There Will Never Be a Twin Peaks of Video Games

Ahead of the Twin Peaks revival, we interrogate the often-misguided Twin Peaks comparisons in games.

Opinion by Caty McCarthy, .

Everyone knows Laura Palmer. She was popular. Well-liked, well-hated. She had a picture perfect boyfriend, an outcast lover that rode a motorcycle on the side. But deep down, behind that sunny exterior, she always suffered under the weight of her own secrets. And then she was murdered brutally.

Laura Palmer’s death was the central mystery in the drama Twin Peaks, from co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, when it burst onto television screens in the early 1990s. The mystery absorbed viewers, but perhaps more so, the town and its inhabitants enamored viewers even more. The show went on to dazzle, confuse, and disturb audiences, even as it moved past the central murder mystery into new territory. The show influenced leagues of other media—including the realm of video games. And after 25 long years away from the mysterious Pacific Northwest town, we’re returning to Twin Peaks with a limited eighteen-episode revival on Showtime this Sunday.

There’s an unsettling commercialization of Twin Peaks that’s erupted alongside the revival, as one could have probably expected. You can now buy a dead Laura Palmer Funko Pop figure, wrapped in a plastic sheet just as we first greet her. You can buy a tank top from Hot Topic that’s embellished with a seminal quote spoken by Mike, the mysterious One-Armed Man, "Through the darkness of future's past, the Magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds… fire walk with me." Twin Peaks is being peddled as a light, poppy cultural phenomenon, not the immensely dark, lightly comedic cult classic it had lived on as outside of its heyday on television.

A while ago I attended a 35mm screening of Eraserhead, filmmaker David Lynch’s harrowing cult classic. It was beautiful and haunting to see the film play out on the big screen. But then it was soundtracked by something I hadn’t counted on: the audience’s laughter. Their laughter unsettled me, as their hysterics overshadowed the film’s quiet horror. Eraserhead does not strike me as a comedy. For others, apparently it is. But living in a world where you can buy a cutesy, bug-eyed figure of a deceased victim of sexual assault, I’m not surprised.

That’s an issue that’s plagued the reception of Lynch’s body of work. His work is surreal and unfamiliar, and thus, for some, just another weird comedy. Inland Empire is often met with claims that it’s too weird. Eraserhead is met with uproarious laughter in a puny theater screening. And his most renowned work, the television series Twin Peaks and its film prequel Fire Walk With Me, is likely the most misdescribed of all.

”Lynchian” is a phrase tossed around a lot when likening a work to Twin Peaks, or any of Lynch’s other projects. Lynchian technically attributes something balancing the fine line between macabre and mundanity. Like his camera lingering on a character's uncomfortable smile. In Channel Criswell (a.k.a. Lewis Bond)’s video essay on the works of David Lynch, Bond says, “To be Lynchian is to exude elusiveness, and the enigma of what signifies Lynchian’s sensibility lies in producing unfamiliarity in that which was once familiar.” But all too often, Lynchian has been relegated to being a buzzword, slapped onto anything that’s the slightest bit “weird.” And for Twin Peaks, to any mystery that dwindles in the Pacific Northwest with a hint of surrealness.

There aren’t many other filmmakers out there like David Lynch. Lynch is the rare auteur whose work embodies his own singular vision, and his alone. His films carry an explicit uncanniness on purpose to unsettle the viewer and leave every scene ambiguous; and that makes people uncomfortable. He breaks filmmaking conventions; he melts genres together to the point where they're hardly recognizable at all, often straddling the line between absurdist comedies or serious dramas. That’s why while some laughed at Eraserhead, I felt anxious. That's why the minute intricacies of Lynch’s works struggle to be replicated in the video game world. But that’s not to say game makers haven’t tried.

Games, in particular, have been wrestling with obtusely ascribed Lynchian comparisons for a long while. At first mention of “Twin Peaks,” “video games,” and “David Lynch” in the same sentence, one’s mind drifts to Swery65’s garish adventure game Deadly Premonition, a game once rumored to have to strike some references to the show for being too obvious. Deadly Premonition is a blatant ode to the universe of Twin Peaks, but the game comes off as a surface reading of Twin Peaks; a lifeless co-opting of the humor and aesthetics of the show. Deadly Premonition, while delightfully odd in its own ways otherwise, feels like it’s riding on the coattails of a show that executed its ideas much more thoughtfully.

