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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
Sex appeal of Myst games
Dot.life - where tech and life meet, every Monday
By Jo Twist
BBC News Online science and technology staff

The fantasy adventure series, Myst, stands out in the video games world for many reasons.

Screenshot from Myst IV Revelation
Stop and stroke the animals
It has become one of the biggest-selling PC series ever, since its first outing in 1993.

Its serenely crafted other worlds, its ability to suck players into the storyline for hours, its high-quality graphics and infuriatingly logical puzzle challenges have set it apart from others for years.

With this in mind, it is the type of title that, according to many parts of the games industry, should appeal to women.

Indeed a quarter of its players are female, according to publishers Ubisoft, which is a much higher proportion than most other video games.

But Myst's appeal is indicative of a far more complex argument than the tired "women prefer puzzles" one.

Experience matters

The belief within many areas of the games industry that women like to play puzzles rather than shoot things, is an assumption which is frustrating for a large proportion of female gamers who do shoot to kill.

Myst's game-play does involve a lot of puzzle-solving, and the only shooting in the latest instalment, Myst IV Revelation, is through a new camera feature.

But Genevieve Lord, Myst IV producer would rather the industry started to distance itself from this kind of stereotype.

Screenshot from Myst IV Revelation
Myst's other worlds are atmospheric
"I have been a gamer all my life," explains Lord.

"I also play RPGs [role-playing games]. I don't want to generalise, but I would say for women, a game is like an experience," she told BBC News Online.

Whether that experience is a mind-bogglingly confusing puzzle, or a simple shoot-em,-up, it does not matter.

What does matter is that it is an experience they want to return to and spend hours exploring - if they have the luxury of time in between juggling work, family, leisure and home life.

Lord plays with her two adolescent boys. They have different skill sets which let them work through the game as a formidable team.

Her 14-year-old is at "that age" when talking to your mother is the last thing you want to do.

Through the gaming medium, however, he does talk to her and she sees it as an unobtrusive way of finding out what is going on in his life.

Like game, like film?

Essentially, intricate brainteasers, the requirement for lots of lateral thinking, and great storylines are major pulling points for millions of fans, not just women.

Still, to many gamers who happen to be female, what makes a great game is subjective and can vary, just as in the movie industry.

Screenshot from Myst IV Revelation
A new camera feature lets players snap what they see
It can also depend on what kind of mood a game player is in.

"I do believe in variety and really do believe we are on the threshold of the video games industry expanding and following new grounds and giving more in-depth content," said Lord.

"It is a bit of a risk for the industry, but we can really reach people. We have the technology and the know-how."

Family drama

The immersive quality of the experience and compelling story offered by the series - and others like it - have, in the past, kept Myst players wanting more. Lord says Myst IV Revelation gives players more of this.

Photo-realistic graphics, as well as over an hour of live action video with living and breathing actors in the new title, all attempt to improve on the past games.

"In movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, you have a movie and animation in the movie," Lord said.

"We merged it the other way, and seamlessly integrated the movie into the animation.

"It's like watching TV, but instead of watching, you can make a difference."

As with many games it is all becoming a bit more like the movies, albeit a highly interactive one which lasts for a lot longer.

3D objects have been made a lot more dynamic and unpredictable, and players can use a new hand icon to reach out and "feel" things.

But how a player plays, whether they sit down and stroke the animals, admire the scenery, or snap lots of artefacts with their camera, will subsequently affect what happens in the game.

Screenshot from Myst IV Revelation
A quarter of the game's players are female
All these features, says Lord, makes the game even more interactive and accessible, which was a priority for the development team.

Over the three titles, which have sold over 12 million copies globally - Myst, Riven and Myst Exile - players have solved their way through mystical puzzles, without knowing the fate of two brothers with whom the story began.

Myst IV is a "family drama" which picks up the unfinished tale of the villainous pair, Sirrus and Achenar.

"With Myst IV, we went back to the classic," Lord said.

"We answered the questions that were unanswered. All the millions of fans have wondered what happened to the brothers. Finally we are going to help them find out."

Myst IV Revelation is released for PCs and Macs on 1 October.

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