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Seamlessly blending the video game experience with many aspects of electronic literature, Myst is a first-person graphic adventure game in which the player must piece together an intriguing backstory through clues and puzzles. The player takes the part of a Stranger who was transported to the small island of Myst by a magical book. The Stranger must explore the island to discover clues to its history and what happened to its inhabitants. Exploration is mainly solitary, and interaction with other characters is primarily done by reading their writing. The concept of hyper-textuality is strongly suggested; books are used as linking points between stages in the island’s history (called Ages), and dropped book pages can be picked up and read to piece together the history of the island and its inhabitants. The player can freely travel between Ages by using special books, and must jump back and forth through time to find clues to the island’s story. Unlike most other video games, there is no clear objective, time limits, or linearity in the form of stages that must be successively completed. The player is free to explore at their own pace and interest. The game offers several possible endings depending on the player’s choices. Although there is a potential for some “losing” outcomes, there are no obvious enemies to defeat. The object of the game is to explore the Ages of Myst and reveal the island’s mysterious history. Creators Robyn and Rand Miller state that aspects of the island, including its title, were inspired by Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island.

The game's graphics appear three-dimensional and realistic, consisting of rendered frames. Gameplay is done primarily with mouse clicks. When the player clicks a location to move forward within the frame, the scene fades into another frame. The player travels by navigating from frame to frame. In total, there are over two thousand possible frames in Myst. Players may interact with some objects in the game by clicking and dragging. Because it is not usually obvious which objects may be used, the game encourages players to explore by clicking various items.