September 26, 2021, Denver, Colorado (look at me finally publishing articles over a year after I write them):
You know the drill: Twenty One Pilots is touring again, which means that my borderline unhealthy obsession with Tyler Joseph as an artist has come back with force and vigor. For whatever reason, nothing gets me going more than a Twenty One Pilots live show, so here I am at 7:30 in the morning, inside Union Station in Denver, Colorado, after their show at the Ball Arena, writing about these boys yet again. For what it’s worth, I did initially want to write this essay back when their new album, Scaled and Icy came out back in May, but I couldn’t quite formulate the complete idea and shelved it for a while, but seeing them live helped to fill in the gaps that I couldn’t on my own.
The new Twenty One Pilots album, Scaled and Icy, dropped back in May to some confused responses and mixed results (though I do personally love it quite a bit), but one song struck me more than the rest: “Redecorate”. The final track on the album, “Redecorate” takes several steps away from the rest of the album’s style and brings in a simpler, perhaps more “traditional” Twenty One Pilots sound, coming closer to spoken word than song at most points, and has a generally darker tone than the rest of the album. Most of the other songs are intentionally made more upbeat than a standard Twenty One Pilots affair, but the final two tracks, “No Chances” and “Redecorate” return to the sounds of the previous albums, like Trench and Blurryface.
Speaking of “Redecorate” specifically, it centers around three verses, each one highlighting a different person who seems to face, on one level or another, the end of their life. The first subject pretty clearly seems close to death, with the speaker claiming that he sees “snapshots chronologically in line”, clearly referencing someone having their life flash before their eyes when close to death, but the other two admittedly seem a little more metaphorically close to the end of their lives. The second subject is a woman who covers all of her mirrors with blankets to avoid her reflection, but eventually, she removes the blankets to face herself, appearing to have an epiphany that leads her to change the way she lives, lest her life end with her cowering in darkness. We get arguably the least information on the third subject, though the speaker does tell us that “he’s fairly sedated most days of the week”. Each subject’s verse ends with them exclaiming, “I don’t want to go like this//At least let me let me clean my room”, suggesting slightly different things for each subject but generally it conveys to us each person’s dissatisfaction with their life and desire to improve it before it’s gone forever.
The song is very interesting, but what drew me to is, and get this, that it’s, at least on the surface, very similar to the poem “All Souls’ Night” by William Butler Yeats. Okay, I know. I get it. I know three things: the Mariners, Twenty One Pilots, and Yeats. It’s true, but that’s not going to stop me from writing this essay, so just let me have my moment. Anyways, to briefly cover the immediate similarities, in “All Souls’ Night”, the speaker describes three people, shortly before they died. First, they describe a man whose life centered around his wife, and he could not stand to live after she died. Next, they describe a woman who moved away from her home, uncomfortable with how her face had started to show age, and lastly, they describe another man, one who suffered from mental health issues and loneliness caused by his disinterest in other people and preference for, as the speaker says, “unknown thought” (74).
Clearly, the two poems aren’t a 1-to-1, though if they were we would have a pretty strong plagiarism case on our hands. Instead, these two poems explore much the same idea in very similar ways. I would love to claim that “Redecorate” intentionally alludes to or responds to “All Souls’ Night” because that would be a wonderful meeting up of my two passions, but I don’t think the similarities are enough to say that conclusively. Because the two poems address such similar ideas though, we can still explore the two poems in reference to each other. Just a note, from here on out, I will refer to “Redecorate” as a poem and song interchangeably, because I am mostly talking about just the lyrics of the song and not other elements.
As I mentioned earlier, I had all of these ideas formulated back in May, when the song came out, but I struggled to articulate what I thought made the relationship between these two poems so interesting. Luckily for me though, “Redecorate” is a song, which means that I can see it live, and seeing it live helped me to figure it all out. See, about halfway through their new show, Tyler Joseph, the band’s frontman, rushes off to a small stage at the back of the pit, fitted out with a piano and a simple percussion setup. Joseph proceeds to start playing out a simple loop on the drums (and a well-placed kitchen pot), and then the stage rises up in the air and he performs the song by himself, without Josh Dun, the drummer, or any of the touring band. That’s all very cool, but what helped me was being around all of the other people also at the show. This might sound silly, but the other people at the show care about the song. Listening to everyone cheer and sing alongside me left me with the distinct sensation that the song actually helped people beyond me, and truly spoke to them. Obviously, on some level, I knew this already. I’ve seen this band enough times to know that people care about their music on an emotional level, but not seeing a show for two straight years left me to think about their music on my own, and that element didn’t impact my perception of the band, and especially their new music, as much as it has in the past. Getting to really, genuinely feel the other people connecting with the song helped me realize the song has a strong sense of humanity to it that “All Souls’ Night” lacks.
