One spring evening in 2006, I sat in my virtual house in a world called “There.com” talking to my virtual dad, the very wonderful man that everyone knows as Stungthumbz. After knowing him for close to ten years now, I really do look to him as a father-figure and I have learned to never doubt him. The wisdom he has shared with me over the years has been priceless and he is bar-none the greatest father ever created. When I was down, the bomb had gone off, my ex hit the door and I had been abandoned, Papa Stung was there for me. He authored one of the two recommendation letters that got me into UNLV that I am grateful to him every day for. In turn I have honored his faith in me by bringing up my GPA to a 3.8 and once again being placed on the Dean’s List Honors for another semester of straight A’s.
But, I’ll never forget that spring evening for the rest of my life. I was still in the decompression stages of recovery from the six months of hyper-accelerated aging I did while sitting on the Fall 2005 Members Advisory Board or “MAB”. I even have the mug to prove it.
|My MAB Mug. Every time I lift it to my lips,
I think of the immortal words of Socrates who said, “I drank what?”
As usual, and what had become the norm during my six months of what I can only term as ‘that special place in hell they always warn you about’, he was sitting as my counselor trying to ease my anguish as I sat completely aghast at how poorly human beings like to treat each other all too often. When I asked him how grown adults could turn an online world into no more than a virtual high school, he chuckled, probably amazed at the naivete with which I have always seemed to look at the world.
That night I was especially perplexed. You see, in a virtual worlds sense, I was born into a very rich heritage. One that springs from the greatest and best-selling adventure games of the 20th Century, Myst. Before I go another step though, one of the reasons why Myst was such a hit is because it is pure, unrefined, unfiltered, MENSA-level bio-digital jazz. I mean Myst takes spatial problem solving to a whole new level that, believe it or not, has taught me how to see things spatially and through it have become a very, VERY good real-world spatial problem solver. It’s a trip when you use what I call “D’ni Logic” in the real world to solve a problem within two seconds of looking at it that someone else with an engineer’s or mechanic’s mind can’t quite solve after they’ve spent two hours on it. Actually, it’s pretty freakin’ trippy when they look at you and say, “How the hell did you do that?” and you bashfully reply, “D’ni Logic?” only to have them walk away and throw their hands in the air cursing, “MYST! Again!” Hey, I can’t help it, it’s how I think!
Now you have to understand, after playing Myst and it’s sequels, Riven, Exile, Myst IV: Revelation and Myst V: End of Ages, then diving directly into the accompanying canon made up of the three Myst novels, The Book of Aitrus, The Book of Ti’ana and the Book of D’ni, finally compiled into one asThe Myst Reader, you would have learned that the authors, Rand and Robyn Miller were the children of a pastor (I believe he was a Methodist minister). However, what they did in retrospect with Myst was brilliant, they to blended old stories and common sense universal truths from the bible with a unique viewpoint that completely divorced the religious underpinnings, then rolled it in the Roman Empire, resulting in a rich, cultural memoir with outstanding ethics without the fire, brimstone, “sins” and punishments that we expect from religion as a whole. The whole franchise literally sprang to life as a living, breathing guide of the Seven Virtues, bringing joy and a humble pride for the reader or the player to excise from themselves the moral ills illustrated in the storyline. Rand and Robyn had, in their genius, made the Seven Deadly Sins the true antagonists of the story giving each very hard, gut-wrenching moment that much more depth and impact, hence glorifying the virtues in a way that you not only recognized them, but you wanted everyone else to see that they radiated from you in every way.
For a girl like me, the entirety of the Myst Universe or what some call the D’niverse, was a sight for sore eyes. As I’ve written many times before, Myst came into my life very unexpectedly. After a summer of boredom in Montreal where I just kept eating after game title after game title, the ex brought it home for me, hoping it would sate my appetite for a time-sink. It sure as to hell did! But, not long after he gave me Myst, a series of commercials began to play on the television:
When I heard Peter Gabriel’s “Burn You Up, Burn You Down” and saw what I would find out later was the age of Teledahn and its mushroom-filled wonderfulness, my jaw dropped. After delving into the story of Atrus and his sons Sirrus and Achenar via the very dated graphics in Myst, I drooled at the thought of getting my hands on a brand new edition of the franchise. If Myst in it’s antiquated form was that compelling and that hard, I thought that the latest edition would probably be downright noodle baking. And, it was. When I got Uru: Ages Beyond Myst on Christmas Day 2003, I squealed with delight, not caring about what else was under the tree. After a minor glitch of having to get a new graphics card, I was right about the whole noodle baking thing…it took me almost a week to get through what is known as “The Cleft.”
