David Lynch’s presence has been haunting video games for decades

Receiving Station H is an electrical substation overseen by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Its purpose: changing the voltage of incoming currents and sending them out toward LA’s Miracle Mile and other destinations. Its admirer: the American filmmaker David Lynch, who visited its location in the ’90s, raised his camera, and clicked. Now this, to repurpose a Lynch line, is really something interesting to think about.

In Lynch’s work, electricity is a portal into other worlds, feelings, and memories. His long-standing fascinations also include dreams nested within dreams and the vestiges of Hollywood’s yesteryear. In the book Lynch on Lynch, he tells editor Chris Rodley, “There are still many places you could go in LA to catch the drift of the old golden age, but they’re getting fewer.” Lynch then lists some vanished LA locales, like the Hull Bros. Lumber Co., with its “old timers, who knew about wood and Hollywood.” 

“Many times during the day we plan for the future,” says Lynch. “And many times in the day we think of the past.” On that day in the ’90s, Receiving Station H was likely pointing in both temporal directions. It’s been in operation since 1953, atop grounds that had previously belonged to the back lot of a movie studio. Close by, the rest of the studio endures, more than a century after its founding. (These days, they call it The Lot at Formosa.) But closer still: that wellspring of electricity, the ghosts of West Hollywood, a mood. 

According to film historian Jeffrey Vance, in the mid-1920s, the back lot partly resembled a shipyard, as its cinematic sets included imitation galleons. Decades later, another fleet would loom. Incarnadine and otherworldly, an enhanced version of Lynch’s photograph of Receiving Station H made its way onto the business cards for SubStation, an interactive media company he established in the ’90s. The future was calling. Per a 1998 press release, Lynch was ready to create his inaugural video game, one that was itself fated to vanish.

In his mind’s eye, a title: Woodcutters From Fiery Ships.

Lynch’s photograph came up during my phone conversation with Neal Edelstein, who co-produced two of Lynch’s features: the touching Midwestern road movie The Straight Story (1999) and Mulholland Drive (2001), an LA odyssey about broken hearts and shaky dreams. Edelstein, who was also affiliated with SubStation, was there when Lynch visited Receiving Station H. He later tweeted about our chat and shared an image of one of his old SubStation business cards, where Lynch’s photograph is still vividly displayed. In light of what I’ve learned, its currents likewise move in varied directions, branching out toward Lynch, (Holly)wood, the gaming industry, and a cohort of dreamers. 

In Lynch’s other work, too, there is an array of linkages and identities. His characters are supple in spirit. Their lives can begin anew — or again — in a jail cell, perhaps, or along a forested trail. It’s a matter of cosmic destiny or doom. Not even mortality can impede them. Echoing Lynch’s own thoughts on the topic, one of his characters sagely remarks, “You know about death — that it’s just a change, not an end.” Space and time are no less slippery for Lynch. A supposedly material place can disclose the nonlinear abstractions of the mind and vice versa. In Mulholland Drive, for instance, there are startling vibes lurking around Winkie’s, a diner where the coffee is hot and the nightmares are true.

While Lynch’s video game may not be on the life-and-death order of a klatch at Winkie’s, it does further illuminate the scope of his artistic curiosities. A multi-hyphenate storyteller, Lynch follows his ideas, leaping across mediums if necessary. His work includes a series of photographs of melting snowmen and a dockside painting textured by the death throes of a moth that flew into the paint. A Lynch-authored game — albeit an unreleased one — widens this already arresting context and sharpens our view of a major artist. 

“The intent was for David Lynch to create an immersive video game,” Edelstein says, referring to Woodcutters From Fiery Ships. Lynch would later direct a PlayStation 2 commercial and, per Edelstein, he considered executive-producing an adaptation of the point-and-click game Bad Day on the Midway (1995). But Edelstein was apparently more familiar with the medium. He still remembers, with some awe, the advent of games like Gadget (1993) and Quake (1996). (Gadget’s initial subtitle was “Invention, Travel & Adventure,” but the multi-platform version from 1997 opted for something more mysterious: “Past as Future.”) “It was certainly me saying to David, ‘We should start a gaming company; there’s going to be a lot of opportunity here.’” 

