Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why Riven is the Best Game Ever, Part 5

Five is an important number in Riven. D'ni numerals are base 25, five squared, of course, but Gehn somehow found himself with a connection to the fifth integer, one that guided his life and fittingly found itself a motif in his imprisonment in Riven. Therefore, this post will be the last in this series, and it will go into Gehn, who I submit to be the best villain ever, in any medium.

Gehn is a great person, really. He watched as his entire civilization crumbled around him in horrific terrorist assaults which were inspired by the arrival of his mother to D'ni. He suffered the loss of his wife in childbirth, a wife about whom we know little but it can be assured that their love was mutual, fierce, and tragic.

And still, fifteen years after leaving his son with his mother, Gehn found it in himself to come back for Atrus, to induct him to the Art of crafting links to Ages. This child who had destroyed the shattered bits of life he had tried to collect became his protegee, his first step in rebuilding the glorious, beautiful society of D'ni.

Gehn is a horrible person. He is prolific, but lacks talent and inspiration. He seeks to rebuild D'ni, but he fancies himself a god, last among a godlike people. He creates Ages to subjugate them, caring not for their inhabitants as people but as resources. He numbers his Ages, never names them. He never calls his prison Riven, but rather My Fifth Age, out of his eventual two hundred thirty-three. Atrus, in rebellion against this pathetic excess, trapped his father in Riven to protect other Ages from his ruthlessness, his Machievellan disregard of people in favor of causes.

But more than those, Gehn is a person - elegant, charismatic, and subtle. If you decide not to play Riven, I at least recommend reading his journals and watching the scenes in which he appears on the internet. The game, if you look hard enough, gives terrific and terrifying insights into this god-demon-man, this pathetic greatness of fallibility and aspiration.

I started writing this post in hopes that I can do the man justice - I can't. Honestly, you have to play Riven to truly see how deep, how real, how astounding this man is. There is no villain I can think of who is so believable, so dignified, and so evil in a way that is almost universally understood but in no way trite. Gehn wants his home back, but he forgets it was not a palace for his people, but for the world. D'ni, at its heart and height, is a society of awe, worship, and curiosity for possibility, beauty, and complexity. It is a shrine for the wonderment of the universe in all of its guises.

Truly, in life as in books, the Ending can never be written.


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