I don’t think anyone would disagree that last year was a hard year for gaming, both in terms of titles not reaching their assumed potential and various controversies surrounding the problematic portions of gaming culture. By no means am I already writing this year off, but on the more mainstream side, this year is already getting off to a rocky start with game developers being exposed (further) for their shitty practices and ridiculous DLC offerings like that of Evolve. Though I’m still looking forward to the no doubt good things this year has yet to bring (such as No Man’s Sky), I’m tired. I’m tired of people still thinking Gamergate is a legitimate soapbox to stand on; I’m tired of female developers being harassed out of the business; I’m tired of companies shilling out the same fucking game with a different skin and a different white scruffy dude with brown hair—as voiced by Troy Baker—protagonist. Luckily, I can still find hope in the indie scene.
Maybe I was disconnected from the scene, or maybe it just speaks to how far independent projects have come, but when I was a child I remember the indie scene a little differently. Experiencing an indie games, in my eyes, was getting on some site like Newgrounds and playing a poorly drawn point-and-click game, or some sprite-based platformer that was almost like Mario, but with a kingdom-full of ill-timed swears. These days, the selection is only limited by one’s own imagination: if you can think of it, there’s probably a game for it. The minds behind the documentary GameLoading: Rise Of The Indies, Anna Brady and Lester Francois (who make up StudioBento), celebrate this new era of selection and exploration in the medium. More importantly in my eyes, though, is the celebration of passion.
Just as any movie buff loves film or any sports fan loves watching intense games, video game fans are passionate about games. What ends up separating the game lovers from, perhaps, other hobbies, is that while only some people go on to make movies or join sports teams, for those who love video games, creating games has never been more accessible. Even if one doesn’t know how to code from scratch or have a tablet to create homegrown graphics, programs like RPG Maker and GameMaker provide content creators with a set of tools that let people create entire stories with a few simple clicks. In fact, some of the break-out indie hits of the recent years—like To The Moon or Ib—were created entirely with those programs.
Watching the short excerpt from GameLoading, nothing is more clear than the love these indie game developers have for their hobby. I mean, who else would ride on a train for two days across the US, devoting a bulk of that time to working with three other people to create something? (I’ve never watched a game jam before, but their enthusiasm is inspiring! …Even if I fully admit I probably wouldn’t be that driven, especially on a train.) The love of playing and creating video games, as the documentary shows, brings out a diverse set of ideas and mechanics, but it also allows a diverse group of people too: women, people of different ethnicities, and I’m sure many LGBTQ+ developers as well all get to lend their voice equally to the documentary and this new wave of games.
As indie developers continue to tackle the stories they want to tell in the medium while
discussing thought-provoking questions like “does a game necessarily need to be fun to be entertaining?” I think we can expect this corner of the market to keep growing and bringing in more and more new, previously marginalized voices. Although the Kickstarter for GameLoading is way past over, the film is coming out to a select group of theaters in March. If you’re able to catch it at PAXEast or at any of the premieres (as listed on their Kickstarter page), I urge you to go and support StudioBento. If none of those dates work out, StudioBento is planning for a future online release as well. In a medium that seems to be losing the originality and innovation that drew people to it in favor of a “successful formula”, it’s heartwarming to see so many people willing to take the chances that AAA devs just seem unwilling to take anymore. More than any promise of flashy graphics and new combat systems, these people are the ones who give me hope for the future.