Like many tweens, I spent my prepubescent years enamored with the idea of romantic tragedy. I kept myself on a fixed diet of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, hormone-fueled fanfic, and Sailor Moon bootlegs. Love, as I understood it, was an experience that belonged to the young. It was fast, furious, and self-destructive. If you’d asked me what my definition of romance was, I would’ve quoted the 1995 film version of Sense and Sensibility: “Love is to burn, to be on fire! To die for love? What could be more glorious?”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was another love story I was becoming just as attached to, one that was doing a much better job of preparing me for who I would become.
When I first played Myst, Atrus felt like a dad — a father figure whose approval mattered deeply to me (is there anything worse than screwing up the ending and finding Atrus disappointed in you?). A few years later, in Riven, I met his beloved wife, Catherine. When she walked on screen with a confident stride and a rich red dress, I was struck. She was poised, intelligent, wholly present in herself. Immersed as I was in the game, I easily imagined myself — gangly, bumbling, middle-school me — standing in the presence of such a woman. I wanted to be her, or someone very like her. In every Myst game after, whenever those two showed up, greeting me warmly and asking for my help, I swelled with pride. They had my respect, and I would not let them down.
Atrus and Catherine’s relationship presented me with an idea that my other stories never touched on — a love that would mellow, mature, and settle down. Those two had their troubles, yes, but most of the time, they hung out in their beautiful home, writing worlds and admiring each other’s brains. A pair of equals who regarded each other with quiet, unwavering devotion. Atrus and Catherine slowly but surely taught me that love didn’t need to be a burning, all-consuming thing. It could be subtle and sustainable, too. As I got older, that ideal is the one I retained loyalty toward. I have these two, in small part, to thank for that.