced to create something that is remarkable. The problem is that it’s hard to recreate that magic, so sequels often fall short of their original inspiration. But that does not drag down the original work. We don’t have to, for instance, talk about an Indiana Jones “quadrilogy” if we don’t want to. Each work can be evaluated on its own merits.
Hear, hear. Well, that does it for this week. As always, thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week.