Let’s not beat around the bush here: Yeats, at best, struggled to understand this idea of “humanity”. He himself even admitted to a friend of his mere months before he died that he had only just recently begun to actual emotions and not just performative ones (Pruitt 149), and somehow he seemed to have struggled with the whole “caring about other people” even more in the time when he wrote “All Souls’ Night”. Yeats initially released the poem as the epilogue to his book A Vision, which—and I’ve mentioned in other pieces I’ve written, but I’ll reiterate it here—is an insane book for insane people, but Yeats also made it the last poem in his collection The Tower, which released a couple of years after A Vision. The Tower grapples with a dizzying amount of topics (all incredibly well, I should add), but one core topic, prevalent especially in the opener, “Sailing to Byzantium”, and the closer, “All Souls’ Night”, is the speaker’s obsession with death. The most succinct way to describe the speaker’s complex relationship with death is that the speaker wants to die, but not in a suicidal way. The whole collection is, at its core, a lamentation of the speaker’s growing age, at times writing about how they relate more to the dead than the living, and, at least to some extent, wish to die as a means of progressing themself as an artist, or a thinker. (Again, the poem came hot off the heels of A Vision, a batshit insane “philosophy” book that Yeats allegedly wrote based on conversations with ghosts his wife channeled while automatic writing, so just roll with it for now.)
Because of this obsession, the speaker often seems to speak of the dead more in relation to themself than as their own persons, a theme extremely than prevalent in “All Souls’ Night”. To begin with, essentially the whole reason the speaker talks to the spirits (oh did I mention that they’re talking to these spirits) is so they can write about how cool dead people are and how they wish that they could be that cool, but even past that, the way the speaker writes about the subjects directly reveals how little they actually care about them as people. The best example of this comes from how they write about the second subject, Florence Emory. Florence, as noted before, moves away from her home and becomes a school teacher, unable to stand the age beginning to show in her face. Hopefully, when I said it the first time you noticed the problem here: the speaker could not have written a more stereotypical, one-dimensional woman. Sure in the second stanza on Florence, the speaker talks about her intelligence, but the speaker tells us about her alleged vanity before anything else.
The speaker in “Redecorate” twists this immediately by telling us that their second subject is “not afraid of her reflection//But of what she might see behind it”. The literal first thing we learn of her is that her image scares her, but not because of her vanity, rather it reminds her of something much deeper within her, that she cannot escape except to hide in the dark. Interestingly, the verse goes on to imply that the subject is a trans and/or non-binary person, because this, along with the later detail that “She had plans to change her name…//Just not the traditional way”, suggests that she has some degree of body/gender dysphoria and struggles to see herself as she wants to. See, already I have considerably more to say on this than “All Souls’ Night” because the speaker actually takes care to tell us about the woman as a person, not as a ghost that they think is super cool. “Redecorate” plays on “All Souls’ Night”’s depiction of women by discussing the second subject’s dissatisfaction with her appearance as a manifestation of deeper issues, rooted in her own identity. It challenges us as an audience to think beyond vanity and see these subjects as people with complex perceptions of themselves.
