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Indie Games – A digital self portrait

I’ve been playing video games for decades. My sisters asked for dolls, I asked for video games. This fascination with pixels and the enchanting worlds it could create grew with me into adulthood. No other medium was able to captivate, challenge or cause an immersion as completely as video games were able to.

That was until a fateful day in December last year when the magic stopped.

I’ve had my fill of the same formula being repeated year after year. The only aspects that changed were better graphics and physics. The stories were fundamentally the same, the challenges hardly exceptional. I just couldn’t connect to games anymore. The problem was that the medium didn’t grow with its audience. Developers improved on game mechanics but failed to explore a wider spectrum of the human experience.

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As any internet junkie would do in times of desperation, I googled my sorrow away, and the internet did not disappoint. I read about an Indie game called To the Moon, and for lack of anything better to do, I played it. The graphics were horribly wrong, there were no guns, and hardly any decisions to make. It felt more like an interactive story than a game, and I loved every second of it. This game touched me on a deeply personal level. It defiantly bypassed all I’ve come to know about “good gaming” and instead took me on a road less travelled.

And I discovered Indie games. I firmly believe that Indie games are the womb that births the new experience gamers are desperately seeking for.

AAA titles are audience driven, whereas Indie titles are essentially a digital self portrait of the developer, or at least a window into the mind and soul of the developer. In Indie Game: The Movie, Jonathan Blow says this about creating the Indie hit Braid, one of the highest-rated games of all time. “Making it was about me taking my deepest flaws and vulnerabilities and putting that into a game.” Just think about that a minute. How would playing a game that is at its core a deeply personal and intimate story of another individual, impact the player? You have to play an Indie game and experience this, to be able to understand its significance in a market that is oversaturated with faceless, generic titles. In order for video games to evolve and mature, we desperately need them to be about something more than bigger guns, higher resolution explosions and mindless killing. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good shoot ‘em up, but I also want games that can be a catalyst for reflection and change. I’m also not saying every Indie game will be a deeply emotional journey, but that Indie developers have the autonomy to create games where the end product delivers the intention of its creator, as opposed to what the wider audience want. Should they choose to do so, Indie developers can leave big chunks of whom they are embedded in their games, and this enables players to latch onto and identify with the game in a unique way. Indie games are able to deliver an interactive experience on multiple levels; be it a reflection on loss (Dear Esther), a journey of solitude and beauty (Journey) or a celebration of ingenuity (Minecraft).

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  “…even though it’s a game that people are supposed to buy, it’s not a game I made for people. I made it for myself. Ed and I made it as a reflection of ourselves and we tried to make it as fun and as accessible as possible. Tommy Refenes, Super Meat Boy programmer.

Indie games will not replace AAA titles; it just gives gamers a wider selection to choose from. It has the potential to tap into more of the human psyche and provide an interactive experience that surpasses the rattle of gunfire. Please share with us your thoughts about the Indie games you’ve played.

Check out this teaser trailer from Indie studio, White Paper Games' first title, Ether.

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