Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Story -- Part III

Thanksgiving Story

Being an Eyewitness Account of the Obduction Kickstarter and Associated Events

Did you miss Part II?  Click here.

Part III: The Future, and Why It's So Important

We still have two years (perhaps more, if the schedule proves unruly) to wait for the development of Obduction. Little is certain in this world. Perhaps it will prove a wild success and lead to a revival of not only Cyan, but the entire adventure gaming genre … or perhaps it will turn out to be only a kind of last hurrah. But there is hope, now. And with the KickStarter behind us, largely unnoticed by the world at large but momentous to those who were deeply involved, I take a moment of reflection. Why did I bother writing all this down, and what have I learned? Much.

There is meaning and power in cyberspace, for those who know where to find it. I submit the evidence for your inspection. Read the personal stories on, or comb through the comments left by some of the 22,000 backers. Here's a single example that I grabbed from the KickStarter comment stream, written by Cheryl Blaser: "There has never been any real magic or adventure since I lost track of my linking book. I feel like I wandered around for a very long time and finally found it. I'm afraid to hope that I might get to go home and I'm so ready. So very, very ready." I have a hard time believing that Cyan's games could have received a response attended by such strong emotions and enthusiasm unless they truly touched a chord in people. They seem to be providing comfort to some deep yearning, some unsatisfied need within their adherents. Perhaps it's the human desire to explore, frustrated in an increasingly crowded world whose remaining frontiers seem inaccessible. Perhaps it's a longing for peace; though the Ages of Cyan's games contain their own conflicts, they still often seem like a refuge from our world, in which the innocent but clever player character can bring healing without ever carrying a weapon. Whatever it is, it draws me back to the well-worn locations of Myst and its sequels again and again, even when the puzzles no longer hold any challenge and I know the story like the back of my hand. These past weeks have taught me that I'm not the only one who feels a deep connection to these virtual landscapes. Game developers, take note of your power. You can use it … for good or evil.

Gehn writes a Link to a previously unexplored world defined by his imagination.

Some may deride these digital pursuits for drawing people away from the real world and causing a loss of connection with our immediate surroundings. But what is “real,” and why this narrow preference for physicality? I submit to you that the physical world in which we live finds its main importance in its impact on the minds and hearts of beings. History is a matter of the human soul. And the soul can live in these virtual spaces, in abstract walls of comment text or computer-generated underground caverns, though the body must remain seated at a computer terminal somewhere. The events we all experienced on the 15th of the November were no less historical because they took place on websites and inside virtual worlds. We were there for a new beginning. We saw it, we documented it, and we shaped it. We were part of something real.

Never believe that it's all over. Before the Obduction KickStarter, I feared that Cyan's days of making vivid, expansive adventures might be done, and I knew that the golden age of Uru was done. I regretted missing what I thought was my only chance to be part of a living Cavern. And I never would have anticipated what happened at the end of last week. What else have I assumed was gone forever, unable to be recaptured? What other pointless regrets have I wasted emotional energy on? Even if this brief revival of Uru was a small thing, it has grand implications. I am left with a renewed belief in the infinite possibilities of life.

More concept art from Obduction. Aren't you glad this doesn't have to stay on a drawing board?

In the midst of my own celebration, I want to take a moment to acknowledge others' grief. KickStarter can seem like the graveyard of hopes for those who can't tap into the magic formula that brings donations. In spite of all the work, creativity, and love invested by their designers and devoted backers, many projects don't make it. And of course there are even deeper troubles that go far beyond the world of crowdfunding projects, failures and sorrows that destroy lives, that may make my glee over our achievements last week seem childish and insignificant. But while Cyan's experience is not universal, I think the lesson of it still has meaning for these tragedies. When the money won't come, when no one seems to care, when everything is bleak and the possibility of success appears to have closed with finality … it's not the end. Just as I never expected the changes that led to a crowd of us meeting RAWA “face-to-face” in Uru, you may never expect the turn of events that brings you out of whatever pit you may be stuck in. Don't give up.

What's next for Cyan and Obduction, for Myst and Uru, for me and you? I really don't know. That's part of the fun.

This is only a taste. In his novel That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis speaks of the corrupt present world as being “haunted” by a heavenly vision which lurks beneath the surface, awaiting its time to break through. I believe it was an instance of this haunting that touched me last week. Though special in its own right, this resurgence was a glimmer behind a blind, a foreshadowing, a part of something much larger that let just a bit of itself peek through the covering for a moment.

Let me see if I can explain what I'm getting at. I've already mentioned that I perceive what I observed last week as a kind of resurrection. As a Christian, I can't help but think back to the resurrection of Christ, which ultimately makes all other resurrections possible. And I can't help but look forward to the final resurrection. All these stories of fall and regrowth … the story of the D'ni, the story of Cyan, the story of me … are bits and pieces of the Great Story that is the fall and restoration of the entire world, whose culmination has not yet arrived. The rejoicing, the reunions of old friends, the return of lost things, the surge of life in empty places, are the things that I am told I have to look forward to as one who has accepted Christ's restoration in my own life. But the scale will be grander, the effect deeper, the healing complete and permanent. It will be, as Yeesha says, “... not a restoration of the outside, of structures and stone ... but of the inside, of hearts and truth.” In one sense, we must not mistake this for something of the far future. God is in the restoration business here, now, for you and for me … if we choose to receive it. But the little victories of the present time are like a warm-up for the big show.