Contrary to this subject-centric approach, “All Souls’ Night” obsesses over how the speaker relates to each person, only describing each person just enough to explain why the speaker cares about them, and not why we should care about them. That’s not to say that the approach is wrong (“All Souls’ Night” is actually one of my favorite poems), but it does make “Redecorate” all the more interesting. The difference in approaches creates a shift in focus for the poems; “Redecorate” makes us think about the subjects of the poems and relate to them, but “All Souls’ Night” makes the speaker the focus and wants us to think about them. I know I said that “Redecorate” has a more classic Twenty One Pilots style than the other songs on Scaled and Icy, but that only accurately describes the sound of the song. Its writing style actually makes a very important departure from traditional Twenty One Pilots. Generally, Twenty One Pilots songs consist of the speaker talking about or to themselves, or the speaker addressing a specific person or group directly. Tyler Joseph does not, generally, write songs about other people, directed to no specific person, in the way that “Redecorate” does. In other words, the speaker in “Redecorate” takes a less personal role, acting more like a traditional narrator, telling us the stories of people with no means to tell their own stories. This makes “Redecorate” feel even more like a direct response to “All Souls’ Night” because I struggle to really imagine why Joseph would write a song with this style and content, let alone make it the closer of the album, without intending to challenge the ideas of “All Souls’ Night”, intentionally or not. Scaled and Icy is also no stranger to conversations on age, with songs like “The Outside” directly grappling with the speaker’s inability to remain “cool” and on the cutting edge of pop culture (with a very similar approach to “Too Many Rappers” by the Beastie Boys, in case you were curious), so, intentional or not, I really can’t not pit these poems against each other, as someone deeply familiar with both of them. The Tower is, in my opinion, one of the greatest works ever written, but it has a deep cynicism towards life that I think even Yeats realized it was a little moody as he grew past it, so I really appreciate the way that “Redecorate” challenges the way Yeats talks about death in his collection without disrespecting or discounting the points the speaker tries to make. “Redecorate” doesn’t try to invalidate the feelings the speaker has, or tell us to not identify with their ideas, and instead it goes no further than offering a different perspective on the people in “All Souls’ Night”, reminding us that, no matter how the speaker may portray it, each subject was their own, unique person, struggling without a voice. Each person had stories to tell, but no means to tell them. “All Souls’ Night” ignores this and only tells their story to the extent they can help the speaker, but “Redecorate” steps in to tell us that these people struggled, and even if the speaker knew them, they died holding onto their feelings and fear, taking care to remind us of the value of life.
Like many of the world’s young people, long, uninteresting Zoom classes populate my days and I need something to occupy my time. Luckily for me, I typically have a notebook in front of me so I do what any sensible young person would do: sketch pictures of MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson.
Anyone who follows baseball knows Randy Johnson. Establishing himself early in his career as a member of the notorious ’90s Mariners alongside Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, and more, he wound up completing most of his career on the World Series-winning Arizona Diamondbacks, carving his place in baseball history as one of the greatest pitchers of all time.
He’s also terrifying.
Standing at 6’10”, Johnson’s long, serpentine limbs turn his enormous frame into a biological cannon, hurling those lovely little white orbs straight at the strike zone at 100 miles per hour. For reference, he even earned the nickname, “The Big Unit” (espn.com)
If his size and power don’t scare you off, the man’s long blonde locks, deep eyes, and enormous mustache made him look like a deranged cowboy who somehow wandered his way onto the pitching mound. He seems almost out of place in a baseball uniform; it feels strange to imagine such an unhinged-appearing behemoth obeying the commands of his team’s coaches and management. (To be clear Johnson seems like a great guy and he’s one of my all-time favorite players I’m just saying how he looks to a casual observer)
Despite Randy’s obviously iconic visage, initially, I didn’t totally understand what really compelled me to draw him over and over again. There are plenty of iconic baseball players, many of whom had much more iconic imagery associated with them. Ichiro Suzuki for example had his famous ritual before every at-bat of pointing his bat out at the deep wall and hiking his sleeve up, so why not draw that? As a life-long Mariners fan who grew up in the early 2000s, Ichiro obviously holds a much more special place in my heart than Randy Johnson anyways.
Maybe Randy didn’t need anything like that. Maybe his physical appearance and playstyle were enough to make him stay in my mind. Unfortunately, such simple assumptions don’t satisfy me so I sought to explore this idea further.
My drawings began as simple sketches in the margins of my notebooks. Sometimes I would pull up an image and try to recreate his powerful frame, immediately after unleashing a pitch, presumably at some trembling batter, just hoping it doesn’t hit him, and sometimes I would focus on his face. His heavy scowl and deep, shaded eyes glaring towards the catcher’s mitt as though it had just rear-ended Randy’s car.
I quickly realized that I needed to explore these emotions further, and to do so I decided that I would draw three separate pieces, spending more time on them, trying my best to hone in on what about Johnson seemed so important to me.