Natalie Fay and a few of her colleagues entered the picture. At the time, Fay was the international vice president of the Japanese multimedia company Synergy, which had developed Gadget. Synergy agreed to collaborate with Lynch on Woodcutters. In March 1998, Nikkei reported that two other Japanese companies — Kokusai Denshin Denwa and Bandai — had signed on and that a movie and music CDs would accompany the game. 

Edelstein also met with Fay’s husband, Stieg Hedlund, the game designer who helped shepherd Diablo (1997) and Diablo II (2000). In her July 1998 report in Computer Gaming World, Charlotte Panther is likely hinting at Hedlund when she refers to “a top US designer” potentially joining the Woodcutters team. She also relays a few promises: “real-time 3D” and “multiplayer elements” were in the cards. 

Its supposed release window — fall 1999 — came and went. Woodcutters never showed. As Edelstein remembers it, work on the game amounted to “perfunctory conversations.” Then, he recalls something else: Lynch had a Woodcutters-themed “booklet with some images.” He tries to summon its contents from memory, but his last sighting was so long ago. “I remember seeing the booklet cover. It was beautiful.” Closed shut and dimly floating in my mind, it seems a quintessentially Lynchian object. As Lynch once told the writer Geoff Andrew, “Vagueness makes me dream.”

Its release window came and went — Woodcutters never showed

The Straight Story’s production concluded in October 1998, and Lynch subsequently worked on Mulholland Drive. Edelstein suspects the precedence of these projects accounts for the vanished Woodcutters. But in 2008, an entirely different reason was supplied by John Neff, the late audio engineer who managed Lynch’s home recording studio for many years. Neff frequented the message boards of Dugpa.com, a longstanding Lynch fan site, and posted the following explanation, “[Lynch] was fairly far down the road writing the game when the Japanese development partner pulled out. There was a banking or finance disaster of some sort in Japan and they couldn’t continue.” This was news to Edelstein, though he acknowledges Neff’s account “could be accurate.” At any rate, while Woodcutters was still being publicized in the summer of 1998, Synergy evidently disappeared into the night soon after.

The conversations may have been perfunctory, but the vision was rich and precise. In a 1999 interview with The Guardian, Lynch reveals he had in mind a mystery story that would “bend back upon itself and get lost – really get lost.” He mentions a setting (“a bungalow which is behind another house in Los Angeles”) and a man, one who is kidnapped by the woodcutters, whose vessel is “a 30s sort of ship, and the fuel is logs … And they smoke pipes.” All of this was “blocked from the get-go.” There were concerns about how the “game buffs’’ might respond to the project. 

But in the future, Lynch’s vision would resurface, both obliquely and explicitly. Woodsmen appear throughout Twin Peaks: The Return, the 2017 revival of the ’90s television series created by Lynch and Mark Frost. Eager to draw in smoke and crack open skulls, they greet all tasks with a kind of dazed competence (the woodsmen, that is, not Lynch and Frost). These figures materialize in 1945 in the wake of the Trinity test, when the Jornada del Muerto desert accommodated the first-ever detonation of a nuclear weapon. As with the ensuing trinitite, the woodsmen are rough-hewn in aspect and preternatural in air. Their motives are hazy, and their tidings grim. But that news — a baleful tale of slaked thirst and steep descents — seems to light their fire well enough.

David Lynch in 2019.
Photo by Steve Granitz / WireImage

In Twin Peaks, the woods are a place of industry and conflagration. The eponymous town’s residents include Margaret Lanterman (Catherine E. Coulson), whose husband, “a logging man,” perished in a forest fire. But she and others also refer more abstractly to an unkind fire, one that moves in tandem with people and across multiple worlds. Meanwhile, on an old town map, electricity is classified as “a type of fire,” and an inky symbol entails — as Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) warns — something we “don’t ever want to know about.” Lynch’s woodsmen are in this ambiguous line of country. As an indistinct force that spreads and shifts, they ignite feelings and ideas: the dawn of the atomic age, say, or foggier varieties of dread. Theirs is a concept vague and nimble enough to travel, as it does in The Return, where the woodsmen are at once stupefied assassins, skilled necromancers, and the myrmidons of some unseen force.

