When she’s not burning the midnight oil toiling over history papers, Alyssa Campanella spends her late nights reading through the Game of Thrones books. She knows the difference between R2-D2 and R5-D4. To pass the time, she been known to play a videogame or two. By all accounts, even her own, she’s a nerd. But there’s a twist to this story - Alyssa Campanella also happens to be Miss America 2011. The woman who wears the crown also gets giddy over Star Wars and can’t wait to see Tyrion Lannister again next year. But for some people, that just doesn’t define their idea of what it means to be a nerd.
It wasn’t that long ago that the word “nerd” came rolling off the tongue like a four-letter slur. The word used to conjure up visions of dark basements, miniature figurines, and taped glasses. Times have changed and with it, we need to re-evaluate what makes a nerd a nerd. With so much science fiction, video games, and technology permeating our world, I say that it’s no wonder that we crowned a nerd or put one in the White House. Zombie walks, pub trivia nights, videog ames on practically every device; being a nerd didn’t just become the cool thing to do. People have just realized that it’s really the fun to do.
And what does this have to do with indie games? Everything, of course.
Redefining the Outsider
In the beginning, they were little more than good ideas on diskettes. (If you don’t know what a diskette is, you can just look it up in the encyclopedia. It should be right beside VHS tapes, Charlie Sheen’s career, and encyclopedias.) Indie games have been around as long as people have been creating games. Paying for everything yourself and selling it out of the back of your station wagon used to be the independent in indie games. With the changing technology, budding developers post their wares online. Others have found third parties such as Steam or XBLIG to host their games. Then you have games like The Ball that dip into this gray area where the developers receive some outside money and gain a publisher. Can you still call it indie? (The answer is: of course. Let’s not get carried away here, kids.)
With new technology like Kickstarter and smaller development teams growing and even changing hands at times, it’s time that we came up with new criteria for what makes an indie game. Here are the three criteria that I think every indie game should cover:
Independence – Indie games have always been about freedom of expression of the developers. Sometimes that expression comes in the form of a design-driven story with a boy wandering through the forest. Other times, you’re an octopus just trying to disguise yourself as a mild-mannered father. Often we think that this sort of independence comes in the form of dollars. but sometimes you have to work with the man just to get your game out to the public. But you don’t have to sell your soul to do it. Starting from scratch with your ideas on a napkin, and seeing them through to fruition no matter what the end platform while maintaining your vision. That's independent.
Community – If there’s one thing that always surprises me about indie games is how much of a close-knit of a community has developed around these games. It only makes sense that developers and players would be constantly feeding each other information. In many cases such as Magicka, new content or ideas have spawned from this interaction. The community stretches to other indie developers as well as they share ideas or often work in cooperation to develop new games. Go to any show like Indiecade and you’re bound to find programmers joining forces to create amazing games like B.U.T.T.O.N.
Ideas – There’s something courageous about making your main character out of meat, designing a game around getting stood up on a dinner date, or spending months on a crazy idea that might not be popular. More often than not, it’s the unpopular ideas that innovate the industry. It’s someone taking a chance rather than taking the familiar and worn path that changes how we look at games. These ideas need to be daring not for the sake of the gamer – but for that of the industry.
I’ll be the first to admit, the criteria is rather broad. Already, you probably have three or four mainstream titles lined up in your head that completely break these rules. I would rather encompass more games than not enough. A larger group means a stronger community. Without new blood and new ideas, the community would surely stagnate. If anything, we are going to see more games and developers edge into this gray area as these highly creative titles become more mainstream. Even from the very beginning, indie games have always been about breaking molds, not creating new ones.
The New (Indie) World Order
With so many games now wearing the indie moniker, does the name hold any meaning? Yes and no. With the barrier of entry into development lower than ever before, the market is nearly flooded with indie games of all types. As companies dissolve, more professionals are looking towards smaller teams to create everything from iPhone games to console releases. Downloadable games are not only a viable market, but an economical solution to an industry that won’t bend below the 60 dollar price tag. But with that said, the indie community is stronger than ever with new ideas and an audience closely in touch with the creators of the game. With your help, we can make it even stronger – starting today.
I started this column awhile back because I believed that some of the best games in the world were not getting the attention that they deserved. Imaginative, thought-provoking, passionate; it’s these games that are the future of gaming and will redefine what video games mean to the player. The one thing that indie games have always lacked is a good platform. Most of the games only need to be seen by the right person for them to become popular. If you know of a game, a developer, a team, a kickstarter campaign, or a gem that’s been overlooked; send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you put INDIE TIP in the subject line so I don’t mistake it for all those get-rich-quick-penis-enlargement scams. Once a month, I’m going to break out the purple velvet suit with the fur-lined collar and I will pimp as many games as possible. I might not be able to code my way out of a loading screen, but I can definitely spread the love for some of these brilliant games.