Before we begin, I should quickly point out that I am not an artist. Aside from some light sketching, mostly in my school notes, and a brief, unfortunate, and unfruitful period in middle school, I have hardly ever seriously tried to pursue visual arts, so these pieces to me were less about creating beautiful works of Randy and more about getting to the bottom of my own feelings. I wanted to analyze these images of Randy and really pull out the important details of his play.
With that established, let’s take a look at my attempts at capturing Randy Johnson.
(The Daily Dose)(Okay I don’t think this page is up anymore but this is where I got the image)
For my first drawing of Randy, I wanted to choose a pretty neutral, standard picture to capture The Big Unit in his entirety. Okay, sure, “neutral” probably is not the right word to describe this image. Even though this image is one of the most recognizable images of Johnson, “neutral” just seems wrong. The image definitely has very evocative emotion and energy. Despite this, I decided to spend time capturing this because nothing specific about it stands out. Well, at least relatively.
First things first, I had to set a time limit for this. Again, I’m not an artist, so I know that I don’t have the skill or patience to work on this piece until it satisfies me, so I decided to give myself about an hour to work on this piece and I would add time if I thought I needed more.
In total, I spent about fifty minutes working on this piece and I must admit, I feel I have outdone myself. I did an earlier draft that I had to throw out because I messed up Randy’s shoulder rotation too much, but this final piece really turned out looking quite well.
While drawing a few things surprised me. Firstly, Randy’s shoulders rotated more than I expected. In my head, I imagined Randy’s shoulders and hips more or less facing the camera, but in reality, we almost see Randy from a side view, which reveals the sheer force of a baseball pitcher’s movements. Randy has fully rotated himself and presumably will continue rotating more after the snapshot we get to see. With this motion, Johnson throws not only the ball straight at the camera, but himself as well, using his body as leverage in the powerful trebuchet created by his physical existence.
If you’ve read my collection of essays on skateboarding, you’ll have seen me write about the idea of significant form as described by CLR James in the book Beyond a Boundary. Johnson, perhaps more than just about any other athlete I’ve ever seen, embodies this idea perfectly in this image. The image has no words, no people, no batter, no story. Every element of expression and narrative comes straight from the motion depicted by Johnson and the photographer.
I would also like to note that Randy’s face holds less directed rage than I expected. Because of his stature and reputation, I expected Randy to glare into the camera as though he wanted it disintegrated under his pitch, but the real image suggests something different entirely. Of course, Randy’s expression holds a lot of emotion, but it seems more abstract like he directed all of his rage directly into the ball and once it leaves his hand he almost gets a certain relief, as he has transferred all of his rage onto this inanimate object, releasing himself for at least a moment from his terrible, inescapable emotions.
Admittedly, at this point in my journey I just kind of stopped. I did the first drawing in late September 2020 and kept procrastinating the next drawing until I sort of forgot about it. I didn’t pick the project back up until April 2021, at which point I had mostly stopped doodling Randy in my notes, and, shall we say, I lost my edge. The next drawings will not have the same passion or quality as the first, but the emotional analysis will remain the same. Just wanted to get that out of the way.
Okay, I’ll admit it: this one’s rough. This drawing did not go quite as I planned. We’ll say I’m out of practice and leave it at that. Let’s not focus on the unfortunate quality of the piece and instead, on the emotion I learned from trying to capture it.
Someone must have funneled all the rage missing from the last picture straight into this one.
This picture features Johnson in his iconic Diamondbacks uniform, the team he took to a World Series win, cementing himself as a future Hall-of-Famer and deity within the baseball world. I don’t know what game this comes from, when in the game, or even what Johnson looks at in it, and maybe I could find out, but I don’t want to. I think that this image removed from context gives us the best look into another element of Johnson’s persona.
While seemingly simple, this picture of Randy begs a second look, because on the surface it does have the anger and power we would imagine, but it lacks motion entirely. The last picture we looked at had little visible emotion and only captured physical movement, but this picture seems to accomplish the exact opposite. This picture, while candid, merely depicts Randy standing. It doesn’t frame the sublime movement of Randy’s form at all, which, in the first image, gave us the clearest look into Randy’s style. So where do we find Randy’s essence in this picture? Well, it may seem obvious, but we find it in his face.