A similar view is held by Marc Laidlaw, a longtime Lynch aficionado and one of the writers behind Valve’s landmark Half-Life (1998) game franchise. The woodsmen, he tells me, are part of “[Lynch’s] mythology, and they drift between universes of his making.” So it is that in Lynch’s work, other types of woodsmen roam. And shortly after The Return, still more shambled to life.

Or, rather, back to life: Woodcutters From Fiery Ships turned up at last. 

It’s one of the tracks on Thought Gang, the 2018 album by Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, the late composer whose friendship with Lynch dates back to 1986’s Blue Velvet. (The song also appears in Lynch’s Ant Head, a short video featuring a swarm of ants and utility poles.) Lynch told Rolling Stone that most of the album originated in the early ’90s. Did the “Woodcutters” concept begin as a song, wander into an unfinished game, and then amble homeward? Lynch knows but, per Edelstein, it’s unlikely he’ll publicly dispel any game-related mysteries. 

To rework a line of dialogue from Mulholland Drive: this is the game (or as close to it as we’re likely to get). The “Woodcutters” track has the urgency of an old-school radio bulletin. Badalamenti provides the grainy vocals; he does not sing. There are bursts of percussion, a sense of disorder. We are deep in the rattled mind of a fellow named Pete. A stranger wanders into the bushes; Pete’s backyard is stock-still. “Several woodcutters from fiery ships are coming in his door,” Badalamenti announces, as the track tilts toward greater states of frenzy. “They have discovered Pete and have him by the arms. And Pete’s going with them out under the orange tree.” 

At the end of the track, some strange species of optimism awaits — or your garden-variety Stockholm syndrome. “Pete learned to enjoy the woodcutters, and their particular brand of humor.” But Pete, we are also told, “is upset about things. His brain is sorting out information gleaned from this confusing life. Things aren’t making sense.”

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
Image: Nintendo

In much of Lynch’s work, the psychology of the protagonist is mysteriously divided into two — or many more — pieces. Like a block of pine struck by an ax, characters are split apart, flung across fugue and dream states, life and death, persons known and unknown. This account of the game that Lynch nearly made demands just such a disjuncture. For even prior to Woodcutters, Lynch was haunting the gaming industry. Of course, few of us know Lynch, the person, in any fine-grained sense. We know his work, his weather reports; to us, he is more mood than man. And it’s this “Lynch” — an authorial presence — that is routinely carried away and reborn in a gallimaufry of games that aspire toward a similar kind of strangeness.

Actually, this road grades into the sea. We can begin by washing up on Koholint Island, the setting of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. One of the islanders wonders at her surroundings; another struggles to identify when, exactly, they came to this place. In the game’s spooky twist, Link — our naif hero — finds the truth inscribed on a temple wall: Koholint is a dream, a tenuous illusion emanating from a sleeping mind. In these and other respects, the game brings to mind the palimpsestic realities of Twin Peaks and The Return.

“A cosmic kind of thing.” 

Wait: what year is this? Link’s Awakening debuted in 1993, and Japan’s “Twin Peaks mania” had begun. In fact, Frost has revealed his connection to the game. “I met with them about it and gave them some ideas, never tried it myself,” he tweeted last year. Elsewhere, Takashi Tezuka, the game’s director, has talked about modeling Link’s Awakening after the small-town feel of the show’s Pacific Northwest setting and its “suspicious” dramatis personae. The game also speaks for itself: it has that elusive tonal quality that Lynch calls — in his memoir-biography hybrid, Room to Dream — “a cosmic kind of thing.” 

