It sure is a boom time for the odd intersection of Twin Peaks with video games. There are game-y reimaginings everywhere, and a few commercial projects in recent years pay tribute to David Lynch's 90s mystery television: 2010's janky but beloved Deadly Premonition went heavy on the similarities, for example. In the just-released first episode of Life is Strange, set dreamily in the Pacific Northwest, a main character's vehicle bears the license plate "TWN PKS".
The 1990s make a good setting in general for modern games with unconventional goals. The trend toward creating more laid-back, sentimental experiences of reading and discovery — like the nostalgic Riot Grrrl story the Portland-based Fullbright Company told in Gone Home — means lots of developers might be seeking settings where physical technology (tapes, notebooks, VHS), ripe for rifling through, intersects with poignant generational angst.
Of course, as a person who still watches My So-Called Life and pines for Liquid Television, I've definitely got a confirmation bias. So I caught up with Jonathan Burroughs of Variable State, who's currently developing Virginia, a game set in the 90s that plans to explore the distinctly-Lynchian intersection of the mundane with the surreal.
"I don't think there's been a time in my life when David Lynch hasn't been widely discussed or widely cited as an inspiration, in games, music, everywhere," Burroughs tells me. He himself became acquainted at an early age, when his Dad gave him and his brother a special version of Dune, with the disturbing bits edited out.
"I guess I would have been 16 when Lynch's PlayStation 2 advert aired. I remember skipping an athletics class at school to watch Mulholland Drive at the cinema. It could be argued films like Pi, Happiness, Donnie Darko, the music of Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor all owe a debt to Lynch," he continues.
Some of this resurgence in subculture is down to creators reaching the right age to recall the 25 year-old series, he suggests. "The bell curve of creative opportunity rises around the late twenties and early thirties. So it could just be coincidence, that a new generation of young creators is coming to the fore who were just old enough to experience Twin Peaks when they were young or to learn about it through their parents or as a cultural meme."
In addition to the timing and influence of nostalgia on today's newly-mature makers, "maybe there's something to be said for games being particularly suited to ambiguous, interpretive or highly visual storytelling, and so it's that kind of storytelling in other mediums which lends itself to being translated into games," says Burroughs, "at least in regards experimental games and games on the fringes."
Burroughs' team's Virginia is probably closer to the fringes than not — they call it an "interactive drama," as if to carefully avoid the culture and expectations that come with promising a "game." I asked what kind of player it intends to be "for".
"It's for anyone and everyone, I hope. If I were making music I claimed to be aimed at audiophiles or films aimed at cineastes I'd feel like a pompous clod," says Burroughs. "At the risk of seeming slippery or non-committal, I'm reticent to dictate how the game should make anyone feel. I think creators abdicate any authority once their work is in the wild… creations take on a life of their own. I'm content to let the chips fall where they may."