Countless pitchers in baseball have intimidating forms (pitching does require a good deal of force after all), but Johnson’s mug separates him from the chaff of normal MLB pitchers. That horrid, angry, veiny, face that Johnson has allegedly smiled with before offers us a window into his soul. If the last image showed us the explosive release of Johnson’s willpower into whatever poor baseball the ump gave him, this image shows us the tension that built up before. I don’t know what Johnson’s fearsome aura emanates at in this picture, but I can only imagine some poor batter, having just struck out looking crumpling into nothingness under the pressure of this gaze.
This image doesn’t have motion, but it does have a certain resonance. I can almost feel Randy’s muscles vibrating from my desk chair twenty years in the future.
And Johnson isn’t muscular. Far from it, we could pretty easily describe him as lanky, but this image shows us the transformative properties of his form. In trying to capture the emotion of this image, I struggled to even understand, let alone draw, how Johnson looks as he does. His muscles seem to bulge through his skin, but not in volume. Rather, the tension rippling through his body pulls his skin tight in a way that I don’t even know how to describe. While drawing this, I sat in my chair, transfixed by this image, and even though I may have failed to translate it onto the canvas, I came to some kind of understanding of the underlying force behind Randy, and presumably other MLB pitchers as well.
In Which Randy Kills God:
Again, not my best work here, but at this point, I started getting impatient and had set a deadline for myself so this is what we’re working with.
I saved the best for last, of course. Anyone out there who follows Randy, baseball, or honestly just sports, in general, recognizes this frame. Taken from a spring training game on March 24, 2001, in this pitch, Randy unleashes one of his notorious fastballs with the same unbridled rage as always, but as the pitch leaves his hand, a bird floats down from the right of the frame. The ball departs from the mound and collides with the bird, utterly obliterating it. Amidst the explosion of feathers, the bird’s desecrated carcass falls to the ground almost immediately, losing all of its momentum in the collision. Of course, our friend Randy did not just kill a bird with his pitch, he killed a dove. A soft, white, sacred dove. The sign of the Holy Spirit.
This frame is far less about Randy’s form (we basically see picture one from behind) and it definitely does not center on his expression (we can’t even see his face). Instead, this frame focuses on narrative. We’ve seen Johnson’s form and we’ve seen his expression; we know him in a vacuum, but now we must watch him in action in order to truly understand his implications on America’s pastime.
The chances of a pitcher hitting a bird seem impossibly slim. Even slimmer the chances of hitting a white dove. Even slimmer yet the chances of Randy Johnson hitting the white dove. It seems too perfect. Like a moment taken from folklore. In this moment, Johnson, the 6’10” “Big Unit”, bests the sign of the Holy Spirit, knocking it to the ground in a mere instant, and cements himself as the new god in baseball. He obliterates a symbol of power as a warning to everything in his path and then drives himself and his team all the way to a World Series win at the end of this very season. It feels like Odysseus besting the cyclops or Hercules killing the Hydra. In this moment Johnson’s existence splits into two: one, the man who will win a World Series later that year and see the world remember him in baseball’s Hall of Fame. The other a legend, a myth on its own, of a giant walking to the top of a hill and tearing down a god.
Johnson’s legend sits among the many baseball has accumulated over the years, but each story carries with it its own sage wisdom about this nation’s pastime. One can easily look at baseball and see a calm, slow, docile game. A game where the majority of both teams spend most of their time either sitting on a bench or standing in a giant patch of grass. To an unaware observer, even an at-bat can seem calm. Pitches go from the pitcher to the catcher without anyone hardly batting an eye. Sometimes a ball might go foul, or ground or fly, but those moments come rarely and often carry with them barely more action than the rest of the game.
In these moments though, the batter, pitcher, and catcher know acutely what a dangerous game they play. With every pitch the pitcher can feel their arm strain itself, ripping itself apart so violently that they won’t even get to play a whole game. The catcher feels each 100+ mile per hour ball bash into their hand with force, sound, and vibrato. Lastly, the batter has to watch those fastballs and curveballs hurtle towards their barely-protected body. Each of these players lives in fear and anticipation, reveling in the adrenaline these moments cause.