1993 also saw the debut of Hotel Room, a three-episode HBO series created by Lynch and Monty Montgomery. It’s set at the Railroad Hotel, so named on account of the nearby train tracks. In the opening credits, Lynch talks about “brushing up against the secret names of truth.” Meanwhile, across the Pacific, the Japanese game designer Haruhiko Shono was working on Gadget, the bewildering point-and-click title that would later impress both Edelstein and Lynch.

Incidentally, in the game’s introductory moments the protagonist is whisked away from a hotel and deposited into a nearby railway station. From there he discovers a bleak world, one that’s pressed beneath the thumb of a dictator. He runs afoul of the Sensorama, an esoteric, state-controlled device that stuns the eye and deadens the soul. Here and there, a ghostly child also appears. This “being,” Shono tells me, is there to “bring supernatural changes to [Gadget’s] inorganic world.” Destructive changes are also on the way, for a comet approaches. But the “being” may offer an eleventh-hour escape, a ticket to greener pastures. “The boy comes from the beyond,” one of the game’s characters confides. “Pulling a big boat, he floats down gently from the sky.”

Today, Shono runs Will, Ltd., a CGI production studio in Koganei, Tokyo. Speaking by email, he had little Woodcutters intel but ample admiration for Lynch’s work. He’s fond of Eraserhead (1977), Lynch’s debut feature, in which a radiator-dwelling visitant sings of heaven. Certain of the “vague but somehow persuasive” dimensions in Twin Peaks inspired him. And Dune (1984) — Lynch’s film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel — informed Gadget’s “retro-futuristic” visuals. More recently, he was impressed by “the atomic bomb test episode” of The Return and by its “use of [Krzysztof] Penderecki’s music.” As Shono undoubtedly knows, the Trinity bomb — despite its own esoteric, deadening power — was given the absurdly tidy nickname “Gadget.”

In Shono’s game, we also find a link to another of the gaming industry’s luminaries. Before Laidlaw joined Valve, he wrote The Third Force (1996), a novel set in the Gadget universe. To prepare, he flew to Tokyo and visited Synergy’s headquarters, where a Lynchian mood had indeed taken up residence. Synergy offered him his first example of explicitly Lynch-inspired game design. “[Lynch’s] influence was everywhere,” Laidlaw tells me, pointing to a broader context in which various artists were “moved to follow their own surreal impulses into pop culture in a way that [Lynch] seems to have given them permission to do.” 

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Gadget.
Image: WILL,ltd.

Like Shono, his interest in Lynch’s work dates back to Eraserhead (“a very, very important movie to me”). Years later, he envisioned a game set in the Black Lodge, the red-curtained dimension from Twin Peaks. He even briefly considered pitching the idea to Lynch’s team. “I was just a bored and restless and deluded legal secretary at this time; I had a lot of crazy dreams and schemes.”

Other dreams drifted in. “A lot of the energy and ideas that got stirred up by working on The Third Force needed a place to ground themselves,” he explains. “That place was Half-Life, which I started working on straight out of my experience with Synergy.” He cites the example of xenium, the exotic matter that sets off an interdimensional snafu in Half-Life. Its namesake is derived from The Third Force’s own “glimmering greenish-gold ore.” In the novel, it’s depicted as a mind-altering fragment of “raw condensed consciousness.”

“There was lots of Lynch love at Valve, a fondness for the surreal.” 

“Xenium fueled the trains,” Laidlaw writes in The Third Force. “It drove the Empire itself now, and its properties were still incompletely understood.” It powers the Sensorama, too, and a team of scientists is tasked with creating “a xenium bomb.” (“God save us, Elena,” one of them remarks to the novel’s protagonist. “We are building a terrible weapon.”) But this mysterious ore also has its own designs in mind. It precipitates a raft of reality- and time-distorting effects. Consequently, one dreaming character is able to peer back into reality through “a heavy red curtain.” Elsewhere, Elena parts her own curtain and, though ostensibly awake, notices her doppelganger wandering the streets below. Somewhere amid the “inexplicable colors” of xenium, one may also catch a “glimpse of transcendence, a world beyond this one.” 