Admittedly, I was behind the curve in learning my D’ni. The other players around me were old veterans of the franchise, heck when I first met Ace, even he said he had played Myst. But the people around me? Oh ho ho! They could read the numbers, some of them could even read the glyphs that after almost 10 years of seeing it all the time, I still can’t do. The Numbers? Heavens yes, I can go one to 25, even doodling them in my notebooks in class, but the letters? Oh hell no. Too damn hard. I’ve already got English, German and French whizzing around in my head like angry hornets, to put D’ni in there? Oh forget it! That’s why I have the folks over at the D’ni Linguisic Fellowship, or DLF, for my translation needs, or I can just put up the RAWA signal that looks like this:
|This is the RAWA signal, only to be used in dire lore or linguistic emergencies.|
If set out properly, the RAWA signal will sometimes spawn a nice man named Richard that (if I’ve set out the correct pizza bait) will swoop down and translate a word or two for me.
Okay, I’ll let it out of the bag, RAWA is also known as Richard A. Watson, who is just all that and a plate of cookies. He’s actually the guy who probably has more stacks of books in his house than I do because he’s the guy who mashed together English, Hebrew and Sumarian to create the D’ni language in which any Cavern dweller worth their salt will at least know “Shorah B’shemtee” which roughly means “Peace to you all.” On top of that, he’s at the heart of the lore for the Myst Universe, a lot of it coming from his head. So you KNOW he’s on my top 5 list of people I want to meet before I die because I have to thank him for a whole, whole lot of good things that what he’s taught me through Uru that I’ve paid forward to so many people.
Besides the fabulous RAWA, there’s Rand Miller, the source of all things Myst and I’m sorry, but I gotta say it, Rand is hot. He just is. Like Chris Metzen from Blizz, Rand belongs on the hotties list in like a thousand different ways, not just because of his handsome mug. My fave is when he went through his long hair phase a couple of years ago and he hugged my Aunt Dana. I fainted in my seat when I saw the photo, that lucky bug! Sorry Auntie Dana, but I’m posting the pic. When I saw this photo on her Facebook feed, I just said, “OMG, that is SO right on.”
|Auntie Dana being hugged by Rand Miller. Had I been her, I would have fainted dead away.|
Anyhow, I could go on about all of the fabulous people inside the Myst Universe, but I’m getting off track. HEY, someone’s got to steer the boat around here!
So, going through Uru, and I really think everyone should, if you are ready to hear the message, you’re going to get a big one. It’s all about living without pride. It’s all about setting aside greed. It’s all about giving more than you take and contributing to something larger than yourself. If you’re ready, it will teach you the art of the selfless. If you sit down and actually set aside your doubt, put down all of your assumptions and prideful leanings and just listen to the story, read all of the journals and really, and I mean REALLY breathe it in, it will change your life for the better in so many ways I can’t describe it.
All I know is, when I go into Cavern, it’s sacred. Two years ago, I wrote what it was like for me to spend some time in Cavern, and you know, it’s still the same for me. When you go in, it’s like church, you don’t cuss in there. EVER. If I caught someone swearing it up in front of Kerath’s Arch or The Great Tree, I’d slap their head off their neck, you know the one I’m talking about, where you’re blabbing it up and your mother or father comes up behind you and slaps you in the back of the head, glaring at you, going “Straighten up,” as if you just swore in front of a pack of nuns.
