Natalie K. Munn
Howard Besser
Impact of New Information Resources: Multimedia and Networks
March 11, 1994

After seeing Christine Tamblyn's She Loves it She loves it Not interactive CD-ROM, I began to think about the challenges of writing critically about multi-media. After hearing her programmer, Marjorie Franklin, speak, I became conscious of another goal. This goal would be to write about multi-media and networks in a way that exposed hardware and software dependencies - both my own, and the work's. The question becomes twofold: How to write about multimedia while acknowledging the author/developer's use of various hardware & software -and how to write while acknowledging my own relationship to the work in question and my experience of learning/thinking/writing about it.

Critical writing/communication relies, in part, on an author's willingness to describe how opinions are formed and transformed. This process has many steps: the author's reaction to the original work or argument, and the author's transformation of that reaction into a communication to others. Being able to cite similarities to other works, or other people's reactions to similar works is an essential element of critical communication. Being able to identify and question the tradition from which a work comes can be an essential part of critical thinking as well. The process of critical communication can be supported or confused by identification of various schools of thought, and the implementation of the vocabularies used within the various schools. Fluency in the vocabularies and familiarity with the arguments employed by various schools of thought can help a writer to communicate critically, to make a new text out of an experience.

Creating a critical communication concerning a multi-media text should employ these same elements of citation and identification of schools of thought. While writing a critical piece concerning a multi-media text an author should attempt to identify the tradition from which the work comes. These tasks, never straight forward or simple in a single media, are often ignored or left partially accomplished in critical writing about multimedia. The vocabularies and fluencies surrounding the multiplicity of media do not always complement one another.

A visual vocabulary may be able to provide a better example of a visual work, than a textual vocabulary . A vocabulary of sound can be similarly complementary. But, moving between sound, visual, and textual vocabularies can be schizophrenic and distracting -hardly a good vehicle for critical communication. It is hard to build a convincing argument out on a terrain contorted by seismic shifts in vocabulary. The element of time is difficult to control as well. Fluencies can be fleeting as media changes rapidly. Differing levels of fluency are hard to combine.

It's like starting an argument in spoken French, giving some written examples in Chinese, and making your conclusion with Mayan hieroglyphics on various stelae. By the time you've finished, it is unlikely that any one reader can follow all you've written, and it is unlikely that multiple readers of your work will have anything like a similar experience one with another. Even if one is French, another Chinese, and another a scholar of Mayan code, the readers may not be able to talk about your work one with another in any meaningful way. If you are less fluent in spoken French than you are in written Chinese, the beginning of your argument may seem childish to someone French, while the Chinese person accepts your examples and can't understand why the French person wont take your argument seriously, and so on . . .

This text/test is an attempt to grapple with the problem of how a critical writer comes to a multi-media work, and how the experience of that work can be transformed into a new text that both functions critically and employs the vocabularies and traditions of various media. Parts of the paper will seem childish, some will seem self-absorbed, some will seem irrelevant, others will stand on their own. As my own fluencies ebb and flow so does the paper . . . As my own way of coming to a multi-media work differs from others' my vocabulary and understanding will be questionable, irresponsible, ambiguous. After all, it's only a test/text.

Friday evening, March 4, 1994
The journey begins on America Online:

It all started on America Online[1]. First, I downloaded a few images so I could make an AfterDark [2 ]sci-fi slide show to replace the screen savers I was bored with. Then I noticed all the sounds I could be downloading, so I downloaded a few of those. This takes forever because AOL only has 2400 baud access. [Things have improved since I started this apper, AOL now offers 9,600 baud access.] I finally get to bed at 3am, and the download is still running (AOL's download manager will log me off when it finishes).

Saturday March 5, 1994

My download is interrupted by my spouse at 7:30 am when he tries to use the phone, but I've still got plenty of images to work with. While I'm working on my slide show, I remember the sounds I downloaded the night before, and I decide to try including some sounds in a Word [3] document just to see what it would be like to write a paper that included sound. My first experiment is a success, so I decide to try to record myself talking and then include that in a paper. This is more problematic: I didn't get a microphone with my computer.

The journey continues at CompUSA in Fremont, CA:

I leave home base -this time in the car- and go to CompUSA to get a microphone. They don't sell any of the Apple microphones I had in mind.

The journey continues at Fry's in Fremont, CA:

I leave CompUSA and go to Fry's. They don't sell any Apple microphones either, so I plunk down my $9.95 and buy a huge black mike that looks like it belongs in an Elvis impersonator's act.