Laidlaw compares the G-Man (Michael Shapiro) — Half-Life’s besuited string-puller — to Slowslop, a Gadget character whose extraterrestrial agenda is explored in The Third Force. Seen another way, the G-Man is a visitant in the vein of Gadget’s “being” or Eraserhead’s Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near). With his murky loyalties and halting cadences, he’d also fit in among the Black Lodge’s entities. He’s reminiscent, too, of the Twin Peaks saga’s gnomic Fireman (Carel Struycken), as they’re both unearthly purveyors of wake-up calls. In other words, Laidlaw had clearly found another working environment that was receptive to strangeness. “There was lots of Lynch love at Valve, a fondness for the surreal.” 

News of Lynch’s game eventually reached him, and old hopes returned: “It’s [the] closest I ever came to working with Lynch, a dream since I first saw Eraserhead.” Laidlaw pitched another tie-in novel, one set in the Woodcutters world. Synergy agreed; Gabe Newell, Valve’s CEO, bestowed his blessing. “Never heard anything again,” says Laidlaw. “Until I learned that Synergy had dissolved.”

Control.
Image: Remedy Entertainment

Following these early Lynchian explorations in gaming, many other examples followed. The acclaimed game designer Hideo Kojima, for instance, has identified Lynch as one of his lodestars. Games that likewise note or hint at Lynch’s influence include Silent Hill 2 (2001); Alan Wake (2010); Virginia (2016); The Norwood Suite (2017); Control (2019); Disco Elysium (2019); Returnal (2021); Immortality (2022); and Signalis (2022), among other surreal and celebrated titles. Immortality has the distinction of being one of the few games with explicitly psychosexual themes, which are essential to Lynch’s own work. It’s also co-written by Barry Gifford, who collaborated with Lynch on multiple projects. 

And what of Twin Peaks VR (2019), which recreates the Black Lodge? I’ve yet to don a modern VR headset, but from afar, this game — an interactive catalog of locations and references — appears more scheme than dream. It’s officially licensed, but Lynch’s input seems to have been fairly minimal. On YouTube, one can also glimpse other gamified Black Lodges, including some intriguing Atari- and Minecraft-styled concoctions.

“I still have vivid dreams of cosmic events, death, and rebirth.”

The future looks intriguing, too. Justen Brown, an independent game designer, is working on Still Ridge, a point-and-click throwback. It follows Omar Fletcher, a therapist who breaches the dream realm to assist his patients. In Omar’s dreams, a murder is foretold and a destination specified: the fictional West Virginia town of Still Ridge, where his adventure awaits. Drawing from Malcolm X, Brown refers to Omar as a healer who “can see the figurative knife and also the hand that wields it.” Through Omar, Brown is also satirizing — and, by dint of added nuance and agency, revising — “the Magical Negro archetype that appears in Stephen King’s work.”

Omar is a conflicted hero. Brown compares him to Blue Velvet’s Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), a troubled and starry-eyed voyeur who discovers “a strange world” of violence in his suburban hometown. As with many other game designers, Lynch’s style complements Brown’s own distinct artistic perspective. Still Ridge is meant to combine its Lynchian vibes with certain of the sociohistorical contexts of Black America and with other personal elements, including Brown’s recurring nightmares. “I still have vivid dreams of cosmic events, death, and rebirth,” he says. “Even as a kid, the one connecting factor between them is I’m a passive observer looking onto the world as if it’s a stage.”

Still Ridge was always a story about my love of small colonial towns and American mysticism,” explains Brown, who grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia. But his game also reflects — and broadens — Lynch’s exploration of the surreal dissonances of American life. Using the example of the country’s ineradicable history of lynching, Brown refers to the way the horrors of the not-so-distant past can haunt the present. More broadly, he shares Lynch’s thematic interest in “a deep darkness that seeps through the cracks” and his fascination with the complexities and vagaries of the mind. “Lynch,” Brown contends, “really understands the ennui and self-loathing that comes with living in a country that wants you to forget your identity but also manufacture one for you.” 