The legend of Randy Johnson gives us a glimpse into this world few get to really experience. In little league, I feared pitches thrown by my fifth-grade peers, but I can’t even imagine what a major-league pitch feels like. Johnson, in this beautiful moment, shows us the truly devastating nature of MLB pitches. It looks quaint, you might even find it boring, but in reality, baseball players engage in a game of life and death, hidden behind the skill of each player involved, and Johnson, in a rare moment of candor for the sport, showed us the latter result of such a game.
Everyone loves David Lynch and his strange brain, but apparently, no one loves him more than video game writers do. We can’t get through a year nowadays without at least one clear David Lynch homage sliding its way onto the release calendar. Some companies, like French developer Dontnod, have even created entire brands around it, with Dontnod games like 2015’s Life is Strange and 2020’s Twin Mirror both teetering on the edge of Twin Peaks knock-off. Other games like Control from 2019 don’t fall far behind when it comes to emulating the Lynchian aesthetic, but with so many Lynch-inspired games, one has to wonder not only what causes game writers’ obsession with the famous film and TV director, but why his style works so well in the interactive format.
Of course, we can easily say that game writers love Lynch because many of them grew up in the ’80s and ’90s when Lynch was arguably at his most popular, but wanting to emulate Lynch’s style does not alone explain why Lynch’s style appears in games so often. If his style didn’t work, game writers would have abandoned it long ago, but it actually works surprisingly well. While it sounds weird to say, it might not be insane to actually posit that David Lynch himself often writes more like game writers than screenwriters.
This comes on a few different levels, but we can start by looking at how Lynch creates locations and spaces to see how they compare with what game writers have to do in their format. Games need to tell more than just stories, they need to give the player room to explore, often multiple times over the course of the game, so games specialize in creating rich, complex, visually stimulating locations. Lynch approaches the design of his spaces somewhat similarly. Sure many of Lynch’s spaces resemble common, simple locations common among film and tv, such as the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department or the Double R Diner, but when Lynch creates his more supernatural locations, he tends to go for more visually striking locations, with complex functionality. A location such as the Black Lodge works well for this example, of course. The Black Lodge has a clear design, with a good deal of complexity in the way you move from room to room, with strange hallways and varying layouts that change in ways defying common logic. Another good location comes from the first episode of Twin Peaks: The Return when Cooper gets thrown from the Black Lodge. He ends up in a sort of living room, but upon leaving the room he finds himself surrounded by outer space with nothing distinct in sight.
These locations have a lot of similarities to game locations, especially supernatural game locations. The way the Black Lodge changes in logic-defying ways works much the same way as both the Oceanview Motel and the Ashtray Maze in Control, which change as the player traverses in distinct and subtle ways. The function looks cool in Twin Peaks but works even better in Control, where the player has to explore the space themself. Lynch’s style depends on creating interesting spaces that leave the viewer wanting to know more, but when placed in a game the player not only has the option to explore the space and learn as much as they can, but they often need to, making them (pardon the cliche) feel like the characters Lynch writes. The experience of exploring the motel or the maze in Control appears very similar to what Cooper’s experience in Twin Peak likely felt like, creating an electrifying experience for the player. In essence, moving these locations into games forces players to take their confusion and learn, solving the puzzles posed to the characters.
Looking at the room from The Return, we can see how the visuals of Lynch’s projects also play well in games. In The Return, creating a space with nothing but a room and a vast void looks visually interesting and the viewer wants to look at it more, and in games, the visual design does that as well but also has great practical functions. To look for similar locations in games, a few different Dontnod properties can give us examples. In Life is Strange, which, notably, released in 2015, two years before The Return, a large portion of the fifth episode takes place in an ambiguous, broken reality, caused by Max’s powers, where the player needs to navigate Max’s anxieties, repeating tasks from earlier in the game that have gone from menial to life-threatening. This entire section takes place in a space similar to the one Lynch crafted, with relevant objects on floating, shattered platforms suspended in an empty void. Taking earlier chunks of the game and putting them into the new void, turns the standard teen romp into a dark thriller, and the void, alongside the sense of impending doom, heightens the sense of dread and fear in the player as they only see their anxieties, embodied by Mark Jefferson, Warren, or worst of all, empty beer bottles. No soothing mountain views or calm forests background the scenes, just a vast emptiness, offering the player no escape.