Did it work? You tell me . . .

Sunday March 6, 1994
The second day, back at CompUSA in Fremont, CA:

Now, as if this isn't getting out of control already, I decide that I am really tired of waiting around for Photoshop [4 ]to gyrate through changing all the images I downloaded from AOL to PICT[5] format so that they'll work in my slide show. It's time to bite the bullet and buy some more memory. But, nothing is ever simple, and when I get to CompUSA for the second time in less than 24 hours I find myself on the opposite side of the store from the memory counter, over by the Mac games. I start reading the boxes -another big mistake. Myst [6 ] sounds like it would be fun. I decide that I can deal with terrible delays in Photoshop and I spend my money on a CD-ROM drive so that I can see if this game is really as good as it sounds. This also requires that I purchase (separately of course) a SCSI cable and a terminator, but there's no turning back now that I'm curious about this game.

The journey continues, virtually there in San Diego, CA:

I am totally psyched. I get home, hook stuff up, and play my free copy of The Animals! [7] CD-ROM that came with the new drive. I wander around the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park, watching movies and listening to bird noises. The narrator is a little behind the text sometimes because I've got the virtual memory turned on (remember I didn't buy any memory), but I am impressed and can't wait to try my new game.

The journey's first major set back:

Not wanting to get off on the wrong foot, I take a look at the manual and find out that I have to turn the virtual memory off to use Myst. I turn off the virtual memory, load up Myst and wouldn't you know it . . . I've got so much memory in use by my system already that there's no way I'm going to get enough available memory out of my Mac to play the game! Once you've gone this far down a winding road, why give up?

The journey continues at Fry's in Fremont, CA:

It's time to go to Fry's again. I'm out the door and back at Fry's again before 24 hours have passed since my last visit (remember the microphone?). I leave with my SIMMS in a little brown paper bag that 's so small it probably wouldn't hold a package of chewing gum, and I go home ready to upgrade my system (something I've been putting off since I bought it ).[8]

The journey continues on a virtual island:

After the system is upgraded, I try running Myst again, this time everything works just fine. The sound and color graphics are better than I expected and I start to play the game. I find myself on a deserted island and listen to the sound of the water and wind as I wander around getting my bearings. I move in and out of buildings and down paths and corridors. I open books and read journal entries.

I find messages and movies. I am able to turn things off and on by moving various devices. I begin to unravel the past history of the island and discover that one of he devices on the island must be a time machine. I have encountered no other characters except through traditional media like books, letters, film, and recordings.

The journey continues - going back to San Diego:

Finally, it is late and I quit the program and start to think about going to sleep. Just before I leave the computer I decide to try The Animals! one more time to see if it is any better now that I've got more memory available. The difference is substantial and there are no problems with the narration being out of synch. It is also strangely pleasant to listen to recordings of real people and to see real animals after being on the deserted island in Myst for a substantial amount of time.

Monday January 7, 1994

The journey continues: Back on the island in Myst:

I am getting pretty comfortable on the island and am starting to piece together the history of the place and have also figured out enough about how things work to begin to make changes that will allow me to leave and go else where in the game. I am still not sure if I will be traveling in time or space or both.

I am stumped by a particular device for a long time. I have found a code in the island's tower that looks like I should try to use it at the island's clock or safe. The code reads: 12:40 2,2,1. I go to the clock and change the time to 12:40. Then I try a button by the clock that hadn't worked before. Presto! A walkway appears and I am able to approach the door at the base of the clock. When I enter, I see a combination and three levers. The combination is set at 3,3,3 and I assume that I must try to set it to 2,2,1.

After toying around with the clock puzzle levers for a while, I realize that the lever to the upper right resets the combination back to 3,3,3 and the two levers below turn the wheels with the numbers.. The wheels are deceptively three sided and the numbers go from 1-3 and the wheels rotate clockwise two at a time. You can either move the top two wheels synchronously or the bottom two wheels synchronously by pulling either the right or left levers at the bottom of the picture. The catch is that you've only got a limited number of lever pulls to work with before the weight at the far left of the picture hits the floor.

The trick is to determine which sequence of lever pulls will rotate the wheels so that you can change the combination to read 3,3,3. After several random attempts it occurs to me that this is a fairly tricky operation, and that I wont stumble on the solution by chance. I get three pieces of paper and write the numbers on them and lay them out on a table so they read 2,2,1 and I begin to rotate them counter clockwise in an attempt to work the problem backward. Several times I think I've almost got it right, but I can never seem to get the 2,2,1 combination because I have to move the upper and lower sets of numbers synchronously.