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Still Ridge.
Image: MEGAWARP

Indeed, Lynch’s characters often jostle against imposed stories and stifling archetypes. The very idea of a legible self tends to implode. “Life doesn’t unfold in a clear, straight line,” writes co-author Kristine McKenna in Room to Dream. She argues that, on any given day “all of us flicker in and out of memories, fantasies, desires, and dreams of the future.” Her perspective aligns with Lynch’s own. Inland Empire, his 2006 film, is a mishmash of time periods, realities, and selves. In a 2008 interview, the scholar Richard Barney marveled at the film’s “many worlds.” Lynch replied by gesturing toward life itself: “It’s no different, though, than just being a human being on Earth.”

“Our personality changes through the day even,” says Sam Lake, the Finnish writer behind many of Remedy Entertainment’s games, including Control and last year’s Alan Wake 2. Speaking by Zoom, he discusses his own fascination with parallel dimensions and the concept of selfhood. Alan Wake 2, he points out, features “layers of reality, versions of the characters, a lot of dualism.” 

“Lynch, as an influence, is a big part of this.”

Lake also thinks back to the end of the second season of Twin Peaks in which FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) winds up trapped in the Black Lodge while his sinister doppelganger — Mr. C, as he would come to be known to viewers of The Return — escapes into the so-called real world. “It was a real shock,” Lake says. “I remember really struggling to come to terms with [that cliffhanger], I think for weeks.” The eponymous hero of Alan Wake (​​Matthew Porretta; Ilkka Villi) experiences a similar ordeal around the end of the first game: he’s left inside the Dark Place, a dimension that is both prison and scriptorium. Meanwhile, his own doppelganger — Mr. Scratch — walks free.  

“Lynch, as an influence, is a big part of this,” says Lake, referring to his own interest in “the unanswered mystery that stays with us.” Control provides a choice example via protagonist Jesse Faden’s (Courtney Hope) childhood encounter with the Not-Mother, a vaguely described paranormal entity. 

But when I mention this moment, Lake’s response leads us elsewhere, toward other times and dreams. In part, the idea was lifted from a young adult novel he had been planning. It drew from his boyhood in the district of Matinkylä in Espoo, Finland and from the urban spaces that he and other youngsters explored. The plot involved “something otherworldly being discovered by a bunch of kids.” As Lake recalls, “Not-Mother was part of it. And parents disappearing. Grownups disappearing. And things just escalating.”

Virginia.
Image: Variable State

Another kind of disappearance haunts the town of Mizzurna Falls, our final destination. As in the nonlinear routes favored by Lynch, it leads us, once more, into the past. In the late ’90s, as Woodcutters receded, a young Japanese developer named Taichi Ishizuka had already written and directed his own Lynchian game. For this purpose, Ishizuka and some of his colleagues at Human Entertainment confected an imaginary snow-strewn locale in Colorado. Nestled below the Rocky Mountains, it serves as the setting of Mizzurna Falls (1998), which was released exclusively in Japan for the PlayStation.

An English language version can be found online, largely thanks to Evie, a translator who asked to be identified by her first name only. After she finished playing Deadly Premonition (2010) — yet another Twin Peaks-esque game — she sought out comparable examples and discovered Mizzurna Falls. Evie admires the ambiguity of Lynch’s work and located a similar freedom in the game’s open world. “It rarely tells you to do anything,” she observes. “You’re rewarded for thinking outside the box and really paying attention.”

In other ways, too, Mizzurna Falls honors Lynch’s work — specifically Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. Among many other references, it features a downhearted chanteuse named Isabella, a nod to Blue Velvet’s Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). However, as in a few other Lynch-inspired games, the pastiche sometimes blurs the line between imitation and bowdlerization. To be sure, nothing in Mizzurna Falls seriously approaches the sexual and psychological traumas of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), whose tragedy unfolds across the entire Twin Peaks saga. And there’s only a slight hint of Blue Velvet’s amyl nitrate-laced mania. Yet, in its own way, the game does explore the ontological shock that cruel fathers generate, and it surveys its own “strange world.”

