Electron Dance
12Mar/13Off

The Pink Room

The Pink Room scene from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Red light floods the auditorium. An electric guitar wails as a dark, hypnotic mantra plays out on a double bass. We see the characters speak but we can’t hear what they say; we are permitted to observe but not understand. It’s dirty. The scene blisters with sin and the music reaches out and absorbs the audience. We are all sinners now. We are complicit.

I watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me twice in the same week but most critics hated the film. It was booed at Cannes. Twenty years on, I still remember my time in the Pink Room.   

There were two problems with the David Lynch’s Twin Peaks film that led to it being a critical disaster. First, Twin Peaks was already dead, having haemorrhaged fans through a second series that lost its way. Second, the movie was far more Lynchian than the series, being dark, unrelenting and completely inscrutable. Film critic Mark Kermode revisited the film last year, who considered it to be "the best horror film of the year".

As a film-maker, Lynch often unpacks imagery from his subconscious and lets the audience try to make sense of it. He’s not being deliberately obtuse, he just wants to make something that’s fascinating to watch that seems to make terrifying sense on some higher level. Lost Highway, for example, revels in self-contradiction and switches to a different narrative halfway through the film. So if you were hoping for answers to some of the mysteries of Twin Peaks, you wouldn’t necessarily find them in its big screen incarnation.

What stays with me is the experience of being there in the cinema, subject to its menace. Angelo Badalamenti’s warm, noir-ish opening theme is severed as a television is smashed, plunging the audience into unease. For the rest of its duration, Lynch slowly ratchets up the tension until the film can no longer bear the strain and reaches its preordained conclusion. Only then, there is peace. Credits roll. The audience goes home. Critics write a ton of shit about the movie.

Barry Norman reviewed the film for the BBC and one of his many frustrations was a sequence where the music drowns out the dialogue. That was the Pink Room in which our doomed protagonist Laura Palmer hangs out in the Bang-Bang bar, gets drunk, does things with guys she doesn't know and completely freaks out. It’s an astonishing highlight, possibly my favourite part of the film, and one of those scenes you either love or hate. Here's Lynch's short re-edit of the scene designed to show off Fox Bat Strategy who performed the music.

The DVD release has subtitles and, if you fancy, you can pop them on to find out what everyone is saying. But that's all beside the point, right? In the cinema, we were only meant to capture whispers of dialogue that occasionally leaked through the wall of music.

Not everything needs to make sense because sometimes a wild ride is all you need.

Writing a ton of shit

I was wary of Superbrothers' Sword & Sworcery because it was one of those indie sensations that everyone talked about. I back away when the chatter about a game reaches a fever pitch because I find it difficult to see anything through the fool's gold of hype. But it was okay, it was on the iThing, far from the PC.

But the game did hit the PC later and since we were all so post-hype, we bought it because we were awesome. And so began our woeful errand because when we started playing this, we definitely got the feeling we weren't super-jazzed about it. The game was so like, who cares, whatever, too cool for laid-back school, amirite? We were totally freaked out that the game might be more hype than we had actually reckoned on. The game sure did talk a lot of unhelpful nonsense for a PC game, TAP TAP.

Yet something happened between the beginning and the end.

Kieron Gillen wrote of the game: “Its insincerity is a mask. It’s the most sincere, unironic game I’ve played in ages. If its princess is in another castle, its princess is actually in another castle. It covers it with layers of irony, but it’s based on a sincere belief that this shit means something. It could come across as being embarrassed of what it is, except its more like shyness. As in, what it’s talking about is too important to be approached directly and crassly. You have to joke about it, because if you took it seriously, it’ll shatter.”

Somewhere along the line, it is possible to forgive its flaws. The ill-conceived Twitter integration. The challenges that don't fit the PC as well as the iPhone. The frustration of having to spend another four minutes, largely waiting, fighting a Trigon again. The whole waiting for the moon thing which was frustrating then but today considered worthy of an IGF nomination in VESPER.5.

I embraced it for what it was, a game with heart, a musical instrument through which you play Jim Guthrie's soundtrack provided you learn some moves and tease out its buttons.