Alternatively, we can look at Dontnod’s latest game, Twin Mirror, and the main character, Sam’s “Mind Palace”. Sam’s mind palace looks like a non-threatening version of Life is Strange’s off-putting finale, with light blues surrounding the player instead of a deep black void. While no longer creepy, the void still serves to highlight the relevant information, and changes in the mind palace, such as during certain moment’s where Sam’s anxiety takes over and his mind palace darkens, creating clear emotional shifts, making the mind palace more resemble Life is Strange’s. The shifts in the mind palace immerse the player further, and the simplicity of the spaces create harsh visual changes that allow the player to better empathize with their character and follow the emotion of the plot. The use of Lynchian spaces in games like these afford developers far greater options when attempting to control the player, because these simple locations allow for recognizable, tangible emotion in design, where changes are both more noticeable and more emotionally dramatic.
Beyond simply creating visually detailed and interesting spaces, game writers also need to create plenty of side stories and events that occur outside the main plot of the story, a tactic Lynch employs all the time when working on his projects, especially longer-form projects like Twin Peaks. We all know games like The Witcher, The Elder Scrolls, and other large RPGs have extensive side content, much of it more well known than their games’ main stories, but even more linear games also need to employ a good deal of side content, flavor text, and downtime. Because games immerse the player in a character, games need to offer more thorough views of their main characters’ lives and the lives of the people around the main character. Games like Dontnod titles employ a hearty amount of flavor text, with Max from Life is Strange offering little details on basically every item and location in the game, providing information on how it relates to her, other characters, and the world at large, but for our purposes, we’ll look at a game like The Witcher 3 and how it approaches side content and stories.
The Witcher 3 has, as I’m sure you’re aware, a wealth of side content, but the game takes care to ensure that it all makes sense in the world. Many of the quests stem from Geralt’s job as a witcher, and many of the large side plot lines come from interactions Geralt has with characters in the main story. Upon meeting a character like Keira Metz or Dandelion, side stories will often pop up where they ask Geralt to help with their own problems, outside of his own quest to find Ciri. The little glimpses the game offers into the lives of other characters resemble a tactic Lynch uses commonly to show the going-ons of the characters in his properties.
It’s not a secret that Lynch takes his time telling stories, especially in Twin Peaks: The Return, where he frequently features events that have next to no bearing on the plot at all. We see little (but still exceptionally long) scenes of Andy and Lucy looking for a chair to buy online, or of them introducing Sheriff Truman to their son, Michael Cera. We also get other, more detailed side content, such as the story that follows Norma and Ed, or Shelly, Bobby, and their daughter. Most of these side stories either feature characters in the main plot, or events tangential to the main plot, but none affect the outcome necessarily. In the eyes of many writers, directors, and producers, they often function as little more than money wasters, or opportunities for Lynch to spend far too long exploring Andy and Lucy’s journey to buy a chair, but Lynch sees them very differently. While not necessary, these little vignettes give the audience important looks into Twin Peaks without Cooper, the Black Lodge, and all the other strangeness that happens. In game terms, they are valuable pieces of world-building.
Naturally, other shows and films world-build with side content, but Lynch’s approach assigns far more value to the side events than most filmmakers would. Again, film projects generally need to remain concise and will generally cut out anything deemed unnecessary, but games give side content a lot more attention, knowing that the option to explore the nooks and crannies of their world often gives more excitement than the main plotline. After all, there’s a reason why most people talk about the Civil War and Dark Brotherhood storylines in Skyrim and not the main plot. In the same vein, while the main plot of Twin Peaks is certainly fascinating, watching the director of the Las Vegas branch of the FBI have scene-long explosive episodes is just as fun and leaves the audience wanting a spin-off of just one man and his untethered rage.
While games by no means invented the concept of side events and world-building, the practices employed by Lynch often resemble the tactics from games more than in film, which can help explain why game writers love him so much. Unsurprisingly, he enjoys creating an air of mystery around his shows, creating events, characters, and locations that grip the audience by making him want more. Game writers need to accomplish this same thing because they need to engage players for tens of hours, so Lynch’s method of engaging his audience actually works really well for occupying game players as well. Naturally, because of these strong similarities, game writers would want to take inspiration from him over other, more succinct filmmakers like Kubrick on Scorcese.