It must be puzzles like this one that frustrated reviewer Mike Langberg. He complains that "the puzzles encountered while exploring Myst island are bizarrely obscure and difficult, to the point that many users will walk away in disgust" (SJMN, Computing: 2F). Langberg admits that "Gamers delight in obscure and difficult challenges, and they'll undoubtedly love ''Myst, " but , "The rest of us, accustomed to flopping on the couch and watching TV shows that require no mental effort, won't gladly endure all the pointless intricacy" (SJMN, Computing: 2F). I wouldn't quite describe myself as a couch flopper, and I'm pretty sure I'm not a gamer either, but I beg to differ with Langberg, so far I have found the puzzles in Myst to be both challenging and fun. The fun part is that in Myst everything is not what it appears to be.

My frustration builds as I try to figure out the clock puzzle. I move back to the computer and begin randomly trying some of the sequences I worked out on paper, working back from those that seem most promising. Just when I'm about to give up, I realize that if I hold one of the lower levers down, rather than simply giving them a slot-machine style, one-pull-at-a-time treatment, the center wheel will turn independently of the other two wheels and my problems are solved. The fun part is that the developers have acknowledged that there's no reason why you've got to stick with Newtonian physics in a computer game. Three sided wheels, and levers that work more than one way are just two examples of how modeling on the computer does not have to be restricted by real world possibilities. This is a great environment for learning to put preconceived notions aside. I move the wheels into 2,2,1 position and head for my next destination.

After the success with the clock, I feel like I'm ready for anything. But there are a few hurdles to over come. I can't get the walkway out to the clock to disappear again, and I want to cover my trail. Finally I figure out that I need to change the time on the clock back from the code time that allowed me access to the door at the base of the clock. Then I return to the island's tower and there I find a new message and this time it looks like the safe combination I was after. I hurry to the safe, try the combination and Presto! the safe opens to reveal a box of matches that will allow me to light the nearby furnace. I strike a match, light the furnace, and turn a valve to get the thing primed. Then, just as I'm getting ready to congratulate myself on a job well done, my system crashes.

The journey's second major set back: The Bug

There must be a bug in the way the furnace works. I restart the system, load Myst again and take off for the safe. I turn the valve and then light the furnace. I am almost out the door, when my system crashes again. Now I am getting pretty mad. After all, I just spent more time and money than I'd really planned on to play the silly game. I am beginning to wonder if it was worth it.

Tuesday March 8, 1994
The journey continues: Myst goes to work

My spouse took the Myst game to work, and he and co-worker spent their lunch figuring out a way to avoid the bug and move to the next level. But, this isn't exactly a solution from my point of view. I feel like I haven't even figured out the first level, and that I've been cheated out of the fun of playing the game. It's like playing Monopoly and dealing out the properties instead of getting them by traveling around the board, buying and selling, and wheeling and dealing. I am disappointed in Myst..

The journey continues: back on America Online

Desperate for a paper topic, since I wanted to write about Myst, and I have found myself doubting whether it's such a good idea to write about a game with bugs, I go back on America Online to see if I can find any reviews of The Animals! . I can't resist querying the libraries of a few magazines and newspapers to see if there have been any reviews published about Myst, I am surprised by the quantity of hits I get, and the length of the articles. I start to wonder if this buggy game is becoming a raging success. I go to the best place I can think of to find out: the America Online CD-ROM games forum. The journey continues on the CD-ROM games forum:

I can't believe it. There is already a forum for signing up for the Myst fan club , and a forum for discussing playing the game.

(AOL CD-ROM Game forum Listings on 3/8/94)
MYST FAN CLUB!!! 56 01/26/94 03/04/94
Myst (part 3) 229 01/28/94 03/08/94

It looks like the Myst discussion forum is already in its third incarnation. Myst has been a success, if AOL's forums are any indication of more widespread use by other home computer owners. For a comparison to how frequently other CD-ROM games are discussed on AOL, take a look at the chart below:

I take a look at some of the posts in the Myst (part 3) forum, and discover messages about a bug fix for the mechanical age. It looks like other people have been frustrated by the same bug that I encountered. One message says to do a keyword query in the MacGames library to get a bug fix. This sounds about right, since I've been spending so much time pulling levers and that sort of thing I must be having problems in the Mechanical Age. I head to the library to look for the fix.

