No, Your Game Is Not ‘Lynchian’

Hello you heinous bunch of caterwauling reprobates, I have returned from my hiatus as an A Level exams candidate and then Briton-in-America for a short while, and after an intensive diet of bagels, hot dogs, pretzels, reuben sandwiches and french fries I have landed back in England with unprecedented levels of carbohydration, providing me with more than enough metabolic energy to get on my Imperial Leather soap box and return to the good old days of online hate-posting posed as critical discourse!!! Aren’t you a lucky lot? I’m BACK baby!

Now, what ludic shit has turned up on the bottom of my shoe today? Well, with the announcement of a Life is Strange prequel AND sequel in the pipeline (thank you Dontnod for keeping me in a job) coinciding with the rerun of my beloved Twin Peaks, I thought I’d take this opportunity to chat about something that particularly irks me in the field of gaming discourse, that, on a personal level, really gets on my gamer-tits (which incidentally have rather filled out after my trip to the USA!). Behold:

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Behold: the critical insistence to shove cultural iconography as comparison into analysis where none such comparisons belong. Admittedly… this is a very small thing to be so irked by, but I personally believe that there is real damage done by this type of lazy criticism that seeks to deepen understanding of a game by fabricating similarities to something already much more understood by the critical sphere. More than this, it is the compression of this false comparison into the neat critical misnomer ‘Lynchian’ that makes me so uncomfortable, that gives me the critical willies.

Look, to draw an appropriate comparison to help explain myself, a similar phenomenon can be found in critical discourse when someone unreservedly refers to a piece of work as ‘Kafkaesque’ without sincerely understanding their own comparison. ‘Kafkaesque’ is the only appropriate comparison to ‘Lynchian’ I could conjure, the use of the term ‘Kafkaesque’ soared in the critical sphere around the late 20th Century after the publication of Franz Kafka’s works (source: Google)

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‘Shakespearean’ or ‘Orwellian’ might also be apt comparisons but I believe that the similarities in Lynch and Kafka’s works makes this comparison best. In the Guardian blog, Alison Flood posits the idea that the term Kafkaesque has been so eroded by use that its original meaning has lost all essential effect. I have to agree, and I worry that a similar paradigm might soon appear in the gaming sphere for the term ‘Lynchian’ upon the advent of our two new Life is Strange IPs. It is both the terrible mobility of the concepts of ‘Kafkaesque’ and ‘Lynchian’ allowed by their compressions into one word, and the keenness of critics to invoke a wider scope of understanding in their writing that has brought about this deficit between implementation of the terms and the understanding and appropriate use of them. It has become so easy and so tempting to affect an understanding of Lynch’s or Kafka’s work by simply showing knowledge of the terms themselves, so much so that the terms are becoming detached from their original place in Kafka’s and Lynch’s work.

The fact that the mobility of these terms has brought about a small culture of pretentious, asinine writing in the games sphere is not what annoys me most, it is the fact that writers using these terms wrongly is a betrayal of these artists you would think the writers are ostensibly trying to praise through the terms’ usage.

Take these gaudy ascriptions of ‘Lynchian’ aspects to Dontnod’s Life is Strange, these ascriptions seem to be based off of the fact that Life is Strange bears some resemblance to the series Twin Peaks (which, as Ian Danskin points out, is the developers’ insistence whereas more resemblances can be found between it and Donnie Darko). We must assume that these resemblances are to be found in the fact that the stories revolve around a high school, that there are seemingly supernatural elements at play, and that a murder mystery is at the centre of the plot’s allure.

But, to see these similarities and to call them ‘Lynchian’ betrays David Lynch as a creator in so many ways through this asinine use of language. Even if we are comparing such a game to only Twin Peaks out of Lynch’s whole catalogue, to call it ‘Lychian’ is so to reduce the identity of the original Twin Peaks series to something that has none of its tongue-in-cheek charm, none of its mesmerising dancing midgets that speak in reverse, and none of its crazy supernatural subplots. To the unknowing reader, Twin Peaks as a concept might be reduced so much by this false comparison to something that is, well, worse as a creation. Beyond this, to compare Life is Strange to Twin Peaks is to speak of only one of Lynch’s works. Prithee, if Life is Strange is so f*cking ‘Lynchian’, if Virginia (and you know how I feel about Virginia… VIRGINIA!!!) is so dog-gammed ‘Lynchian’, then what resemblance does it bear to Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive?

This is what I mean by betraying the creators: using the terms ‘Lynchian’ and ‘Kafkaesque’ falsely is to rob the creators’ works of an identity. Of course, Life is Strange bears no resemblance to these works, to try and force a comparison would be foolish, but because the catalogue of Lynch’s work and the complexities that lie therein can be reduced to one word: ‘Lynchian’, it has become so easy and so tempting to insert the word into criticism of these games as a signpost of understanding.

If you are a critic or fellow blogger reading this, I implore you, if you are to review the upcoming Life is Strange games, please, please, I beg you, DON’T use the word ‘Lynchian’ to draw an inevitably false comparison or I will personally blacklist you and you will be refused entry to my numerous orgies.

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2 thoughts on “No, Your Game Is Not ‘Lynchian’

  1. I think these comparisons to established creators or famous films probably stem from people advocating the medium’s cultural legitimacy, but they tend to be reductive more often than not. As you say, they need to let video games be good in their own way; it’s why I tend not to be on board with the AAA approach of turning games into films or the former indie approach of using the medium to grasp some nebulous “high art” standard. The medium could do with a little more genuine self-respect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m all for cementing the medium as culturally powerful and legitimate, it’s just that if that is to happen we need a sphere of criticism that knows what it’s talking about! Admittedly I don’t know what I’m talking about… but I’m not getting paid :p

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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