Back in the day though, Cavern was completely sacrosanct. It was one of those things you were grateful was there. I mean the truth of the matter is that Uru was like the fourth or fifth virtual world to ever exist, now there are hundreds and oh man, it had more bugs than a bait shop. If you didn’t run into a bug at least 10 times a day you were lucky! Heck, if you didn’t crash to desktop or have some foul thing happen to you, it was damn near a miracle. OH, but then if you tried to get in to Gahreesen with a crappy computer? You were going to spend near on to a whole day trying to get it loaded because it still is the HUGE king Daddy of the ages with more mouse holes in that place than a block of swiss cheese. You could definitely tell they had Gahreesen on the slate to be one hell of a transportation hub. I could go on for days, but Prolog was something else that I still sit back amazed that while yeah, the Myst community has a few know-it-all boneheads running around, (who doesn’t), it was the most perfect place I had ever experienced.
But the most remarkable thing about being in Cavern back in its glory days is that there was not one single “griefer” in the lot. Now, this serves my point (which I swear I am getting to) because in most online worlds, oh I’d say around 99 percent of them, have a malicious sub-set of sub-human animals called “griefers.” They’re the ones who run around and can’t help but drop their fly and tinkle all over things, other people and overall just be annoying so-and-so’s that you want to shove off of a cliff without their relto books. (Oh, for those of you who haven’t gone and played Uru yet: If you fall off a cliff or do anything that will kill you, your avatar will do what’s called a “panic link”, grabbing their relto book (which you ALWAYS have on your person), which links them to their home called “relto” thereby saving your life. So basically, you can’t die. But without a relto book? SPLAT.)
But, someone fumbled the ball, screwed the pooch, stepped on their whatevers or a combination of all three which resulted in a January day in 2004 that most Uruites, D’nizens, or whatever you want to call me and my people, were left devistated. Ubisoft, who was the publisher for Uru, decided to pull funding and by extension pull the plug on the whole thing.
Now when you’ve spent the amount of time my cavern family and I did in that world and were so synched to the message of Myst, how well did you think that message went over? Yep, you’ve got it, like a dang rock. Oooh, people were ticked. 10,000 of us left in the cold by the snap of someone’s fingers. A whole community left to be blown in 100 different directions as we mourned the loss of our beloved world.
Some folks were smart, in the time before the big blackout, they sent out emissaries to all sorts of different worlds, praying we’d find one that would fulfill our needs. Most emissaries came back with the choice between Second Life or There.com. Being that Second Life had more socially “questionable” areas and a screwy interface, it left some folks with only one choice. There. The rest? They took off to Second Life to enjoy avatars walking around like they had sticks planted up their rears and men actually saying out loud that they are dancing on their balls. I kid you not. But either way our family went, it splintered us in half.
Now, you have to realize that the gearshift between a wholly photo-realistic world and a cartoon-based one takes one heck of a bit of swallowing to take. Going from having five fully-articulating fingers to basically a “crab claw” consisting of a thumb, index finger and three fused together fingers was a stretch. But with how intuitive the avatars were, breathing, nodding, even down to tapping their toes, it made it a bit easier swallowing the transition.
However, not everyone transitioned smoothly, and I’ll be the very first one to put up their hand and admit that I didn’t. But it wasn’t for the superficial look of the world at all. It was, and I guess I’m a tad bit unique in this regard, purely due to ethical concerns. Okay yes, I looked at the crab claws I had inherited and went “WTF is this? Who’s idea of a sick idea joke is this? Three fingers? Really?” But what I would find out later made the crab claw issue into no more than a minor blip on my radar screen. What I found was whole groups of Uruites and D’nizens pushed back to the fringes of civilization; harassed, griefed, belittled and pushed away from everyone else until they finally colonized on an island far away from the rest of the inhabitants of the world. But, without a map, it makes it a little harder to realize how far they had been pushed.
|With a map, it’s a little easier to understand my frustration.
Map courtesy of Google Maps and There.com
Yep, now you’re seeing the picture. The people who got harassed, belittled and treated like complete outsiders were driven relentlessly from the main island, past one more, all the way out to the very fringes of the world at the time. And on a little island that you can’t even see with the naked eye on that map above the furthest point of that map, a small group founded Uru Island. Oh, and if you dared to interact with the “natives” of that world and showed that you were from Uru? You were branded an invader, an outsider, when everyone that came to our world were welcomed like long-lost family. Now, I would be very wrong to say that ALL of the native inhabitants of There treated us that way, but the ones who didn’t comprise a minuscule number. Like Doc Celia says, we were a diaspora, a people without a home. Every time we tried to make one, we were quickly bullied out of the way.