The search is on in the Mac games software library:

A keyword query on Myst takes me right to the files I'm looking for:

Adventure  Myst EndGame and Tricks			191	TWaits
Adventure  Myst/Saved Game #2				56	TinmanChri
Adventure  Awesome Myst Island PICT & Ico 409		728	StevenK
Adventure  MYST/saved game				694	TinmanChri
Adventure  Myst Mech Age Fix				2272  	MillerCyan

The last file listed is the one I'm after. Rand and Robyn Miller, two brothers who formed Cyan six years ago, developed the game. I got my formal introduction to the pair when I watched a quick time movie, The Making of Myst that came with the game. In the movie they explain how some of the sound effects were created. The clock tower chime sound was made with a Craftsman wrench. If you don't believe me, listen to what they said in the movie

The story of how they made the bubbles is also worth listening to. You'll never think of your toilet in the same way again.

Anyway, these guys sound like they are ok (at least they seem to be telling the truth about how they made their sound effects!).I get the file description of the bug fix.

Subj:  Myst Mech Age Fix                     October 28, 1993

From:  MillerCyan

File:  Myst Mech Age Fix (61693 bytes)
DL time (2400 baud): < 7 minutes
Download count: 2273

AUTHOR:    Cyan
NEEDS:     Myst (by Broderbund)
LIBRARY:   Adventure/MGM

This fixes the annoying fortress rotation bug on the Mechanical Age in the Myst Game. Replace the existing Mechanical Age file on your hard drive with this file. Simple as that!

Found virus free using Disinfectant 3.2 - AFC Alice

Because the developers posted the fix and that 2,272 other people have downloaded it , I assume it is worth the seven minutes of download time that it will take to get the file. I also begin to wonder whether the fact that 2,272 people have downloaded the fix confirms that the game is popular in spite of the bug.

Wednesday March 9, 1994
The traveler begins to reflect on the journey:

I've got to admit, I'm probably not a very good judge of adventure games. Myst is the first one I've ever played for more than half a hour. I've never had the patience to stick with a text based on-line adventure game long enough to make any comparisons and Myst is the first adventure game for home use only that I've tried, unless you count Carmen San Diego ![9] But, there's no shortage of outside opinions on the topic.

On AOL I read an article from the January issue of COMPUTE magazine by David English who breaks game products available on CD-ROM down into three categories: Port, Hybrid, and Pure Breed. Ports are games originally sold as "singles" on floppy disks which later became available as part of a collection of games sold together on one CD-ROM. Hybrids are "disk-based games that are given extra features when converted to CD-ROM." According to English, "the most dramatic example of these added features is the adventure game, King's Quest VI CD , which is an enhanced version of the disk-based King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow ".[10] What about the Purebreeds? According to English, "The future belongs to games that are designed especially for CDROM".[11] Of these, he suggests "the most famous . . . would have to Be The 7th Guest ".[12] This seems like an accurate statement, based on AOL forum activity. English acknowledges that "not all of them [CD-ROM games] are as playable as the best disk-based or hybrid-CD-ROM games," but English insists that "their advanced graphics and sound have dramatically raised our expectations for computer-based games."

One of the most interesting assumptions about computer games is the expectation that you'll encounter someone else while you are playing the game. I mentioned earlier that Myst was a lonely place. Mike Langberg of the San Jose Mercury News, got the same impression.

. . . I was alienated by the loneliness of Myst. In the island's library, you read various journals left behind by Artrus. After solving enough puzzles, you travel to different worlds and confront new sets of puzzles. But you're alone, never encountering other people or creatures. After several hours of play, I began to crave companionship. (Page 2F).

One of the things in the Myst manual that really appealed to me was the developers' comment that in the game, "like real life, you don't die every five minutes"(Rand & Robyn Miller, "A Message from Cyan",Myst Manual ). This is true, I've played for several hours now, and I've never had the opportunity to kill anyone, and as far as I know, no one's had a good opportunity to do away with me . But, just like Langberg, I've been on a seemingly deserted island the whole time. It's a relief not to worry about being killed every second of the game. But, like I mentioned earlier, when I left Myst after a long period of play, and went to the San Diego Zoo's The Animals! , I did realize how lonely Myst had been. I don't get this feeling when I read adventure novels, and I was surprised that I felt this way after playing the game. In spite of this, I've got to admit that adventure novels and Myst have something very much in common. The experience of both is intimately tied to fulfilling curiosity.

