When I first decided to do a series of blog posts regarding things that inspired me, Riven was the absolute first thing to come to mind. Ever since I was old enough to appreciate puzzle games, Riven instantly became my favorite for many reasons, most of which were related to my childhood dream of someday being an author.
There are the obvious connections, of course. Atrus is–at his core–a writer, though the books he writes actually become living, independent worlds you can travel to. (What author doesn’t strive for that every time she sits down to write?!) Books are ingrained in the fabric of the Riven (and of course, its predecessor Myst) storyline, and it seemed that there were always old, aged books laying on side tables. I remember my favorite room was Gehn’s office, where there was a book-binding table filled with blank, waiting-to-be-written pages. I am not even joking when I admit that from time to time over the years, I’ve gone back to the game just to stand in that office, listen to the vaguely unnerving ambiance, and admire the detail of the antique, mysterious bookmaking tools. Atrus’ various journals also play a key role in figuring out what the heck you’re supposed to do when even the puzzles themselves seem invisible to the naked eye. (Right: Book on side table. Always.)
But the thing that really struck me with awe–and still does–is the world-building and the sense of place. The world of Riven has a lived-in feeling, a deep and resonating history of things that happened long before the gamer ever enters the scene. The civilizations are old, well-worn, and firmly established in their idyllic landscapes. The religions aren’t just fluff made up to fill time and space, but heavy shadows of a mindset that linger in these mysterious places, that feel real, tangible, believable. Riven does what I strive to do in short (and longer) fiction: create a world that is independent of the reader, that exists even when the reader isn’t reading, that has a sense of unstoppable time perpetually moving it onward, changing it, so that when a reader comes back to it, it’s not the same. I love stories in which the text of the tale itself feels like just a window into a living, breathing world, and that feels just as real when I put the book down, wondering what will end up happening to those people I’ve gotten to know, as though their lives will continue in my absence, just like real life.
Another thing about Riven that inspires me: I adore the high-tech/low-tech mix, the aged evidence of scientific minds that may no longer occupy the area. I like rusted machines, crumbling generators, buttons that may or may not still work. Everything about Riven feels like the mysterious sciences of a race long dead and forgotten, left for me to figure out and maybe someday understand. It’s part of the attraction, too, that so many of the cultures and technologies in Riven are left unexplained. Why do they live in sky-bound igloo-style houses? Why do they worship a giant tusked fish? What is the symbolism of a golden beetle, and why do I feel certain that it’s vital to solving some riddle of this world?
Then, of course, there’s the artistic design, the beautiful ambient sounds and music, the varied landscapes, the round-vowelled language I both half understand and completely misconstrue. There are the animal species–some like real animals, some completely bizarre–with their own appearance, symbols, and calls. Granted, Riven has the advantage of being a mostly visual format, but it’s none the less an enchanting masterpiece of world-building, and something I’d love to be able to mirror in my own work someday.