Oh man. It’s time to tackle that big question: “What is Indie?” You’d think a publication that has the word “Indie” in its title, is staffed by primarily “Indie” fans and publishes articles exclusively and exhaustively on the subject of everything ‘”Indie” under the sun, that we’d sorta know what the bloody word actually means by now. Well, it turns out we don’t. It turns out no one does. It turns out that not a week goes by where I don’t hear someone meekly ask their fellow gaming compatriots whether or not GAME X is ‘Indie’ or not, only to be subsequently thrown aback by the crashing waves of wildly conflicting opinions on the matter until they find themselves gasping for air as they plunge deeper into an ocean of bickering, twisted logic and malice. It turns out this is a problem. So I’ve decided that, for the good of all the game lovin’ peeps everywhere, I’m gonna figure this shit out right here, right now!
Alright then. Let’s start this thing from the top: “Indie” is short for “independent”, right? And a game studio can be “independent”, i.e. not owned, funded or aided by the money of a publisher. So………..there ya’ go, then! Problem solved! Jeez, why have you guys been struggling with this one for so long? This question’s a cinch! Yup. Without a doubt, I have just crafted an ironclad definition that, as a community, we can all agree is 100% accurate:
1. A video game created “independently” from publishers.
HAHA. Oh man. I even fooled myself for a sec there! I mean, good lord, if only it really was that simple! Well, actually it would seem there’s plenty of people out there who DO think it’s that simple, and who are more than willing to cause one hell of a ruckus about it…….when it suits them. For a rather unflattering example, one need only think back to the 11th month of the 32nd year of our lord Notch (known to some as May 2012), when the unholy titan of evil, Electronic Arts, dared unleash a plague of cut-price video games upon the fair province of Steam. The name of this abomination? The EA “Indie” bundle.
All at once, what seemed like the entire population of planet Earth (along more than a couple of douchebags jumping on the bandwagon) did cry out in furious anger, “THAT. IS NOT. INDIE.” Yes, this was an issue that got the hardcore fanatics so wound up that they started polishing off their pitchforks and declared a jolly good witch-hunt for anyone even vaguely involved in the affair.
Even in retrospect, this seems like it was a completely rational and sensible response response to the whole thing. I mean goddamn, HOW DARE THEY DO THIS? A publisher of all things trying to pass off clearly tainted tripe like Deathspank (which, sarcasm aside, did kinda suck) and Shank 2 as true, pure “Indie” products! Sacrilege, that’s what it is! Everyone knows that contracts with big mean ol’ publishers are strictly forbidden! ‘Tis our highest law after all, one punishable only by incessant whining and a few poorly worded Tumblr posts!
Well, hey, guess what? Under that same stupid logic, Super Meat Boy ain’t “Indie” either. Nor is Fez, Braid (i.e. the stars of “Indie” Game: The Movie) Bastion, Journey, Limbo or innumerable other members of the Indie pantheon that many of us so willingly worship without question. It’s no secret that they all had contracts and deals with publishers, which is why most of us have even heard of them in the first place! If we really want to move forward as a culture, then we’ve gotta face facts: simply looking at whether the devs have colluded with a publisher is a terrible barometer for “Indie” credibility. So please, for the love of God, let’s stop doing it!
So, now that we’ve put that B.S. aside for a sec, let’s have a little think about what it is we’re actually trying to imply with the word “Indie”. That’s easier said than done, of course, as it’s probably one of the most loaded words in the English language. It conjures up vague (with a lot of emphasis on the “vague” part) images of small teams working on shoestring budgets and impossible deadlines in order to create some revolutionary tour de force that’s full of so much raw passion and creativity that it’ll likely change the way we look at games forever*.
*That’s Indie speak for “it’s a 2D, 8-bit platformer with some random physics puzzle bollocks thrown in”.
Right, so how about this one then?
1. A game produced by a small development team using extremely limited resources.
Hmmm. It sounds alright, I guess. But I think we may need a case study to test this new definition. Let’s saaaaaaaaay……….Hawken.