Curiosity is the driving force behind why I came to Myst in the first place, not companionship. First I wanted to see if I could make a sci-fi screen saver that I'd enjoy more than the ones I was using already and I became so curious about the project that I started to implement it. Then I downloaded a bunch of images I'd never seen before, because textual descriptions made me curious about whether they'd be appropriate for my project. Similarly, I was drawn by curiosity to hear certain recorded sounds because their descriptions intrigued me, but on another level I became curious about how I could play, distribute, and communicate with sounds as well. This led to curiosity about what it would be like to have a microphone. In the case of Myst, like the images and sounds on AOL, a textual description piqued my curiosity. Having a physical item (the Myst CD-ROM) that held something I couldn't get at, was so much more frustrating than waiting to see images on Photoshop that it motivated me to buy the memory that I couldn't afford earlier in the day.

My desire to fulfill my curiosity led me on every step of the Mystical journey from before I'd ever heard of the game, to how I played it, and to how I got the bug fix for it, and to how I went back on line and read about how others experienced it. Just like any other trip, every step of the journey was accompanied by the passage of time. Nearly every step of the journey required a monetary transaction, making it a very late capitalist period sort of a trip. The journey forced me to learn new things, to develop new skills, to overcome obstacles, and to make decisions that would irrevocably change my personal situation (I'd have less money, I'd know different things than when I started out, I'd have memories of the passing time that couldn't be replaced by any other memories). My desire to write critically about my experience was also motivated by curiosity, in that I wanted to test the theories I'd entertained after being exposed to Tamblyn's work and listening to Franklin speak.

My desire to write about the journey, rather than the Myst CD-ROM (its developers' techniques and motivations or my own experiences primarily as a player of the game), was not driven by curiosity at all and maybe that's what makes critical writing different from my usual pursuits and some travel stories different from others. When you read about what happened to a person rather than what they saw on a trip, you read about the journey rather than just the land and distance that the person covered. What I'd like to do is make a new way of critical writing that could be used by digital travelers who want to write Quixotexts. I think that this current piece (the one you are reading right now) approaches but fails to become a Quixotext, because I have not been able to elegantly employ the vocabularies and fluencies necessary for the task, but I do think that such a text could be produced and that it would be an appropriate vehicle for critical communication about multi-media.


1 America Online is a dial-up on-line computer service. For more information call 800-827-6364 or 800-827-7570 (the second number is for people who want to subscribe to Mercury Center, an on-line service from the San Jose Mercury News and America Online. Mercury Center offers a special interface to AOL that is nice for people who subscribe to the Mercury news or for people who live in the bay area and want a more local "feel" when they go on-line.)

[2] After Dark is available from Berkeley Systems, 800-344-5541 ext. 127.

[3] Word is available from Bill Gates. Call him at home, or try Microsoft at 800-426-9400.

[4] Photoshop is available from Adobe Systems Incorporated 1585 Charleston Road, P.O. Box 7900 Mountain View, CA 94039-7900.

[5] PICT is a file format commonly used in drawing programs.

[6]Myst is available from Broderbund, 800-521-6263)

[7] The Animals! is available from The Software Toolworks, 415-883-3000

[8] SIMMS are Single In-Line Memory Modules. Adding SIMMS can expand the random-access memory of a computer.

[9] Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? is available from Broderbund 500 Redwood Blvd. Novato, CA 94948-6121.

[10] King's Quest VI CD is available from Sierra On-Line, 800-326-6654, $79.95.

[11] The following excerpt from David English's article marks 1993 as the first year for games made for CD-ROM media and describes the expected industry migration to CD-ROM.

Many of the companies that have dominated the hybrid market, such as Sierra and LucasArts, are designing games that will be available only on CD-ROM. In 1994, many of the top games from the well-known game companies will be designed especially for CD-ROM and then scaled-down for the disk version. By 1995, many of these same companies will either be producing games only for CD-ROM or releasing each game in separate versions for both CD-ROM and disk. With as a much as 680MB available for a CD-ROM game versus 20-30MB for a disk-based game, it shouldn't be surprising that the leading edge games are moving to CD-ROM.

The year 1993 has brought us the first group of games created especially for CD-ROM.

[12]The 7th Guest is available from Virgin Games, 800-874-4607, $99.99.

Works Cited

English, David. "The Best in CD-ROM Games". COMPUTE . January, 1994.

Langberg, Mike. "Mike Langberg column". San Jose Mercury News . SECTION: Computing, PAGE: 2F Morning Final, Sunday, October 3, 1993.

Miller, Rand & Robyn. "A Message from Cyan". Myst Manual . Broderbund, 1993.