After an “owls are not what they seem” reference, I knew I was working with some Twin Peaks fans here. I immediately clocked the in-game concert as an homage to the Pink Room. Mind was blown.

The Pink Room in Sword & Sworcery

Sword & Sworcery is a strange hodgepodge of ideas and I can't say it brings new ingredients to the kitchen table of game design. But that's all beside the point, amirite? Sometimes a wild ride is all you need.

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Comments (15) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Glad that you finally managed to wrap this piece up!

    Sometimes a wild ride.

  2. I know for a fact that I would like Superbrothers if I owned an iPad.

    On the PC, though, I’m very glad I pirated it. Their decision to mandate constant double-clicks prevented me from getting further than 20 minutes into the game. I don’t know how someone can have dozens of buttons at their disposal and decide RSI is a better option.

  3. I’m still not convinced :(

    I think back to Fortugno’s “drudgery != fun” slide. I actually kind of agree with the proposition–my main problem with the implication is that “fun = good” or that, conversely, “!fun = bad”. In the context of Cart Life, the drudgery of the experience is intended to simulate, in the player, a state of rhythmic, repetitive awkwardness. Much of the game’s meaning is conveyed through the game’s “drudgery”. (And oddly enough, because of the way the game’s drudgery conveys meaning, the drudgery ends up becoming oddly pleasurable as it becomes a site of communication). Cart Life is not “fun”, but it’s a Meaningful game.

    Sword and Sworcery’s gameplay is awkward–the constant doubletapping, the dullness of the fights, the interminable Simon puzzles–for every good idea that the game has (its atmosphere is genuinely wonderful, I don’t think it’s possible to hate the soundtrack), you’ve got to wade through a lot of really boring shit to get through it.

    Sword and Sworcery is extremely bipolar. It contains moments of genuine beauty and horror in its graphics, in its music, in moments like the Mad Magazine foldouts, and so it’s pleasurable. And yet the game that these moments are enfolded in is tedious, boring–Sword and Sworcery is more drudgery than Cart Life in my opinion. For everybody who likes S&S, I haven’t found anyone who’s said that the puzzles in the game are particularly enjoyable.

    There’s two possible reasons for this: Art or Incompetence. If the Superbrothers have made an intentionally boring game to encapsulate its wonders, then the game can only be seen as insincere. Gillen has to do some very bizarre logical gymnastics in order to make the game seem genuine–he seems to suggest that if you pile irony on top of irony enough that it loops back to sincere. What strikes me about the game is its posturing sense of ennui. It keeps commenting on its own story in order to pretend that it doesn’t care. Sword and Sworcery seems like attempt to convince you that this genre is *beneath* it, that its writers are so much smarter than a simple sword and sorcery tale, so they couch it in clever misspellings and half-assed Jungian symbolism and pandering Lynchian references and a transparent social media marketing gimmick and hope you don’t notice that the only story they’re capable of telling is the one they’re so contemptuous of. And so if there is Meaning in the drudgery, it’s that videogames are extremely boooooooring. It’s Tom Bissell’s usual spiel: Writing about videogames for nongamers in a way which confirms their suspicions that this whole thing is ridiculous and stupid.

    But I don’t think that’s Sword and Sworcery’s message at all. I think there perhaps IS a core of sincerity behind it. The care behind the atmosphere is so well-done that the irony upon irony maybe does come off as a defensiveness. But I’m sick of defensiveness. I don’t want insincerity as a mask. That’s bullshit. I want a sincere, passionate work. What bothers me so much about Sword and Sworcery’s reception is that such an insincere game has been lauded so highly–giving tacit approval to that insincerity. What I see in Sword and Sworcery is incompetence or laziness–either an inability or a lack of interest to give us a truly pleasurable experience. The Superbrothers have created a beautiful world, one which has some amazing moments–the rock concert where the Trigons fuse is a GREAT scene, and the entire prologue, before the game reveals its lack of hand, is extremely seductive–but either they’re too lazy to put that in a good game, or they’re not able to.

    Fire Walk With Me is wonderful though.

