This recent Penny Arcade comic made me actually LOL, which on a Monday is saying something. Lest I deprive you of a guffaw by diving straight into a critique, here’s the funny. (I’d post the image for you, but I fear copyright infringement.) Take a sec and go look, please. I’ll wait.

Myst is a single player computer game that was first released in 1993[1]. The fact that it is single player is important to the experience of the game. The premis is that the player has literally fallen into a strange world through a book. This uninhabited world is revealed through first-person frame-by-frame stills that may contain interactive elements. Discovering what is interactive and unraveling the hidden-in-plain-view puzzles through trial and error is the heart of the game, and the heart of the “funny” in the Penny Arcade comic.

This installment was likely inspired by the real-life possibility of a Myst movie [2][3][4].

In my critique of this comic, I will argue that while Penny Arcade beautifully illustrates the absurdity of a direct remediation of Myst game-to-movie, there is much film could bring to the world of Myst.

The imagery in Myst is realistic, using, I presume, texture mapping techniques that were at the time state of the art. Though composed of still images the graphics were a far cry better than other computer games of the day, which no doubt contributed to the game’s wow-factor. Visual cues combine elements of science fiction and fantasy, and the interactive puzzles have a decidedly steampunk flavor. Sound plays a pivotal role in the game play and serves not only to immerse the player in the solitude of Myst, but sound effects are sometimes important clues to solving puzzles. Playing with the sound off, as I mistakenly did, can render you hopelessly stuck without even knowing what you’re missing. The mistaken assumption “No, wait. That didn’t do anything.” is a stumbling block players encounter time and again, and which serves to deepen the feeling of solitude. The slideshow gameplay feels limiting and disorienting, and gives the game a dreamlike quality that helps the player suspend their disbelief as they engage with the world of Myst. All of these elements work together to create a deeply immersive experience for the player, who is herself placed in the story.

In contrast, the pixelated graphics and animated, text-based gameplay of Hugo’s House of Horrors, released in 1990[6], present a more casual, social feeling single player experience. Hugo, like Myst, is also single player, built around a fantastical story, and challenges the player to solve puzzles in order to unlock more of the game world. Unlike Myst, the Hugo story is light hearted, the player manipulates an onscreen character (our hero Hugo), and other in-game characters will interact with and provide clues to Hugo. In this respect, Hugo is a second-person game, and there are always at least two “people” present: Hugo and the player.

The distinction between first and second person that we see in the gameplay of Myst and Hugo illustrates the absurdity of the Myst game-to-movie remediation; the issue of first person perspective. Making a video game into a movie is not a new form of remediation, in fact it has been done several times before, but usually these are action/adventure multiplayer or second or third person games [7]. While it is possible to present a film in the first person, and this has been done before [8], movies presented entirely in the first person are uncommon and the effect is regarded as artistic, not something the mainstream movie-goer would expect of a game-made-movie.

The appearance of a main character in the Penny Arcade comic is jarring, but not without precedent. Myst spawned several sequels, and with Uru a customizable avatar was introduced [9], offering second person experiences of the Myst worlds. But even if we accept the change from first to second person as true to the Myst experience, the personal journey, struggles, and sense of accomplishment that comes with the interactive, immersive experience of Myst would be absurd in movie form. While expecting movie-goers to feel a sense of accomplishment at helping a character solve a puzzle might be appropriate for a children’s movie [10], Myst producers would be foolish to turn the adolescent/adult game into a children’s movie. Without the sense of accomplishment that accompanies puzzle games, the Myst movie audience would quickly loose interest in the unhurried pace the Myst game sets.

In addition to illustrating the absurdity of second-person perspective and unhurried puzzle-solving of Myst-the-movie in the content of the comic, Penny Arcade appeals to their audience visually. The topics of Penny Arcade comics are often related to current video games, and tend to be relevant to “geek” culture in general. The vector graphic aesthetic with smooth lines, flat colors, and well-defined areas of texture play nicely with the visual cues typically seen in highly designed web sites and smart phone apps. The choice of style and dress of the featured hero suggests smart, hip, and capable; perhaps encouraging readers to identify with a certain idol?

Though Penny Arcade makes an excellent, and hilarious, point, the Myst world could most definitely benefit from film, and certain aspects of the game such as the feeling of isolation, discovery, and mystery would lend themselves well to film. But it would be a mistake to expect Myst-the-movie to replicate the experience Myst-the-game. According to the Myst producer blog, the intent is to base the movie’s storyline on the Myst books, which were based on Myst-the-game [in comments on 4]. A feature film will be an entirely different way of experiencing Myst, and one I, myself, am looking forward to.


  3. Penny Arcade blog post to accompany the Full of Twists and Turns comic
  6. Hugo’s House of Horrors release date