The 17 years of Jack: From MYST to Lost and DOOM to 24

The 17 years of Jack: From MYST to Lost and DOOM to 24

In 1993, the timeline split into two universes: One that played DOOM and one that played MYST.

I am Jack's cultural progression.

The year is 2010, and two long-running television shows, Lost and 24, air their last episodes, one day after the other. They seem diametric opposites. Or are they?

>>FLASH, DIAGONAL-WISE!<<

The year is 1993, and a fantastic, two-part story has begun. A cataclysm – a rift in time and space itself, a clash of new dimensions – catapults a man from the world he once knew into not one, but two different strange and alien landscapes. To some, that man will be a nameless stranger. To others, he will be known as “Jack.”

One version of the stranger lands on a mysterious island, where time moves in unpredictable ways. Wandering a beautiful, dangerous, eternally puzzling place drenched in remembrance of things past and unknown, his journey of discovery brings him, in the end, to two long-estranged brothers playing with human beings like game pieces, vying for release from their prisons.

The other lands in a high-tech government facility, where time marches ever inexorably forward – where life is cheap, and speed matters. He is a soldier, always alone, always enraged, accomplishing one task of immense brutality and cunning only to be slammed by another and another without rest, doing the only thing he knows how to do – stopping the infiltration of his home, his unit, the very hearts and minds of his brothers of arms, by a heinous, foreign evil.

But, wait, why 1993? Lost only ran for six seasons. 24 only ran for eight. A long run, but not 17 years.

Because this story didn’t begin with the shows – it began with a cultural divide begun somewhere else – in two different visions for a new, more complicated, more observable, more technologically dense world.

In 1993, the nameless stranger’s island, which became Jack’s island, was called MYST.

And in 1993, the nameless stranger’s battle against infiltration wasn’t against terrorists, it was against monsters in a computer game called DOOM.

It's like a McDLT - hot on one side, cool on the other.

It Was a Very Good Year

Jack’s fantastic 17-year voyage came to a close this week, as the television juggernauts Lost and 24 aired their series finales on back-to-back nights. On Sunday, we left the island forever. On Monday, the waves upon waves of demons/terrorists/friends-turned-bad finally relented.

But it all began with a sea-changing moment – the expansion of computer gaming into the third dimension. The proliferation of the CD-ROM and the surging popularity of first-person gaming in immersive worlds with movement along three axes – three years before Super Mario 64 – reinvented in a fundamental way the frame of reference human beings have for the complexity of their lives, introducing new anxieties and new ways of thinking about time and space.

Well, to an extent, it reinvented them – and to an extent it was a signpost of a larger trend that informed the change – a trend of emerging access to more immersive and more sophisticated simulations of reality, available cheaply and widely, that brought the question of how we choose to bridge the gap between what we are capable of seeing and our minds can internalize and live with constructively.

The narrative parallels are fascinating. The way these stories flow from franchise to franchise – essential stories of our time, where the names and faces of the heroes often change, and often remain ambiguous.

It began the original “this island makes no goddamned sense, why is there this odd machinery here and these numbers, this is really frustrating, but if I allow myself to get into it I am sucked in forever,” a little game called MYST, – and the original “THERE’S NO TIME FOR THIS RIGHT NOW! I HAVE THE WEAPON! TAKE THE SHOT! DAMMIT!” — well, that’s DOOM.

12 Comments on “The 17 years of Jack: From MYST to Lost and DOOM to 24”

  1. matt #

    This article is awesome and I love reading it and others like it on your site. For the podcast could you just have the author read the article first? That way I could skip over the part where you all giggle and hem and haw about yourselves for half an hour before getting to any content.

    Reply

  2. Chris #

    Was there ever an episode of 24 where Jack entered a cheat code and became immortal and had every weapon available to him including a big gun that shot out a pulsing blue light and also he could walk through walls? Because that would really tie that connection together.

    Reply

  3. fenzel #

    @Chris

    Yes. Jack Bauer seems to use that code about three times a season. This time around it involved Michael Madsen.

    Reply

  4. Turin Hurinson #

    Really interesting; the exploring mysterious island & linearly fighting demons paradigms both seem quite accurate. But I’m not sure I buy that “24 and Lost are ending therefore we’ve figured something out as a culture.” Might it not just be a fortuitous coincidence?

    Reply

  5. Brimstone #

    from what i’ve seen of Lost they always are moving and running and fighting but not getting anywhere… trying to impose linear time on a non-linear narrative?
    and Hurley, who seems to just wait in the background, comes out on top

    Reply

  6. Gab #

    But do you shoot *polar bears* in DOOM? Therein would lie the ultimate connection, sir Fenzel.

    ;p

    Reply

  7. Simber #

    When I was halfway your article I couldn’t help but think of Doom and 24 as taking place in an ‘island in time’: the now. One thing you don’t mention about Myst is that you could only move through it screen by screen – no fluid 3d animation, but more like Colossal Cave with pictures. So the spatial constraint was double (no getting of the island, no free movement). So you could say that Myst/Lost requires spatial constraints to explore temporal questions and that Doom/24 has temporal constraints to freely explore space/spatiality. So now I finally understand how Jack Bauer can travel across LA in 15 minutes. Thanks for clearing that up!

    Reply

  8. inmate #

    OK, I’ve been waiting to do this for a while:

    WELL ACTUALLY the Highlander series fills the 1 am (EST) low budget action hour.

    Still, I would like to see more on the progression of Jack in our media.

    Reply

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