I’m not exactly an avid gamer. That is to say, I’m not the kind of guy who goes out and buys each and every one of the latest and greatest video games to hit store shelves. In fact, I haven’t actually purchased a game in years. While many games that are available free of charge tend to be on par with Farmville (*shudders*), there are a number of high quality free games for download out on the web if one knows where to look. “Myst Online: Uru Live” is one such game.
The game is the first and only MMO based on the Myst universe, and as such will thoroughly please fans of the Myst series of games and books who also enjoy playing games online. In addition, for the Christian gamer, this particular game—and the series in general—presents a breath of fresh air. Not only is the gameplay family-friendly in its non-violent exploratory puzzle-solving style, the Myst series of games and books present some curious Christian themes, symbols, and allusions.
(Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)
The entire premise in the series is that there is an ancient civilization called the D’ni who lived beneath the surface of the Earth in a massive cavern apparently accommodating several million people. Their entire civilization centered around the creation of special books that would allow one to “link” to other worlds as described in these books (written in the D’ni language). These other worlds are commonly referred to as “ages”, which calls to mind the variant shades of meaning in the Greek word “aion“, which is sometimes translated “world” and other times “age” depending upon the context and translator’s discretion (i.e. compare the KJV to the NASB and others in the rendering of Matthew 13:40)
Where this all starts to become fascinating, from a theological perspective, is when we learn what these “ages” really are. In Myst: The Book of Atrus (the first book written in the book series by Rand Miller and David Wingrove), we are presented with a conflict in ideology between the main character Atrus and his malevolent father Gehn. On the one hand, Gehn naively assumes that he is the creator of the worlds he describes in the books he writes. On the other hand, Atrus comes to question this assumption and starts to deduce that he is merely linking to preexistent worlds in a sort of cosmic multiverse. Atrus’ view turns out to be the correct one as is validated throughout the books and games in its progressive revelation of the D’ni and their understanding of the “Art“.
As it turns out, the D’ni believe in a concept they call the “Great Tree of Possibilities“, wherein all the possible outcomes of temporal/spatial events exist in a potentially infinite number of alternate parallel worlds, not at all unlike the theory of the Multiverse. So while the aesthetic of the games and the books is all rather archaic and seemingly magical, as it turns out the whole thing is actually rooted in scientific speculations arising from the study of quantum mechanics, subject matter that’s usually only considered in Science Fiction. One thus calls to mind the words of famed SF writer Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
So, while Gehn subjugates the people of his “ages” like a cult leader—thinking himself a god—Atrus eventually works to oppose his father setting up the tension we find in the game Riven: The Sequel to Myst. This is an ongoing theme throughout all of the Myst games. Are we gods, creators of our own little reality? Or are we the subjects of a greater infinite objective reality? The games then demonstrate the moral outcomes of these two philosophic perspectives.
Atrus negotiates with the inhabitants of the ages to which he “links”. At one point, in the Book of D’ni, he even promises he won’t return to an age if the tribal elders in a given age forbid it. If all of the Europeans who came to the “New World” had taken such an ethical stance, our own American history would have been very different.
Gehn, on the other hand, rules the inhabitants of his ages with an iron fist. Their individual wills are irrelevant to him. After all, they are merely the byproducts of his created little world. His ego is thus too large in such a small world to allow any space for others, and thus he subdues and dominates by force those who would seek to thwart his will.
Thematically, the series thus emphasizes the moral need for humility. And not just personal humility. Gehn’s ego is fed not merely by some sense of personal grandiosity, but rather it is in the context of his being a part of a great—but fallen—civilization. He is not simply a god, but rather he is one member of a whole race of gods. He borrows from the culture and tradition of the D’ni people, while at the same time drastically departing from their own humble understanding of their place in the cosmos. He attributes their achievements to their own inherent greatness, rather than simply being the recipients of the Maker’s blessings. In this, Gehn is like the secular humanist of today.
