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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