You guys, Hawken is really cool. I mean REALLY cool. It’s about robots shooting each other n’ stuff, plus the graphics are so shit-hot that it’s like getting a sneak peak at high-end AAA gaming circa 2 years from now. I would hope that I don’t need to explain to you why both those things make Hawken totally bitchin’. But that’s irrelevant really. What matters here is that it’s ostensibly an “Indie” project, at least according to the world at large anyway (you’ll find recent talk of it on almost all major Indie gaming blogs). You can easily see why people would call it “Indie” too. After all, the Hawken dev team did start off as just a small bunch o’ dudes equipped with nothing but a dream, some cheap/free software and a garage turned into a makeshift office. That, my friends, is Indie as shit.
Now, here are 4 ways they also make a complete mockery of the term “Indie” or at least definition I of it I mentioned above anyway.
- The dev team now have over 10 million freaking dollars of venture capital funding behind them.
- They threw an E3 party. Take a deep breath and read that one again. E. Three. Party. Seriously guys, fucking Snoop Dogg was there!
- I reiterate: Snoop Dogg.
- Oh! And they totally have a big-ass publisher contract now, for those of you that care.
What this tells us is that the whole “tiny team, tiny budget” angle is also total bunk, because despite everything I just said, there’s many people out there still insist on calling Hawken an “Indie” title. Even with all the money, the publisher, the glitz and the Snoop Doggy doggness, in many a person’s heart Hawken still encapsulates what THEY feel is in the spirit of the “Indie” movement. Crazy people like me, for instance.
I call Hawken “Indie” because, to me, all that word means is that the devs are the ones callin’ the creative shots, and not some big publisher executive dude. Is that what most people think? No. Is what “most people” think also what most OTHER people think? No.
And really, that’s the root of all evil here. We all got into this weird scene for different reasons. Some people detested the direction that the AAA sector was/is going, some people like to see tributes to the games of their childhood, and others just like being hipster wankers. But whatever our reasons were, ever since we got here we’ve all (myself included) been like, “Oh, ‘Indie’ means this” or “Actually, ‘Indie’ means that”. We’ve all been so obsessed for so long that the word “Indie” represents our particular attachment to the scene, that we’ve totally forgotten what “Indie” even is.
Protip: It’s a word.
It’s not a mystical rune forged by the elder gods, one whose power can only be divined after years of careful study and deliberation with fellow scholars. It’s a word. A combination of sounds we can make with our mouths. A sound that only exists so that we can label the stuff we wanna talk about without having to spend all day explaining it. That’s it. That’s all it is, and all it ever will be. A silly little label we made up for convenience’s sake. A label we abused the shit out of. A label we tried so hard to cram as many possible conflicting emotions and opinions into at once, that now all we have left is…….this:
1. A word that now means nothing, and it’s everyone’s fault.
I can’t help but feel we should be looking to the music industry for guidance here. Sure, maybe they get a little carried away with the whole labelling thing sometimes, but at least they’re TRYING to figure this shit out. Think about it, there’s regular-ass Grunge and there’s Post-grunge, so why can’t there be Indie and Post-Indie? Or Alternative Indie, or Heavy Indie, or Acoustic Indie, or Indie-Indie or just about anything that’ll let us all have our own way with the word and end this zero-sum war? And since when did we become so bloody obsessed with trying to give our scene one singular, absolute label anyway?
Perhaps we’re just victims of our own success. Whatever this “Indie” thing is, it evolved faster than any of us could have imagined. Day by day, the barrier for entry in the game making biz is getting lower, making every year feel like the dawn of a new era of progress and discovery. But meanwhile, our lexicon has been content to simply sit on its arse all day and fiddle with its navel. Maybe with a bit more time to mature we’ll manage figure that part of the puzzle out, but it sure don’t look like that’s happening any time soon.
So, wanna hear my short term solution in the meantime? Stop giving a shit and count your blessings. Seriously, have you heard audiophiles talk about the difference between Grunge and Post-grunge? That stuff is the very definition of monotony! I bet even if we did subcategorise indie, we’d probably still spend way too long arguing about what game goes in what category, and far too little time actually playing the damn things.
I’m sure there are plenty of the fanatics out there who’d crucify me for showing such indifference over the most debated topic of our age and all, but……. hey. Come on guys. Can’t a good game just be a good game? Does it really matter THAT much what “indie” really means? Can’t we just…. oh…it does matter?
Well. Alright then.