Now, you saw one of my hot button words in there, didn’t you? Bullied. Worse than having the plug pulled, the last thing I had it in my heart to deal with were a pack of bullies and thugs. After seeing their attitudes and what they called a “world”, I quickly surmised that they had intellects, by my estimation, the equivalent of the crab claws that they revered and called “hands”, half-formed at best. You know me, I try my best not to be snobbish or say one thing is better than another. Every day I look high and low to make sure that I see the nutritional value in everyone I encounter. From the furthest reaches of Comet Island to Saja, Tyr and beyond, the only true nutritional value I found in There was housed within the hearts and homes of people from Uru.
It was actually quite tragic. They were given this beautiful world, and instead of inviting people in to ensure its survival, they treated most newcomers like nothing more than shit beneath their shoes! Their welcoming islands were great examples of it. The moment you logged in, you were faced with swears, innuendo and conversation of a quality I consider “intellectually offensive.” (and remember, I love a good redneck joke just like anyone else. Hell, I can tell raunchy stories with the best of them.) I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. The last thing I want to see is a female avatar named “xox__Bitsy__xox” telling people rancid jokes or watching her beg for in-world currency by dancing in as nude of a way as the system allowed, bikini bottoms and a bust-only covering tanktop. Welcoming areas, good or bad are supposed to induce the consumer to SPEND their money in world, not to look at “Bitsy” and her foul mouthed friends while they were learning how to walk and following the incessant dinging of the interface as they learned the controls in which they could navigate the world.
But, thanks to a whole lot of folks whose cavern blood runs deep and true, they made There a lot more palatable than being left to its general “membership”. It was then I had insult added to injury. Not only was I driving an avatar that didn’t remotely resemble what I was used to, but when I tried my hand at creating in-world objects, I did it the old-fashioned Uru way, you walk up and ask to see if there are any resources you can look up to learn more. Oh boy, did I regret that one. Upon learning that I was from Uru, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was “retarded”, unable to learn and that I should go find the nearest rope and try pissing up it. Yep, that was my experience. Lovely, huh? But, you know me, I’ve been through worse. So, being as my cavern blood runs deep, I set myself up with Photoshop (hey what was my AA in Graphic Design for if I wasn’t going to use it?) and scoured the Internet for some tutorials about online worlds asset creation. I started out just like everyone, I sucked. But with my good old-fashioned Uru-borne perseverance, I used my spatial problem solving skills and started to become better. And better. And better. Now decidedly, not the best, but what I made was wearable.
By then, it was early 2005 and we all headed off for the There real-life gathering in San Mateo, CA. There amongst some “natives” I found my family. Stung, Kitte, Kaylea, Doc Celia, Tae, Mejan, Petal, Squee, Soosi, June and a whole list of Uruites that I think showed up for each other more than they did for the Therians. (I know I did.)
|Uruites in a foreign land.|
All during the gathering, I argued for diversity. While going through the interesting process of learning asset creation I found that most individuals gravitated towards a single skin color rather than embracing the diversity of their actual roots. Now remember, I’m from Uru whose letters spell “You are You” so to not abide and embrace one’s own individuality was beyond me. After being in that online world for a year, one question eluded me: Why did I have to be some skintone because all of the clothes were made for just one? Ugh, caramel skintone, still six years later is the bane of my existence, second only to pridefulness. That’s right, since the overwhelming population of the world preferred “carmel” skintone, all of the world’s asset creators created clothing built specifically for that tone with little to no deviation. It had resulted into nothing more than a monochrome nightmare where myself and others pondered why it was we were being forced into a mold that we had absolutely no interest in conforming to.
I’ll never deny for a day that I’m a maverick. I don’t believe in conforming for conformity’s sake. Oh who am I kidding? You’ve been along for the ride this far, so you tell me, how well do I take to being a lemming? That’s right, you’ll probably find a cold day in hell before I ever become one! I figure there is a vast difference between belonging to a family and being a lemming. Lemmings just follow for the sake of the fact that the cliff is where everyone else is going. A member of a family is a unique individual that has a mind of their own. Big difference.