There are others too, that have been attributed to the Lynchian arch in games. Last year’s cinematic indie game Virginia was ill-fatedly described as it. When in all actuality, it adhered closer to the sarcastic blunders and high-stakes drama of The X-Files. Life is Strange, another mystery that takes place in the Pacific Northwest (the ideal setting for a Twin Peaks-y narrative, apparently) features easter eggs referencing the show, but at its core, bears no real similarities beyond that.

A surprising bit of Twin Peaks-ness drips into Link’s Awakening, from director Takashi Tezuka. In the late Satoru Iwata’s regular Iwata Asks column, the two (alongside others) discussed the reasonings to make all the characters in Link’s Awakening inherently suspicious, their innocence left ambiguous. Writer Kensuke Tanabe reportedly scrawled within a strategy guide, “Tezuka-san suggested we make all the characters suspicious types like in the then-popular Twin Peaks.” The eerie small town focus of Twin Peaks inspired Tezuka, and thus, inspired the Link’s Awakening that we know of today.

Suda51 on The Silver Case and his Return to Subdued Visual Novels

One of gaming's most eccentric auteurs shares what it's like to revisit his first original game, its new chapters for the Playstation 4 remaster, and more.

10 Years Ago, Killer7 Introduced America to Suda51

In 2005, Goichi Suda's Lynchian experiment made him one of the most exciting young talents in the gaming industry. But will he ever top this exceedingly off-putting experience?

Flower, Sun, and Rain, a sorta-sequel to the cult visual novel The Silver Case, was developed by Suda51 in 2001 for Playstation 2 (before its later port to the Nintendo DS in 2008—how the West got their hands on the game for the first time). The game is like nothing else you’d play today, with its tediously slow walking speeds, annoying puzzles, and most importantly: its eclectic band of characters. Critic Austin Walker wrote in Waypoint about Suda51 and his often forgotten game, conjuring what feels like the best description of him: “[Suda51] was really this punk rock star of games,” he said. “He was putting in things that didn't make sense in the context of other video games. But they touched people in a way that made them want to make weird stuff too.”

If there were a David Lynch of video games, it would probably be early-era Suda51. He frequently broke the conventions of game design, shifted the focus onto the characters and a not-always-coherent plot rather than focusing on making his game enjoyable by layman means. Suda51 has since shied away from this unique design sensibility, with his dance in the action game genre. But with the recent The Silver Case remaster, Suda51 shows signs of returning to his roots.

Comparisons are easy to make. They’re especially easy for video games, though they remain trapped in a circular cycle, constantly referencing themselves in descriptors—Roguelikes, Metroidvanias, Soulslikes. When they look outward, it reads as almost novel. Comparisons, naturally, grow a bit more complicated when other works are brought into the mix. Deadly Premonition is Twin Peaks in attempted looks alone. Flower, Sun, and Rain and Link’s Awakening are Twin Peaks in their tight embrace on varied, multifaceted characters. At the root of it all, there isn’t a single game that is the Twin Peaks of games. And in all likelihood, there never will be. But do games even really need one, when what we really need are more David Lynch-likes making games?

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Comments 23

  • Avatar for Thetick #1 Thetick 9 months ago
    Talking about x-files. It's always great to see David duchovny when I am watching twin peaks :)
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #2 riderkicker 9 months ago
    Hmm... I have to agree. There are plenty of odd video games that give you trippy visuals or experiences. But David Lynch always struck me as an artist that was always trying f-k with his audience. I've seen a few works of his: Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Eraserhead, and I've always felt unsettled after finishing them. I haven't played a video game that left me as messed up and broken as Lynch has done to me, as they always end with a "what the hell was that?!" or a "thank god that's over." I'm sure there are some bizarre games out there, but no mainstream title will ever be "Lynchian".
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  • Avatar for ojinnvoltz #3 ojinnvoltz 9 months ago
    Lynchian to me is having the chewing of food being pronounced in the audio mix or the overwhelming sound of dozens of basketballs being dribbled while looking for a suspect. Until that happens in ye olde gaems, there shall be no gaming Lynch! Except of course Kane and...
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #4 NiceGuyNeon 9 months ago
    I enjoyed this reading this. I haven't seen Twin Peaks, don't know the hype about the revival and haven't called any game Lynchian, but I really dug this piece. Great article!
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #5 chaoticBeat 9 months ago
    Caty you tricked me into breaking my 666 reactions to 667 but it was worth it. I love David Lynch and I see the influence of Twin Peaks everywhere.

