Dec 2, 2006

Myst as Metaphore

I'm going to geek out in this post. A lot.
In Mark Haddon's most diverting yarn, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, the prepubescent autistic narrator must travel alone to London. He's never done this before, and his youth and autism both make the task something very difficult for him. To make the task easier for himself, he thinks of the whole thing like a video game, a video game he calls Train to London. He thinks of all the things that he needs to do to "solve" the video game- buying a ticket, figuring out the schedule, finding his platform, etc. He likens it all to Myst, a game where the player is simply dropped into an unfamiliar environment and must figure out what the hell to do simply given cues around them.
That's kind of where I'm at right now. Not speaking Japanese or understanding various conventions is a little like being bewildered and autistic, and the whole thing is a bit like a video game called Living in Japan. Every day I go out and try to "solve" bits of this game. Language puzzles mostly, but also exploring my environment and deducing social and cultural conventions by watching people do things.
I'm playing the fourth Myst game right now. At once it is quit nice to have something familiar- I've been following the series since the first game was released- but at the same time I'm sort of struck with the absurdity that I go out all day and puzzle things out, study Japanese and try to puzzle it out, and then pop a DVD into my computer wherein I try to puzzle out fictional things. Maybe I'm some sort of brain masochist.
But, the whole process is both frustrating and rewarding. It's frusrating that I can't fluently read hirigana and katakana yet, and it's frustrating that I get stuck on the "turn on the power" puzzles in Myst (because every Myst has at least one "turn on the power" puzzle). But, at the same time, both sort of experiences constantly yield intellectual rewards. Last night I saw "sareda" in katakana on a menu, and thought "yeah, salad." I was quite happy that I was able to read something so prosaic and utilitarian. Likewise, in Myst there is always the rewarding experience of making one more thing happen. More often than not it's not something big, it's more along the lines of "oh, so that's what this button does." Small "salad" moments.
Certainly, I will never get to the point with regards to the Japanese language or Japanese culture where I have dramatic moments. The moments in Myst where a bunch of gears grind together, the power turns on, and a bridge dramtically lowers. No, in the real world I'm going to have to content myself with "what does this button do?" Little things. "Salad" moments.
Incidentally, the fourth Myst game (Revelations, it's called) is as mind-bending as ever. It doesn't have the feeling of creepy alone-ness that made the earlier ones so good, but the puzzles are fun- there's even one where you have to work out the phonetics of a fictional alphabet.
Yay fictional alphabets! You're what I have fun with when I'm tired of working on real alphabets!
Yup, total brain masochist geek type here.

4 comments:

Eric said...

Hmmm... Small salad moments? Do those come tossed?

Didn't mean to bring the discourse of this blog down. Well, maybe I did. I can't help it sometimes. I've had more to drink tonight than I have in a long time (I think since the Oklahoma game when we were at this sports bar and it was madness). And I must say, egg nog instead of half-n-half makes for a more interesting white russian. Not sure I like it better, but it's much thicker and certainly has a diffferent taste. Do they have egg nog in Japan? What levers do you need to pull to get that sort of thing over there?

Eric said...

Hmmm... Small salad moments? Do those come tossed?

Didn't mean to bring the discourse of this blog down. Well, maybe I did. I can't help it sometimes. I've had more to drink tonight than I have in a long time (I think since the Oklahoma game when we were at this sports bar and it was madness). And I must say, egg nog instead of half-n-half makes for a more interesting white russian. Not sure I like it better, but it's much thicker and certainly has a diffferent taste. Do they have egg nog in Japan? What levers do you need to pull to get that sort of thing over there?

Eric said...

And I double posted. Sorry, pushed it twice. Like I said, a bit too much to drink... I promise not to push this one twice. I hope.

Tim Fitzgerald said...

Hey man, I saw your blog off of Eric's blog. I particularly like the title. Funny thing is that I am considering doing the same thing once I am done with my current program. It's good to hear that it is possible to get around without knowing any of the language. Except that I always did terrible at Myst and used a FAQ to get through Riven. I doubt that the same would exist for me if I move to China (which is my possible destination). Enough rambling. Point is: Hey, whatup?