NOTE: Spoilers ahead!
I believe I first encountered Myst in 2000. I would've been about twelve at the time, and I'm pretty sure I ran across it at my local Staples and decided to purchase it with either some hard-earned lawn mowing money or cash I had stashed away from a birthday or two. Given that I was very into Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far and the Age of Empires games at the time, I'm really not sure what about Myst picqued my interest. I think something about the island on the cover of the game box looked very intriguing.
The version I purchased was actually the masterpiece edition and came with the game soundtrack on a separate CD. I remember I could only listen to it in broad daylight around other people - something about it creeped me out but also fascinated me, especially the tower theme. It's a haunting piece of music that I still love listening to:
Myst was my first experience with immersion. Thanks to the excellent game design, the experience felt so real, so lifelike, that tweleve-year-old me constantly had to remind myself that I wasn't actually there. Even though the graphics in the masterpiece edition aren't great (they're dated even by Y2K standards), they're still beautiful in a timless way and I still maintain a folder full of Myst pictures for use as desktop backgrounds. However, it's really the phenomenal sound design that brings the various ages to life, especially Myst Island and the Selenetic Age. With each step taken, the game reorients existings sounds to their appropriate place in 3D space while mixing in new sounds that hint at things in the distance, adding a texture to the world that makes it feel very organic and alive.
As you piece the story together, it becomes painfully clear that you can't trust either of the brothers. To me, this heightens the sense of isolation - your only guides in this strange place don't seem to have your best interests at heart, but you're forced to work with them if you want to figure out what's going on.
And, once you do finally open the linking book to D'ni and discover the truth, the horrifying reality of what you've just seen comes crashing in. Those ages, that felt so empty and lonely, are - because their inhabitants are gone. Dead. The lack of any visible signs of violence actually makes the truth all that more sinister - there was always more to these ages than met the eye.
Once you bring him the white page, Atrus acts swiftly and decisively off screen. After viewing the final cut scene and returning to Myst Island, you see what he's done - where the brothers' red and blue linking books once sat now there is only the evidence of a fire or some type of explosion - and you again find yourself wondering if you're really safe.
Myst is an unusual game in that it never truly ends. Once Atrus gifts you his library, you are free to roam at will and revisit any spot of your choosing. This is both unique and very poignient. I'm not aware of any other game that does this, but it fits. After all, this how life works. One phase ends - we graduate, move, change jobs, make a decision to get help or stay isolated, whatever - one chapter in our journey on this world closes, but it's merely the beginning of something else. G'kar put it well:
"All of life can be broken down into moments of transition or moments of revelation. This had the feeling of both... The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain." (Babylon 5, Season 3, Episode 9: "Point of No Return")
Myst ends on both a note of revelation as well as transition, and sets the stage for many adventures to come. Indeed, "The end has not yet been written."
I often find myself longing for shalom. For me, part of this yearning is an ache for the magic we can all feel the world has lost, the things that our wildest imaginations are echoes of. To me, Myst and its ages capture much of the essence of this lost magic - the thrill of the unknown and mysterious, the excitement of uncharted worlds just waiting to be explored, and the joy of creativity limited only by the bounds of imagination. I can't help but hoping someday I'll hold a book in my hands and link to some new, unexplored age. Until then, I suppose I'll have to content myself with realMyst ;)