    They could make a Switch game where you use motion controls to throw rocks at a bottle while your police lieutenant reads the names of suspects. You could have a better sense of which name to smash the bottle for based on how well you observed the characters behind the velvet curtain in your dream in the prior stage.
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  • Avatar for captainN2 #6 captainN2 9 months ago
    David Lynch is an artist that became so popular and influential that his particular (and peculiar) sensibilities became creative institution. People turn his ideas into tropes and sprinkle them on top of their own projects. But there is only one David Lynch however. Twin Peaks is such a clear manifestation of his singular obsessions and artistic ticks. It can't easily be replicated because it's creative well soul is his persona.

    Why would we want Twin Peaks as a video game? There is only one Twin Peaks and if David Lynch isn't involved it simply is not Twin Peaks. Instead of stealing ideas from Lynch, what the game industry should do, is to foster an environment where auteurs can create deeply personal projects that allow their individuality to shine through. Then we can get games that are just as interesting as Twin Peaks one day, but on their own unique terms. Making games is expensive and require a lot of manpower, which leads to the game-by-committee industry that is near total ubiquitous today.

    Outside of some indies, video games are just not a very creative place. If you are interested in fine art, surrealism, art house cinema, etc... Games are not terribly interesting. It does employ a lot of artists drawing pretty monsters and slick space marine helmets, but that's not the artistic freedom we're talking about when it comes to a weird and wonderful show like Twin Peaks.Edited May 2017 by captainN2
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  • Avatar for brodiejohn13 #7 brodiejohn13 9 months ago
    @Thetick yeah the x files psx game deserves a mention
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #8 VotesForCows 9 months ago
    For me Lynch's work straddles a difficult line between discomforting and boring the audience with mundanity. Its excellent stuff - hard to see a game in that mode really, but I would love to see someone try.

    A recommendation for those of you in the Americas - have a look at The Mighty Boosh, a BBC comedy series from a few years ago. Its weighted far more to the comedy side, but its quite uncomfortable, surreal viewing at the same time.
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  • Avatar for boatie #9 boatie 9 months ago
    I think you don't give Twin Peaks/David Lynch enough credit for having humor in his work. That's fair to have your own reading of it, but I think a lot of people find that there is definitely an intential humor to a lot of his work, especially in Twin Peaks (Andy getting hit on the head and wobbling, Lucy's jabbering etc.)
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #10 brionfoulke91 9 months ago
    Whatever Deadly Premonition is, it's brilliant! One of my favorite games.

    I think David Lynch's influence has been pretty pronounced on many Japanese games. This is just apparently because a lot of Japanese game developers have been David Lynch fans, and you can see his influence on their work. Certainly the early Silent Hills have a fair touch of David Lynch to them, which I think is part of what makes them hold up so extremely well.

    I'm a huge fan of Lynch myself, so whenever I see anything that feels like it is Lynch inspired, it makes me very happy!
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  • Avatar for Lonecow #11 Lonecow 9 months ago
    As a massive Twin Peaks fan, of course I got recommended Deadly Premonition a lot. And I think it is like DeviantArt fanfiction of Twin Peaks. It's borderline plagiarism in the story beats, but like you said it's such a superficial interpretation of Twin Peaks it can't even be considered a proper rip off.

    I can see how someone who hasn't seen Twin Peaks and has a surface understanding about what the show is might think DP is a good homage, but it really isn't. It's lazy and sloppy in the regard and insulting to Twin Peaks every time someone make a comparison that says it is like a video game of Twin Peaks.
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  • Avatar for BaltimoreJones #12 BaltimoreJones 9 months ago
    @boatie Yea, Lynch is hilarious.

    Even in Eraserhead there is quite a lot of intentional humor (the dinner with the family, for example, and frankly Henry in general). There is for sure the tendency of hipster assholes to laugh ironically at poorly written/acted or outdated scenes in classic films, but lots of Lynch is legit funny even while being terrifying a breath later.
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  • Avatar for sylvan #13 sylvan 9 months ago
    @BaltimoreJones Yeah, totally agree. There are definitely some comic beats in Eraserhead. The broken elevator doors, as you mentioned the crazy father at the dinner scene, and just how Jack Nance plays Henry and the shots of him quietly navigating his bleak, industrial world.

