This cursed phrase has bouncing around my head and I keep thinking about how it sounds like a rallying cry for new experiences in games but is more a call for the same experiences you know, just made on a smaller scale. Nintendo games but made for only ~$4 million. It refers to Finji, Devolver, and the like, not the bedroom developer.
Games are a peculiar artform straddling the line between software and art. In my curation process I read every store page and so many of are just a list of features, meaningless invocations of terms like “alpha”, calls for feedback, and promises of regular updates and new content. But people do not need to pretend to be a business. A person making a game in their bedroom does not need to think about fiscal quarters. That this is all so many people have to say about their games can get disheartening.
I tend to get overly sentimental about art and storytelling but feel deeply that they can be transformative. Art can show you something about the world, other people, or even yourself that you haven’t seen before. It’s so much more than content to be consumed. I have read perhaps far too many comics in my life and I can’t say why. Something about the medium entices me. There is a way you can soak in the minutiae of a world and a story. I think that’s maybe why I feel their closeness to games?
But something drastically different (and this may be selection bias?) is that so often game design feels like people setting out to solve a problem. That understanding psychology is core to game design because it means you better understand how to manipulate a player.
This idea of putting together the correct pieces and best creating an addicting feedback loop will make a good game. Or maybe at least a successful one. As if the two are synonymous. It’s part of of why I keep looking for a language distinction for these “games as software” and “games as expression”. Terms like cinema and graphic novel are perhaps loaded with unnecessary pretension but I think games could use more pretension?
Pretentiousness, insufferable as it can be at its worst, is at least generally the product of people deeply caring about something. I think dislike for something that springs from passion for the medium can be quite healthy for the medium! And this feeling I crave and advocate for extends beyond any genre. What I crave is the desire to feel a humanity in a game. This feeling that *someone* made this game. That it exists beyond a collection of familiar mechanics and trends.
But it’s not just relegated to Story Games with “no gameplay” about Important Issues. It can be the way Baba Is You approaches Sokoban and asks to constantly reframe your way of thinking. It’s the way Breath of Fire can convey entire characters through battle animations.
Gaming culture rewards the familiar. How many games receive coverage or attention as “This upcoming game combines [Popular Game] with [Popular Game] to make a [Popular Genre] game”? (often with the name of the game not even mentioned the in the headline) Every day on itch and across the internet, people are putting out games that are challenging, defying, and redefining the medium. Creators just expressing themselves.
I suppose that’s why I make Indiepocalypse. I will bear the burden of being The Product and hopefully creators can just be themselves, making what they want to make. A freedom from the worries of needing to bend your ideas to desires of the day.