How Indie Video Game Makers Are Changing the Game

In a follow-up to its feature on Glitch Art, which we wrote up in August, PBS’s Off Book series has released this short video promoting indie video games. The video packs a lot of information into a very short time frame, so it’s worth watching twice. Overall, the takeaway here is that indie game designers can do innovative, quirky things the big guys–the so-called AAA games–can’t, since the indies can fund their own projects through entities like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. It’s a persuasive message given the amazing variety of sound and vision on display; in seven and a half minutes, we get a glimpse of over two dozen indie games ranging from throwbacks to classic 8-bit animation to gorgeous, painterly environments and landscapes.

The Off Book video breaks its subject into four basic categories, each one covered by different gaming journalists or game creators: Mechanics, Sound, Visuals, and Storytelling. The last category is particularly important since it really is an emotional engagement with a game’s characters and plotlines that pushes people through the game. At least I can say that’s always been the case for me. My fondest memories of the games I sat up all night with are those that pulled me into a world through, yes, fancy graphics and complex moves, but even more so through narrative: from the simple, repetitive tales of the Mega Man series to the globetrotting intrigues of Tomb Raider. For someone who remembers the first incarnations of both of those games, it’s exciting to see indie game designers drawing on nostalgia—in graphic presentation and in the small craft studio production teams—while also integrating contemporary sounds and ideas. Like many of their contemporaries in various indie music niches, indie game designers are pushing the medium forward by scaling back to basics and by drawing on the treasures of their past.

Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

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