    But there is nothing in the film that I think should garner uproarious laughter, but sometimes that's how people react when they are uncomfortable. And that is definitely the intention of Eraserhead.
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  • Avatar for sylvan #14 sylvan 9 months ago
    "His films carry an explicit uncanniness on purpose to unsettle the viewer and leave every scene ambiguous; and that makes people uncomfortable."

    This is David Lynch in a nutshell. You never quite know how to feel after watching one of his films, but boy do they stick with you. So much so that ultimately you are drawn back to them. It's kind of fascinating how his work interacts with the audience. I don't think that's even possible in a game.Edited May 2017 by sylvan
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  • Avatar for matt-b #15 matt-b 9 months ago
    I definitely agree we do not need a Twin Peaks of video games. We need to continue to have developers willing to create more new and interesting games. If someone made a game with the sole purpose of trying to be like Twin Peaks it would most likely come off as underwhelming and derivative. I would love to be proven wrong though!

    "Twin Peaks is being peddled as a light, poppy cultural phenomenon, not the immensely dark, lightly comedic cult classic it had lived on as outside of its heyday on television."

    The paragraph this sentence concludes really stands out to me. It brings to mind people telling someone else why they just didn't "get" something, be it a song or a film or a painting. It also unfortunately brings to mind someone getting upset that more people are attaching themselves to something that was once unknown and held dear. Sort of reminds me of Nadia's article on easy mode in games.

    Art is subjective. There is certainly an argument to be made for a creator intent but how the general populace observes and reacts to something can't really be controlled once art is released into the wild. Is your love for Twin Peaks diminished by Hot Topic selling tank tops? Do the emotional connections you developed watching that show mean any less to you now that a cheap plastic Twin Peaks toy is for sale? I can see how trying to view a film in a theater with a bunch of people laughing could be very distracting though. I can also see how it could be disheartening to want to share that film with likeminded people only to find out it is being received much differently than expected.

    I realize I've gotten stuck on a very small part of what is a great article that I mostly agree with.Edited 2 times. Last edited May 2017 by matt-b
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #16 donkeyintheforest 9 months ago
    You lost me when you claimed Eraserhead wasn't funny (edit, ok you didnt say that, you just said it wasn't a comedy, i agree).

    I imagine a lot of the people were just laughing to hide their uncomfortability, but how could you not laugh at the end with the revelation of the title being completely literal!?

    You brought me back in fully when you brought up early Suda51. I mean Killer 7 is very much in line with something like Blue Velvet.

    PS - Inland Empire is not too weird, it's great!Edited 2 times. Last edited May 2017 by donkeyintheforest
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  • Avatar for catymcc #17 catymcc 9 months ago
    @mattb0527 I totally agree with you on art being subjective and up to the viewer/reader/player's own interpretation. My apologies for my writing coming off as kinda snobby. (I see where it does and it wasn't intentional, my bad ;-;)

    What I meant is that Lynch's work has always had a darker side that I see a lot of this revived enthusiasm for it ignoring, focusing solely on the ironic, comedic aspects of his work. It bums me out personally since the two have always gone hand in hand, walking the line between unsettling drama and dark comedy. But it's totally fair for others to read his work as strictly comedic. And while yes, obviously merchandise isn't going to dampen my (or others') admiration for the series, seeing tasteless things like cutesy toys of the corpse of a teenage girl is pretty gross IMO.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #18 MetManMas 9 months ago
    We need an article like this but for the Citizen Kane comparisons that occasionally go around when a bang-bangs has more competent cinematics than usual.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #19 The-Challenger 8 months ago
    Lynch always gets the limelight...what about Cronenburg? I think he should remake "Crash" and tie it into VR somehow.Edited May 2017 by The-Challenger
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  • Avatar for marathedemon #20 marathedemon 8 months ago
    New Take: Bloodborne is the Twin Peaks of video games because it's a deeply unsettling, personal exercise in surrealism that somehow became one of the biggest games of its era
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  • Avatar for Sunjammer #21 Sunjammer 8 months ago
    "Twin Peaks is being peddled as a light, poppy cultural phenomenon, not the immensely dark, lightly comedic cult classic it had lived on as outside of its heyday on television"

    Say what? Do you remember what it was like when Twin Peaks was airing? We were FLOODED in Twin Peaks junk! The show was Lynch and Frost having fun with the soap format, and they ran away with it. It's also real important to remember just how light and poppy Twin Peaks was in its time. It's pop lynch at its poppiest.
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  • Avatar for matt-b #22 matt-b 8 months ago
    @catymcc Very excellent points. Thanks for the clarification!
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