So with my maverick mentality in tow, I spent an entire four days arguing the merits of diversity versus mind-numbing lemmingness. You know what? King Lemming went and hid while I passionately argued things. (I still intimidate the crap out of him. LOL.) And while I enjoyed San Francisco, I came back with a heavy heart, knowing that unless Uru, by some miracle, came back, I was trapped in a world where it was okay to be a lemming. I stayed for only one reason, that’s where my family was.
By that fall, I had been placed on the 2005 Fall Members Advisory Board where my duty was to be a conduit by which feedback went from the membership to the bosses at There’s offices. We were supposedly there to make sure that the wants and needs of the membership were heard. I had become a senator of sorts and oh was my docket full. Besides a hundred million developer issues from the member content creation program, to landmark disputes to you name it, we had to handle them. However, it seemed as the only folks really hitting the pavement to do their jobs was guess who?
Yeah, I had a really good time being on the scene watching other people rip each other apart over so much as the location of a portable housing zone. Or people who thought it was perfectly fine to use a world landmark as a, well hell, I’m just going to say it, somewhere to demonstrate not only their lack of taste but their immense lack of common sense and their pure lack of the remotest amount of manners or common courtesy. Over the course of six months, UoT battles notwithstanding, I had seen the worst of the human animal.
You know Bitsy at the starting area the year or so previous should have tipped me off, but nope, I hung in there for my family. By the time my MAB term was over, I had become a rabid, snarling pit bull sitting at Stungthumbz feet, because between teaching students two hours every Saturday, the MAB every Thursday evening, and being shot at right, left and center for being an Uruite, my patience had finally seen its limits.
So here we are, right back where we started. Me, Stung, my house and my overwhelming question, “Why were these people so ignorant? Why is it that if there is no one in the physical vicinity to beat the crap out of them, do human beings insist on being such jerks on the Internet? Why were they so unwelcoming? Why weren’t they like us from Uru?”
It was then that Stung laughed a little, like he always seems to do even years later, and said:
“Uru, and by extension the Myst Universe as a whole, is a sort of Excellence Filter. If you can survive all of the puzzles then go through what we have: open, closed, then opened again, then closed, then opened once again and so on; and still have a sense of humor to joyfully exclaim ‘It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!’, that’s strength that is only found when you have stuck with it as long as we have. What we’ve been through has washed away those whose faith waned, it strengthened and rewarded the tenacity of those who did not give up, and along the way, it’s brought out the worst in a few, but the very best in so many more. Those that remain are the ones who have been made better and stronger, more excellent, for the experience.”
By a sheer freak occurrence, guess what happened six months later? Uru opened up again. Squealing with delight, I peddled my butt back home so fast it made people’s heads swim. We invited people over, but as the very hysterical TCT Talk segment on the podcast said, “There was one girl who couldn’t figure her way off of relto,” which put us all into stitches it was so very pathetic, even when I thought of myself struggling in the Cleft all those years ago, was still damn funny because simply, she didn’t even try to find answers or click on things, she just expected everything to be explained to her.
Six months later, Uru closed again.
Then it reopened again a little bit after that, but here’s the kicker, the week Uru opened back up for the third time, guess who closed their doors?
By all accounts for There to close in the same week Uru re-opened, to quote Doc Celia as she said on the podcast, “It was a damn miracle.” Now, all of those prideful folks who had scoffed at us and pushed us to the far end of the world (as evidenced by the map and Doc Celia’s book) were the ones who came to us looking for a home. Where they had never experienced what it was like for their world to go belly up, the same experience we have known all too often, they finally felt the crunch of losing what was dearest to them. Have I mentioned that pride kills?
As I watched and laughed a lot, sure enough, the excellence filter kicked in huge. Only downside? There are now griefers in cavern as whole new fan-made ages open up in MOULa or MystOnline: Uru Live Again.
But this brings me back to one simple fact. When we lost everything, we worked hard to stay together and keep our heritage. We didn’t shrug it off, we held it close like a candle lighting the way in the darkness.