  4. There seemed to be a lot of fuss in the Rock Paper Shotgun comments about whether S&S was interactive enough, which seemed to boil down to people wanting more twitchy stuff. But it’s the twitchy stuff that has me derailed — I just can’t face that final chase scene. I ought to, oughtn’t I?

    The big delay was charming when I realized what was going on the first time but sapped my motivation in the end (I think I’ve described this elsewhere — I had to quit to find a walkthrough because of a UI issue that got very opaque in the iOS-to-Mac conversion, and when I returned found I had been kicked out of the Dark Moon and couldn’t get back to the Moon Temple or maybe just thought I couldn’t). In perhaps related news, I played two turns of Vesper5.

  5. I’m not sure what I would have thought of this game if I’d played it on PC instead of iPad, so much of it seems designed around touch, around that feeling of having a space moving around directly under your fingers.

    It’s easy to look over just how much irony and distance is artificially shoved into Twin Peaks as well: the jokes about cops who love donuts, Andy doing his goofy Barney Fife character, Kyle MacLachlan mugging and practically winking at the screen playing up Dale Cooper’s eccentricities. The goofiness of Twin Peaks is part of it, but it’s also a kind of defensive armor laid on top of it. You come for a show that pokes fun at its own weird tendencies, then stay as it turns to explore and live within that strangeness.

  6. @Switchbreak You may have just teased out why I’ve always had such a hard trouble getting into Lynch.

  7. They just added this to the newest Humble Bundle, so maybe I’ll finally give it a try. It kind of seems up my alley.

    Deadly Premonition is still the best Twin Peaks game.

  8. @Shaun

    Last year, I envisioned this as an analysis of The Pink Room finishing with one line saying “and when I found the Pink Room in Sword & Sworcery, I knew I loved this game” or something like that. But everyone wanted to hear a little more about S&S so I changed tack.

    @awkward

    It’s a cheap port, to be sure, but as for the controls setting you back, I guess all I want to say is:

    @Richard

    I don’t have to convince anyone.

    The thing about Sword & Sworcery is that it had so much love and attention in the audiovisual and atmosphere departments, that the game becomes a contest between that surface joy and the problematic mechanics/implementation. Ludologically and ergonomically, the game is a bit of a shitbag. But a lot of people were able to engage despite that.

    Honestly, people don’t like it because of any deep meaning below the surface, they just like it because it’s got a spark, it’s got cool music and some great moments. I think the fandom for SS&S is a tad overblown, because looking at it as an assortment of mechanics, it does kinda suck. If the surface of the game doesn’t grab you then you’re going to end up doing a Jonathan Blow – pointing at the mechanics and say “what is this really? what a excremental waste of human time”. I found a good portion of the text irritating but I still felt engaged. I do not think SS&S is something like Dishonored, the latter you can have conversations about whereas a conversation about SS&S is like a conversation about marmite. (Does that translate to American?) Okay: you either like it or you don’t.

    I suppose I could’ve put this all in the article! And yo, you could have just linked to your SS&S piece than write it all again =)

    @matt

    Yeah, the interactivity thing is so yesterday! I think SS&S could have done with less of those silly mini-games (well, either that or make them better) and just embracing the environment more. Oh and well done Matt. I have completed VESPER.5. I will reveal that… you have a lot of turns to go!

    You know, I feel like I want to experience SS&S a second time… but some parts of seem so laborious in memory that I can’t pluck up the courage to put myself through it again.

    @Switchbreak

    What are you doing posting here? You’re supposed to be working on your 7DRL project right?

    The bit where you have to “pull open” the tree just doesn’t work on the PC. I was absolutely stumped and had to go look up a walkthrough. But then I hear some got stuck on the iPad as well… I would like to play the iPad version one day to see how more natural an experience it is. There is talk of an iPad in our house, for the purposes of amusing the little ones. But it will also receive a copy of Bloop, at the very least.

    I’m actually not that bothered about SS&S fourth-walling it so much, some of it is genuinely amusing – it got better as it went along, possibly because I got used to the style – but there was plenty in there that didn’t touch me.

