Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Indie Scene

While I can't say I follow the independent scene as much as I should, it is always enjoyable to see games that push the boundaries of the medium. Once upon a time, one of my student projects was featured in the IGF Student Showcase and I have been following the festival at GDC ever since. Over the last weekend, I attended IndieCade, which was held at the Bellevue Open Satellite Art Exhibition Hall. This venue was a good choice because it reinforced the idea of games as art. I went during a reception that reminded me of traditional art gallery showings, only with games in place of paintings or sculptures. Each station had a PC with one or two games set up along with a written artist statement and interview. In addition, every 30 minutes or so an artist representing one of the exhibits on display would stand up and discuss the motivation for creating their project. True to my experience at traditional art showings, there were some games I didn't entirely "get", but I had a great time regardless and enjoyed the unique experiences on display.

The thing I find odd is that we work in a primarily digital medium and there are a very limited number of ways to discover creative non-commercial and independent work. While I hope that initiatives such as Xbox Community Games begin to open the floodgates, I feel like there is a lot more work to be done. The delivery platform is part of the problem. I applaud game portals such as Manifesto Games for providing a hub to indie content, but I consume the majority of my games on consoles these days. The PC has been almost wiped out as a gaming platform to me because of my perception that most software tends to degrade the quality of my computer, sometimes in ways I don't even know about at install time.

Another piece of the problem is the lack of a larger organization to promote games on a more regular basis. Because games have a lot of usability issues that are not present in other mediums, I feel that the presentation needs to be polished more to ensure that the experience an artist had in mind is represented properly. A good example of when this issue arises happened to one of the games at IndieCade that required the use of a controller. The analog sticks on the controllers at that specific computer did not function well and the experience of the game was significantly diminished as a result. I do not blame this on the IndieCade organizers, but there is a part of me that feels a disconnect between what the exhibitioner and exhibitionist expected to be shown, which is where a unifying organizer would be beneficial.

Perhaps the other important piece of the indie scene problem originates from the content itself. It isn't getting people interested enough to set aside the comfortable mainstream games that make up the bulk of our time consumption. Some of this is a result of being trained over many years into an understanding of games that is too narrow while another part seems like a failed attempt to understand the potential of games as a medium.

Whatever the problems may be, it was certainly encouraging to see our medium promoted from another angle that doesn't get nearly enough exposure. I'll certainly keep my out for more of these events and do my best to get people to attend in the hopes that we can see the fruits of further experimentation.

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