What I find so peculiar about all of this is that there are some people who are visibly interested in our world, others who couldn’t give a darn, but when two fellas named Adrian and Patrick undertook the adventure of trying to bring our rich heritage to everyone via the silver screen, they forgot one thing…we’re all called to the cavern for our own unique reasons. Like we say in cavern, “Only Yeesha really knows why.” When you stand up and declare your love for the Myst Universe, like it or not, you’re going to do your time in the the Excellence Filter; and out of experience I will tell you, it sure as to hell ain’t easy. It will chew you up, spit you out and put you back into it’s mouth to be chewed up and spit out again. It is meant to do that.
Best line I know to describe the Excellence Filter is from Frank Herbert’s Dune where they say, “Arrakis was made to train the faithful.” Same goes for any part of the Myst universe. You have NO idea how many times I’ve said, “Uru was created to train the faithful.” Only Yahvo knows how right I am about that.
But the overwhelming truth that lies amongst all of my experiences from Uru to There to World of Warcraft and beyond is that my Myst heritage sticks with me not because I’m sticking word-for-word to the canon, but because I adhere to its spirit and the base tenets described within it. How do we know to give more than we take? How did we learn how not to be prideful? While the story of Aitrus, Catherine and Veovis is breathtaking, D’ni is more than just those three or Ghen or Sirrus or Achenar, even little Yeesha. D’ni lives within the throng of explorers learning the backstory in the books of the Palace Alcove, it lives within the new explorer that found themselves on relto and fought their way to figure out how to get to Gahreesen and get their KI.
The whole point for Rand to get a Myst Movie made is to put butts in the seats and re-ignite interest in the franchise. He can’t do that by telling an intricate story that you have to be a fan to get. The biggest thing, whether the movie takes place on Myst Island, Releeshahn, Tehrahnee, Amateria, Stoneship, Age Five or on Ae’gura, it’s the D’ni Technology, the damn fine roots and branches of Terokh Jeruth that the film “Thor” made all kinds of room for us to explore, that will motivate people to come and explore the ages and the wonderful backstory that we know and cherish on their own.
I feel real sorry for Adrian and Patrick, I really do. But as I’ve said a thousand times, living in the Myst Universe is like getting lost at the world’s coolest MENSA convention. But here, I’ll pose the question to you: how much of the audience do you actually think would qualify for MENSA? Fellas, they’re lemmings, they buy up their iWhatever and text themselves into an early grave. How do you think the complex story of the fall would fare on ears that are nowhere near ready to hear the message? Remember, these are the folks who buy up pridefulness wholesale on their favorite reality shows and sate their greedy needs to one up their neighbors by placing themselves further in debt.
You have to approach bringing the Myst universe to everyone like you would any other complicated thing in the real world. It’s like what Doc Cat did at the beginning of the semester in my Personal Growth class: she laughed it off and made light of it for one reason, and it’s the same reason that idiot girl got stuck on her relto, people don’t want to work for it, they don’t want to be schooled, they want everything to be given to them on a silver platter. Once you get them in, then you hit them with the big guns.
So what, let Hollywood ignite the audience’s imaginations by showing the city, by letting people see for themselves what it’s like to watch someone actually link through a linking book. For heaven’s sake, let them see the digging machines and our letters and numbers. Let them look at the cavern for the first time in a way that they can digest it. That way, when they’re ready, they’ll be able to tackle our wonderful world with the respect it deserves.
You know, the Cavern has never been without drama, whether it was because of the storyline or the people who live there on a daily basis. The main thing to remember is that cavern blood is going to run deep no matter what you do. So, let it flow and let’s see what we get back.
Personally, I place my faith in Rand, Robyn and Ryan with a dash of RAWA on the side. You know, lots of people cried like stuck pigs when Uru came out, hollering and screaming it wasn’t right and so on…now where are they?
Living through the Excellence Filter ain’t easy, but I’ll tell you this, I’ll take my Myst heritage to the bank any day of the week because it’s damn good stuff.
Oh and by the way, if you were wondering about those little Therians? Don’t worry, they’ve got their world back, the only thing they don’t and will never have back?
My cavern blood runs deep and true because I’m Myst-bred and Cavern Proud. So when that Myst movie comes out, I’m going to slap down my money to see it THEN judge it on its merits. The only thing I really want it to do is inspire the public to love the Myst Universe as much as I do and to care for its proud heritage so its’ valuable lessons will be paid forward for generations to come.