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Why does Twin Peaks resemble a ’90s adventure game?

It bears a resemblance to Myst

twin peaks edit Lynch/Frost Productions/Showtime

As each 1990s television series becomes a ship of Theseus in 2017, David Lynch’s reunion with Twin Peaks feels uncompromised, a saga that so far is larger than television. No matter how many Lynchian imitators there are out there, none come close to this. Part 8 was a particular piece of work, five minutes dedicated to a slow, muted and overwhelming tour of an atomic explosion.

One of the most exciting things about the Twin Peaks revival is how little it resembles the original series. It’s better for it. It feels more like the Lynch’s greater arc. It feels like Mulholland Drive. It feels like Eraserhead. And for a guy whose brain was thoroughly rotted by ’90s multimedia, it’s also starting to feel more like the 1993 adventure game Myst than CBS’ TV melodrama.

While the director draws from many sources, I’m not going to pretend that David Lynch consumes video games like we do, or at all, even if him breaking down the plot of Kingdom Hearts is a divine image. I am not lobbying David Lynch as gamer.

To the best of my knowledge, Twin Peaks is not influenced by any video game. I have better intel that the feeling is somewhat mutual. In an email, Myst creator Rand Miller told me he has never seen Twin Peaks, but his curiosity was piqued after learning they have their similarities.

This sensation isn’t meaningless. Even perfect strangers cross paths.

There are some broader coincidences. Myst and Twin Peaks detail great clashes of pure goods and evils ripping through hidden planes of existence. The 7th Guest and Twin Peaks have fixations on that golden age Hollywood terroir, and Myst has its fair share of ’50s leather upholstery (Boomers lost in their own Rod Serling nostalgia while in the driver’s seat of entertainment is partly responsible). Myst and Twin Peaks both have their individual flings with TV static in anachronistic places.

Twin Peaks’ special effects intentionally wavers between state of the art spectacle and something closer to a Bad Mojo CD-ROM. They drank from that same ’90s zeitgeist. Showcasing and shared style would be the most obvious reason Twin Peaks and these games feel similar, but it’s more substantial. The stranger still environment that Twin Peaks is entering and the space that serviced these older adventure games are cohabited for a reason. They perform similar functions.

So many of David Lynch’s most lingering images feel like the last flash of a dream before waking up, the moment before you hit the ground. Twin Peaks’ most iconic setting is The Red Room, a portion of The Black Lodge first seen most often as a subconscious vision. A hollow space surrounded by red drapes, filled with simple furniture and souls of the damned. Scant details, each so striking they hold their own legacies. The original series ended with Cooper trapped there.

Those seasons were based around a small town murder, the return is on a much larger scale. The invisible world of The Black Lodge spans much further than the audience could have gathered. Creatures from those worlds more threatening than estimated. This is now a quest, bodies reaching their destinies. Agent Cooper has traded his Marlowe for Odysseus.

When Cooper made his escape from The Black Lodge in the first two episodes, he passed through a turbulent void, a purple sea, a glass box in New York and more confrontational barriers. An eyeless woman, Naido, leads Cooper up through a hatch, reaching the roof of a box floating in space reminiscent of The Neverhood. She pulls a lever, activating something elsewhere. Cooper reenters the building, receives more trademark omens before being violently flung into the real world, now inhabiting the body of wanted oaf Dougie Jones.

Had this been one of the adventure games it resembles, this sequence would have probably taken me four sequestered hours of clicking across the screen before resorting to GameFAQs.

Lynch is largely an instinctual creator. It’s why even his most cerebral dreamscapes feel decipherable. In the same way an adventure game uses abstraction as design, the cause and effects of the universe are manifested in very physical ways: doors, boxes, buttons, levers, codes. You don’t always see a clock’s gears but you can feel them moving. It’s the most digestible way to explore this expanded strange world while making your way through it. The new Twin Peaks wants to show us that everything is connected, that a murder in the Pacific Northwest began with the first atomic bomb in New Mexico. When he was a kid my dad punked his siblings by tying a tight string across their bedroom door knobs. I think of adventure games like that, connections you can’t see that trap you.

Part 8 showed us this puzzlebox universe. During a flashback to 1945, Carel Struycken’s Giant responds to the Trinity nuclear and all the evil unleashed, BOB included, by floating into the air and spitting his own magical vape cloud, creating Laura Palmer’s essence. The glowing sphere lifts up into the air, traveling through a pipe that spikes it towards Earth. Back in the present, even nobodies are drawn to solving the puzzles of the universe. In Part 10, the most recent episode, we learn that Matthew Lillard’s character haplessly walked into the accursed other world in the name of blogging.

Clockwork mechanisms and magic, so similar to the ticking mansion from The 7th Guest and Myst’s strange island. A space where cause and effect have to be seen as a passageway. A dreamscape logic that acts as the glue, holding it all together. The great revelations of this new Twin Peaks is that the world is a conscious Rube Goldberg device of good and evil working against each other. These ’90s games, where a button in the clouds opens a door in the ocean, have to function with the same understandings.

“Humans want a certain level of familiar reality with an environment or it doesn’t feel plausible,” said Miller when I asked how he balances worlds that are both logical and dreamlike. “Here at Cyan we tend to use a recursive technique for design. The story, environment, and friction (obstructions) are designed simultaneously in a “leapfrog” fashion. Most of the time we’ll start with a broader view of the story and start filling in the environment — which will feed back to expand the story. The friction comes to preserve points of interest for a reward — a locked door or gate. It’s a recursive cycle that happens over and over — all while trying to balance the mix of real and fantastic, and the mix of frustration and reward.”

Lynch seems to be pulling from that same zone. Sony called it “The Third Place” when it commissioned the director to create a PlayStation 2 campaign. The funny thing this space delivers an opposite effect for film compared to an interactive context. It highlights what is making this new Twin Peaks work. And often what dinged ’90s adventure games. It feels much better to be curious than confused. Watching Agent Cooper work this puzzle out is a joy. Put in that same position by games has caused a lifetime of brain knots.

The next level of puzzles.

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