Speaking of the Maker, the D’ni have a peculiar name for this great Being that made the “Great Tree” of worlds: Yahvo. If the allusion is not explicit enough to the reader, I will make it plain. To those who already understand, I apologize for any insult to the reader’s intelligence…
In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself as the great “I AM” in Exodus 3:14, which in Hebrew is “hayah” and thus serves as the basis for the Name “Yahweh”, essentially meaning “I AM THAT I AM”. This statement of absolute Being is how God revealed Himself unto Israel, and it was the reason that Jesus was to be stoned in the eighth chapter of John, when He claimed to be that Eternal One Himself (John 8:58).
Now throughout the centuries, as the Bible was finally translated into English, scholars came across the tetragrammaton with (presumably) the vowel points of Adonai (Lord) noted below by later Jewish scribes (Hebrew originally had no vowels when the scriptures were written, but later acquired vowel markers below the main consonant letters). Thinking this was the actual guide to pronouncing the Divine Name, the name “Iehovah” emerged. When this transliteration was created, “I” was originally pronounced like a “Y” and “V” was used like a “W” (just as in German today with the pronunciation of “Jawohl!”). So, as the letter “J” emerged, the name was then spelled “Jehovah”.
What does this have to do with “Yahvo”? Well, in the same way that “w” and “v” have historically been used interchangeably (in contemporary Hebrew itself the letter “waw” is sometimes referred to as “vav”, as the sounds there too are interchangable), it is not a stretch at all from “Yahweh” to “Yahvo”, especially considering we don’t know the exact pronunciation of the Hebrew “YHWH”. Besides the ending consonant “h”—which is presumably silent anyways—”Yahvo” could easily be the proper pronunciation of the Name for all we know. In any case, the word is very Hebraic and strikes an immediate chord with anyone familiar with the Old Testament language studies. And this is not the first Hebraic allusion throughout the books/games.
The D’ni people originally come from a more abundant world called Gaternay. We are never given a depiction of the world itself, but we are given hints in “The Book of D’ni” that the world was much more decadent and vast than the confined cavern, by virtue of the fact that the majority of the Ronay (from whom the D’ni descended) went to Terahnee, which is described in detail. In addition to its decadence, the Ronay as a people were in a state of moral decay. The ascetic prophet Ri’neref thus led the few thousand people that would follow him to D’ni, where resources were scarce and the community would have to trust in the providence and guidance of Yahvo to survive and thrive.
So, essentially we have a sort of allegory of Moses leading the people of Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness. The dying world of Gaternay stands in for ancient Egypt, Ri’neref is our archetypal leader, and D’ni itself is the wilderness. Instead of forty years, it’s 10,000. And it’s not until Myst 5 that the D’ni finally find the promised land in Releeshan.
In the mean time, if you’ve read the books and played the Myst series of games, actually being able to explore the D’ni cavern is a real treat. The games are always so rich in detail, and the books follow in that same vein. So to see these two streams come together—with the detailed descriptions of the cavern in the books and the sheer visual artistry of Cyan Worlds—is simply wonderful.
I can not recommend this game highly enough, especially for Christians. Not only is this Myst universe abundant with subtle Christian themes—thanks in no small part to creator Rand Miller’s staying true to his values—as an online game, it also presents the opportunity for evangelism, apologetics, and ministry to other players where the medium of Role Play and cooperative gameplay can serve as a method for sharing the gospel and building up fellow Christians in the faith. I myself am part of a “Bevin” (a sort of in-game community) called “Set Free by the Truth”. The enthusiastic young man who founded the group has even gone so far as to make a marker game that sends players on a sort of scavenger hunt with Bible verses as clues.
And the best part of all this is… it’s all free! In addition to being downloadable and runable all completely free of charge, now that the game failed as a commercial venture (it was simply far ahead of its time as a non-Everquest-clone MMO), there are now talks about releasing the game as Open Source, thus making the game potentially Free Software in the greatest of senses. An editor for the game has already been released, and there’s several hundred community worlds people have made just waiting to be integrated with the main game, once Uru becomes an Open Source project. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of stuff to see and do with the content already available on the MO:UL servers. So what are you waiting for? Download and play today! Seriously, it’s awesome :)