    It’s true about all that stuff in Twin Peaks, although there was far less of that in the film.

    @Eric

    Maybe that also explains why you can’t get into Farscape. But you like Stargate?

    @Amanda

    I’d be interested to hear what you think about it Amanda! Gregg B has had his problems, obviously but xtal totally loved it.

    If only Deadly Premonition were on the PC. Then again I said that about Dark Souls and, er, haven’t bought it.

  9. Ha ha, we’re totally working on the 7DRL right now – in my other window! I did read all the other reviews of S&S, some good, some bad, but,…. mmm, Twin Peaks. (I mainly just came in here to say Deadly Premonition again. Is it worth it to buy a $250 console for a $20 game…?) (Fez had a sort of Twin Peaks gag too.)

  10. Superbrothers is a music game, right? Then we can at least apply music theory to it. Not that any of us know music theory. Where’s Tim when you need him?

  11. No no, I played two turns of Vesper5. Past tense, not present perfect. I downloaded oh some number of months ago, played a turn, played another turn a couple of days later, and well, maybe my PC just didn’t take as long to get enlightened as Pippin’s.

    I’ll probably finish S&S sometime. Vesper5 I’m not so sure about.

    I kind of like the combat game in SS&S but the last chase seems kind of hard and that annoys me. (The “pull open the tree” part was the part that got me, too.)

  12. @HM I guess it’s less “convinced” and more like, you and a TON of other people like the game or at least got something out of it. Most of the positive reviews I’ve read have been excited handwaving. I do appreciate your take–it’s a bit more “it’s not a perfect game but it’s got some good moments”, which I can definitely appreciate. I don’t mind rewriting articles though! Heh :)

    (I have had Marmite once.)

    @Amanda I need to give Deadly Premonition a proper play. I should have played it on Easy mode–the enemies on Normal just seemed to be way too bullet-spongey and it felt like I was spending more time on the cursory combat. But as Twin-Peaks-Meets-Silent-Hill it was wonderful. I don’t want every game to be Deadly Premonition but I love that it exists. I’m super excited for your 7DRL.

    @matt w I got two turns into Vesper5 myself and then on the third day it stopped working. I have very bad luck with computers. It took me 20 minutes to get Richard Hofmeier’s Lawn Defender to work (seriously.) There’s a reason I’m a console gamer: I can’t figure out the metagame of getting PC games to work.

    If anyone would like to build me a new gaming PC that works I will write a Riot Fox song about you.

  13. I guess we have some Twin Peaks fans in our midst.

    @awkward: Tim?

    @matt: I don’t know if I can “recommend” VESPER.5 to anyone. I didn’t get that much out of it myself, although there was one weird moment when I couldn’t make myself perform the final move for two weeks. I suspect VESPER.5 is one of those games that interest game designers and certain critics more than your typical player and it is also something that could never work in an expo; what is important about VESPER.5 is not VESPER.5 itself but what it might do for other games. Hence, its IGF nomination. I have a cute Friday post to write about VESPER.5 at some point.

    @Richard If I was pushed, I’d argue that SS&S is saying that “oh god isn’t this trope overdone… but wait, perhaps we can rediscover the wonder” and that’s where it’s indecisive nature stems from. There are some great moments and, largely, it’s more about the cinematic joy than player agency and the like. They started with Jim Guthrie’s music and tried to fit a game around it and so the ludo part is pretty, well, basic. But I’d rather not dwell on it too much because it would probably undo the experience for me.

  14. Did somebody say ‘Fire Walk With Me’?

  15. No, Ben I said:

    So I’m goin’ down this street
    and I’m tryin’ not to smile
    ‘Cause the street is where I’m goin’
    And the curb is at the side
    By the SEWER
    where the rain goes down

    Like this girl I once knew
    ‘Cause the sewer is so hollow
    and the YELL
    could last forever

    Like the night my girl went away
    Gone off in a world filled with stuff
    Lights start changin’
    And there’s wires in the air
    And the asphalt man,
    is all around me

    And I look down
    and my shoes are so far away from me, man
    I can’t believe it

    I got a real indication
    of a laugh comin’ on


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