It's 11:30 PM, and you're 11. You stayed up way too late watching TV, and your parents conked out on the couch before they sent you to bed. All the lights in the house are off, and the darkness is seeping in through the windows of your home, slowly oozing into the den. You start running.
There's something behind you.
You're sure of it.
If you stop, it'll catch you, and then...
You don't even want to think about it.
You reach the staircase— you're almost there. You rush up the steps, landing each step nimbly on the tips of your toes so that the rest of the lurking horrors don't hear you. So close now. You're at the end of the hallway, at the door to your room. You turn the light on and you're safe. Finally. The halogen bulbs and your trusty blanket have once again staved off the darkness.
But you know it's still out there, waiting for you, like it is every night.
And that's why Myst, while not intended as a horror game, is the best horror game ever made.
I played Myst 1 or 2 times as a kid. We owned the disc, and my friend Ben loved the game. I always watched him play, because I couldn't. It was too scary. The skies were sunny, the soundtrack was ambient and almost pleasant, and you're on a tropical island. What the fuck is scary about that?
The best horror films are the ones that never show the killer. The Conjuring does a great job of this. Horror, and the feeling of truly being scared, comes from being unsure. There's something out there, something terrible out there, somewhere, and it's dangerous. The threat of evil, of violence, even simply the threat of being scared, is often all it takes to instill a deep, stirring fear in the bottom of your gut.
I remember the first time I played Myst. I was taken in by the graphics, by the first person view— everything looked so beautiful. Exploring the island was relaxing and fun, even though I had no idea what to do. I couldn't solve the puzzles, but I didn't really care. I just liked looking at the pretty graphics.
Then I went into the library.
For those of you unfamiliar with the game, Myst centers around a group of brothers that have been trapped in books. There's a red book and a blue book in the library, and the player is given the choice to free them. At this point, I was a little anxious— this is when the game introduces this magical force that's hard to understand. It's a bit creepy.
So you watch the FMV videos, and it's pretty obvious that the red dude is evil, and the blue dude isn't. So I went ahead and chose to free the blue dude.
Big fucking mistake.
Suddenly, I was trapped in the book. Forever. Forced to look at the man I just freed laughing over me, talking about wreaking havoc on the world.
That's when I lost it.
I had to restart the game, so I could quit on my own terms, not trapped in a book, but that was the last time I played Myst on my own. In an instant, the island was no longer friendly and beautiful. The puzzles were no longer things to pass over. Whenever I entered a new screen, I expected something to jump out and kill me. It became clear that there was a hostile force on this island, and the only way to survive, to keep from being locked away in a book for all eternity, to reach the safety of my bed and my blanket, would be to solve the puzzles.
But I couldn't do it.
And that's the scariest part. The puzzles are so hard. And you have hours upon hours to solve them. Nothing's going to jump out at you. The darkness is simply taunting you, teasing you with impossible tasks until you have to give up and quit. There's no running away— there's no leaving the island of Myst. Not until you find the green book.
I never found the green book. I never reached the safety of my bedroom and my halogen lamps, stuffed animals, and pillows.
I can still tell you exactly where the paper sleeve for Myst is. I see it when I visit home. When I was younger, I used to flip through CDs looking for the Wheel of Fortune game I loved to play, and I always dreaded seeing the Myst disc. It gave me a sick, scared, excited, and nervous feeling.
Because there's still something out there. Waiting for me. And when I'm home, I still run up the stairs at night to get to my bedroom.
(image from mystjourney.com)