Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ramblings: Why I'm An Indie Gamer

On the merits of indie gaming
(This was originally posted in response to the thread Indie > AAA on NeoGAF)
When I first posted here in July, I had only recently gotten into PC gaming. Now almost seven months later, I wanted to share my thoughts on the debate again from a more informed perspective. In those months, I've found myself immersed in the indie gaming scene. I rarely touch my consoles anymore, I check r/IndieGaming and TIGForum everyday, and have become one of the primary contributors to the NeoGAF monthly Indie Games threads, as well as the author of my own blog focused on indie gaming.
To say it was a radical shift, and an unexpected one at that, is probably an understatement. A year ago, even less than a year ago, I would have never imagined myself to be such an advocate for indie gaming. While I had dabbled in freeware and flash games over the years, I was always primarily a console gamer, mainly Playstation, since I was a kid. Between Uncharted, God of War, pretty much anything by Rockstar, I always loved games with the best visuals, crazy set pieces, bombastic action, etc....you know, the typical AAA experience.
However, I found myself less enamored by the wonders of AAA gaming as I got older. Now don't get me wrong, I'm still impressed by and enjoy big-budget console gaming as much as the next guy. The Last of Us is probably one of my favorite games of 2013, maybe even all time. But as games shifted more towards online focused, and many just seeming rote and uninspired, I was looking for original and unique experiences to play. And I found them in indie games
Personally I feel that gaming is the most innovative art medium out there. It's definitely the youngest, and definitely has to grow and develop more before being appreciated on the same level as literature and film, but I still feel that gaming is the one form of art that can truly immerse you in an experience, through a multi-faceted array of the visual, audio, narrative, and of course the interactive element. While many AAA games seems to only represent gaming as entertainment, the indie side of gaming has embraced the medium as an art form and in this way, continue to deliver unique original experiences that just can't be found anywhere else and certainly wouldn't be attempted by AAA publishers.
There are several reasons why I feel indie gaming is so much more rewarding than its AAA counterpart. Perhaps the most evident is the closeness between developer and community. While Ubisoft, Rockstar, Square Enix may communicate with its fanbase through community managers and the like, more often than not, indie developers have a direct line of communication between themselves and their fans, through devlogs, Tumblrs, Twitters, and forums. It's this closeness and transparency that makes indie development, in many ways, feel like a conversation between creator and community, more intimate than the relationship between fanbase and publisher.
The other reason and probably the one that intrigues me the most is the seemingly endless depth of originality and diversity that indie games offer. Put aside the notions and biases, look beyond those common cries of "It's all 2D pixel art platformers" and "Everything's inspired by Dark Souls", and you'll find a wide expanse of unique titles of all genres, styles, and themes.
In 2013 alone, I played the bleak hopeless tale of Gods Will Be Watching, delved into twisting meta-rabbit hole that was The Stanley Parable, fought for desperate survival and died under the cold rain in the roguelike Neo Scavenger. I explored an abstract frontier in Mirrormoon EP and discovered unexplored worlds in Outer Wilds. I watched my plans fall apart in blood and anarchy in Prison Architect, dropped tangos with timing and precision in Door Kickers, endured bullet hell mayhem in Assault Android Cactus. I become the lynchpin in fates both big and small in Papers Please, I admired the fluid artistry of Dust: An Elysian Tail, and honed my skills in the frantic Samurai Gunn.
That was only 2013. 2014 is even more promising, between the free-form rocket-propelled platforming of Cloudbuilt, the Greek mythos given life in Apotheon, the hyper-kinetic high-speed Distance, from the atmospheric worlds of Hyper Light Drifter and Rain World to the first-person adventure awaiting in The Witness and Routine. And that's only a fraction of what indie gaming in 2014 has to offer. And the fact that each and every day I discover new promising experiences that I had never heard of before, speaks volumes about the diversity and potential of independent gaming
However there is a final element that makes indie gaming worthwhile and worthy of your time and attention and it's an element that's easily summed up in one word: "independent." Indie developers are free to express ideas, values, narratives that just wouldn't be profitable or perhaps be deemed unfit for mainstream gamers. Would Rockstar or Ubisoft seek to tackle the subject of cancer and its effect on family (That Dragon, Cancer) or lead a player through a world crafted from the history of typography (Type:Rider)? Would a game about a troubled girl's childhood (Journal) focus test well enough to see release or would an experience about building massive self-sustaining autonomous factories on alien worlds (Factorio) be considered too complex and complicated to be released without hand-holding and myriad tutorials and tips? Indie developers are able to breathe life into their wildest concepts and most personal experiences, unfettered by the restrictions and barriers of AAA development, able to tackle concepts and themes that big mainstream developers can't or won't.
But in the end, it doesn't matter if a game has pixel graphics, or is inspired by Dark Souls, or is on IOS, or is an mobile-to-PC port, or is indie or AAA or whatever. What matters, what should always come first, is the gameplay, the experience itself. Is the game good, is it worth playing, is it fun, is it enjoyable? Doesn't matter the platform, or budget, or team size; a good game is a good game, period. Perhaps that's what we should strive for, not to enjoy or dismiss games because they're labelled as indie or AAA,, but to judge a game by the depth of its experience and the wonder of its artistry, by the quality of its gameplay,

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