“Each of the characters had a hidden story to tell,” says Ishizuka, when I ask him what he liked about Twin Peaks. He also tells me about his own story. “I grew up in Choshi, a provincial city [in Japan],” he says. He found “little stimulation for young people” within those city limits; he yearned to “live in a different world.” The curiosity that drew him to a firehouse in Kichijoji, Tokyo — one of the inspirations behind The Firemen (1994), his debut game — was pushing him much further outward. 

In 1995, shortly before turning 22, Ishizuka began a long journey. He explored the UK and the US and then went on to Thailand, India, Nepal, and other parts of Asia. “[This] experience greatly influenced my life,” he says. National parks were among the indelible sights: “Yosemite and Zion [were] very inspiring for my subsequent creative work.” Mizzurna Falls, with its arboreal and mountainous atmosphere, hints at this fascination with the natural world.

“Every day I ponder the universal question: what is the essence of the world we live in?”

In the game, the player guides Matthew Williams, a high schooler whose classmate, Emma Rowland, has gone missing. An armchair detective a la Jeffrey Beaumont, Matthew follows Emma’s trail. He visits sundry locations, including a motel room that still bears the traces of a drug-fueled party. Eventually, he learns about Emma’s morbid interest in the “Death Journey Ritual,” which may allow her to commune with a higher power. Meanwhile, Emma’s friends and family are realizing how little they understood her. (In these respects, Mizzurna Falls does echo, however faintly, the secret agonies and temptations of Laura Palmer.)

The game also draws from Ishizuka’s philosophical interests, which were stoked by Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder’s Truman Show-esque 1991 novel. Emma dreams of “celestial hymns” and, upon waking, feels that her sublunary life is somehow not her own. Her character arc is redolent of Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealism, or the idea of being tethered to our own perceptions while “the secret names of truth” lurk outside of view.

“Every day I ponder the universal question: what is the essence of the world we live in?” Ishizuka says. “No one may be able to [fully] understand another person, but what you see through your own filter, as you see it, is ultimately the real thing.” In a Lynchian fashion, these emailed thoughts appear below his profile photo in which he is offering me a cheerful thumbs-up. 

The limits of perception notwithstanding, Ishizuka still seems to be seeking truths and wonders. Nowadays, his gaze routinely settles on the Canadian Rockies and the Sekita mountain range in Japan. He has also come to know the Kumano Kodō in Japan’s Kii Peninsula, among other trails. “At the age of 31, I decided to move to Canada,” he explains, alluding to a major career change. He entered the field of hiking guidance and was hired at Yamnuska Mountain Tours in Canmore, Alberta.

He has since become the CEO of the company, which organizes hiking and mountaineering activities in North America and Japan. When I ask him to compare this role to his work in the gaming industry, he tells me he’s been generally happy in his life. His past beckons (“sometimes I still want to make games”), but so does the future: “My life in Canada with nature has been very fulfilling.”

Wild bears occasionally saunter into view. “It can be very frightening,” he admits. (Here, my mind flashes back to the ursine threats of Mizzurna Falls.) But he refers to them as “truly beautiful creatures.” Ishizuka also believes that nature offers us a kind of model. “If we can understand the diversity in nature and reflect it in our civilized society, the world will be a more wonderful place.” There are Lynchian whispers in these stories, too. In The Return and many of his other works, Lynch accentuates both the dream of other realms and the dream that already envelops us. Our world is familiar and yet — Lynch tells us with refreshing earnestness — dazzlingly new.

Some dreams fade and others emerge. Woodcutters From Fiery Ships drew me in because, like any Lynch fan, I’m interested in arcana and in moods that haunt or ensorcell. Moreover, I’m always looking for new ways of being in the company of Lynch’s artistic voice and, therefore, in the company of whatever truths glitter at the margins of reality. But the rewards of this exploration also lie in the other half of the Woodcutters tale — in the conjured worlds of artists who, in far-flung times and places, have filled the gap and thoughtfully brought Lynch into their fold.

Here and elsewhere, Lynch’s work again calls to mind a fellow voyager. Swept up into our disparate journeys, his dreams intersect with our own as we drift toward a vanishing point. 

By 111 Tech

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