Likewise the yearnings that Myst evokes in me seem really to be yearnings for something deeper, something which is soothed by the fantasy but can never be truly satisfied by it. What is this elusive thing that I go looking for in non-physical worlds, and can never quite seem to catch and bring back with me? Perhaps it's really nothing more than a thinly disguised yearning for Heaven. Lewis again articulates it very well in his book The Weight of Glory: "In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. … The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” Myst V is particularly good/bad about evoking this. As the game ends (assuming you found the best ending), Atrus and Yeesha welcome you to D'ni restored. You're lifted up and given a view of lush green country from the air. Then boom … the credits roll. You've been handed the keys to the kingdom, and not allowed to go in. But don't be disappointed; be patient … and look, as Lewis advises, for the thing that is coming through.

The Age of Releeshahn, a starting point for the reborn civilization of D'ni.

Okay, so, I think Cyan's games and the events of last week are pretty great. But what do they point to? What do they mean? If I'm right about what I said above … if they're really the mark of something greater … it means I have a whole lot to look forward to.

* * *

It's Sunday again. Finishing this three-part article has taken me a week. The American Thanksgiving holiday is just a few days away, and this year, some of the things I am most thankful for are a bit unconventional.  I'm thankful for a video game series, a fan community, a new understanding, and a resurrection.  I want to thank the Cyan team for the wonderful games that have had such an influence on me. I want to thank them for believing in their dreams enough to come back and try for more. I want to thank all the wonderful people who gave their money, time, and enthusiasm to make funding for Obduction happen. And I want to thank God for letting me be a part of the experience and showing me the lessons behind all of it.

“The ending has not yet been written.” This is a motto of the Myst series, which I've seen repeated many times during the past weeks. It appears in the forum archives of the Cavern-dwellers' defiant cries when Uru was closed at the end of its time on Gametap. It is echoed in the joyous congratulations voiced on the day of Obduction's funding. And now, more than ever, I know it's true.

And so I close.

We're piling up fears,
But we're out of frontiers,
Some need to escape, but there's nowhere.
Can't go to the moon,
At least any time soon,
But an inner-space trip costs you no fare.
So don't be unkind
To a wandering mind,
Just say it again if we missed it.
Some whispering poem
Was calling us home
To a place we know never existed.
– from “Rich Fantasy Lives” by Tom Smith and Rob Balder

Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
– Psalm 126:5-6 (NASV)

I wouldn't be a very good fan if I didn't give the object of this whole story a little free advertising. Cyan will be collecting additional pre-orders up through the end of February 2014, and using the funds to make Obduction bigger and better. If you found this article interesting and think one of these game experiences might be for you, why not secure your copy? If you've never played Cyan's older games, you can find them on GOG and Steam. Mobile versions are also available for iOS.

If I haven't bored you with this giant article and you'd like to explore what happened during the Obduction Kickstarter more deeply, why not take a look at the primary sources? Collections of much of the material generated during the events are available at the links below:

Obduction, Myst, Riven, Uru, and related characters and images are copyrights of Cyan Inc., Presto Studios, and/or their publishers (Ubisoft, etc.).


  1. My copy of Riven came with a guidebook that was more concerned with setting the tone than providing actual gameplay guidance. It tied the themes of worldbuilding with personal responsibility, and it was my first exposure to the idea that my agency in a game had weight.

    It wasn't just that Atrus took on a crushing responsibility by writing linking books, but that the player takes on responsibility simply by allowing the game to exist in their mind and by allowing their avatar to act in the world. I've looked for repatitions of that theme ever since, I think it's the clearest statement about the value of games in relation to other more passive forms of art.

    The community playing Uru is the most awesome extension of what Myst is about, a fundraising event for a long-dead series becomes a literal re-population of a dead city, and a smooth transition takes place between conception and reality.

    1. "I think it's the clearest statement about the value of games in relation to other more passive forms of art." Yes, exactly. The ability of a game to make you an agent in the story is, I think, its most unique power.

      You're reminding me of the other class of games I especially like, namely big, sandbox-y RPGs that give the player a lot of responsibility to make choices, like The Elder Scrolls and Spiderweb Software titles. I find that those can be a good environment for learning about oneself. The game becomes a vehicle for envisioning what I would do as one of the most powerful people in my immediate surroundings, and the results can be interesting to say the least.

    2. The Elder Scrolls were interesting for making me feel empowered, but I always wish for a version with a more broad definition of power. Cyan's games felt more delicate. The Myst universe values cleverness and reflection while I'm always frustrated that I can't walk between villages in Skyrim without fighting off half a dozen bears. A lot of the value I get out of these RPGs is extraneous to what the game's apparent goal is: to make an action move centered around my avatar.

    3. That's fair. I know I've experienced the same frustration when playing Oblivion ("Can we stop with the fighting? I'm just trying to explore a few square miles of the map here!"). Not to mention that it makes the game world feel a bit broken; one wonders how "normal" people ever manage to use the roads safely. I'm sure people have done interesting things with characters that were focused on stealth, speechcraft, and defensive/charm magic, but still ...

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    5. That reminds me of this old playthrough of someone trying to live a normal life in Skyrim:

      "By my count, my wedding trip took the life of ten humans, a bear, a giant, a couple spiders, and a bunch of wolves."

  2. I already stated this on the Obduction forum and am simply going to post it here again as I want you to know, that your declaration in your writing, of being a follower of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour is, AWESOME!

    "I just finished reading your three part blog entry. You have captured the events, so vividly and so accurately. Your writing is wonderful. Like a beautiful voice with melody. The conclusions you draw, incredibly insightful. But your integration of the writings of C.S Lewis and the conclusions you draw at the end in part three with your personal proclamation is, and I only use this word for something cable of moving the spirit within, awesome!

    I'll be adding you to my must read blog list. :)"