The Lack of an Indie Aesthetic

Greg Costikyan presents a new rant at the Escapist.

The problem is that once something becomes technically feasible, the market demands it. Gamers themselves are partly to blame: Indie rock fans may prefer somewhat muddy sound over some lushly-orchestrated, producer-massaged score; indie film fans may prefer quirky, low-budget titles over big-budget special FX extravaganzas; but in gaming, we have no indie aesthetic, no group of people (of any size at least) who prize independent vision and creativity over production values.

And this I think is true – consumers share the blame … The game audience must mature in order for the game industry to mature.

12 thoughts on “The Lack of an Indie Aesthetic”

  1. The best way to make this happen is to support quality indie games – buy directly from the developers where possible, tell friends about the stuff you really like. If indie games start building up buzz at the fringes, the press will take more notice of them, and that in turn will make more consumers aware of them, and eventually an average “gamer d00d” will come to recognize the meta-aesthetic even if he personally doesn’t get swept up in the scene… “Oh yeah, it’s one of those indie games. Some of them are actually neat, even if they don’t have the best graphics. A friend of mine is really into them”, etc.

    This has already happened a few times… Introversion’s Darwinia was reviewed recently by some major publications, even though it’s been out for many months. It’s like the mainstream finally had to admit the game existed. Victories like this will change the industry slowly but surely.

  2. Indeed. And it’s also hard for an indie audience to emerge if no-one makes games worthy of such hardcore praise.

    Indie developers, especially, have the freedom to innovate, and it’s a crying shame when they can only ever come up with Tetris and Breakout clones. Indie programmers either have to incedentally have excellent game design skills, or have to find and collaborate with indie designers who are finding it hard to make their break.

    Coders: Pair up with a designer if you haven’t got a brain for design. Designers: find a willing coder to bounce ideas with.

    Ultimately, use your freedom to make something special. If you ever get mainstream, your chances of doing that again are slim at best.

  3. Heck, we don’t even have a mod aesthetic any more. Any mod that doesn’t come sporting a ton of new models and skins of professional quality might are almost impossible to pass by gamers these days.

  4. Yeah. There was a golden age of modding, when you could tweak a shotgun’s spread value, and call it art. Now it’s just as much about polish and presentation as AAA games are.

  5. Okay, are we talking about video games or rap music? Or both?
    Seriously, the parallels are uncanny.
    Is it about the fans or the brands? Style or substance?
    Is hip-hop/video games corrupting our youth? (Settle down there, Lieberman)
    What’s with all the violence?
    Has video game/hip-hop culture been co-opted?

    Isn’t it veird?

    However I reject the free-market democracy argument, ‘let them eat dog food!’. Are the millions of dollars in marketing really spent in vain? The only reason we have no substance in video games is because it constitutes a risk investors don’t have the balls to take. There are unknown masses of potential gamers disenfranchised or otherwise not yet engaged because of the narrow focus of game genres and publishers. As game theorists and designers we have a responsibility not to allow economics to define what constitutes a good game.

  6. Perhaps the hip-hop analogy is not that bad.

    As long as hip-hop was underground, there was no need for an “indie” hip-hop aesthetic, but once hip-hop became a mass phenomenon, a defined “underground” or “indie” hip-hop has to appear.

    The thing about video games is that while they are mass phenomena, they are constantly being demonized by people like Lieberman and now Hillary Clinton. This makes it feel at least marginally rebellious just to play any video game, and hence there is less of a position for the identity-defining feeling of being an “alternative” game player.

    If such a thing as an indie game player existed today, he/she should be rejecting Halo, BF1942, WOW… and only play, perhaps, Darwinia and Puzzle Pirates?

  7. I know plenty of gamers who reject games for feeling “too commercial”, especially recently. “187 Drive or Die” has had a lot of critisism thrown purely at its indulgence in all hip hop related cliches and stereotypes, and it isn’t alone.

    One particular friend has been boycotting EA’s games since he saw a side by side comparison of the MegaDrive Road Rash trilogy, and couldn’t tell the difference.

    Indie players do exist. There’s just not that many of them yet.

  8. I’ve been on Costik’s rant at the GDC and that inspired me to actually do something and stop ranting. That’s why I have created the site, so all gamers/developers that share his views can unite in that particular site and debate on how the indie aesthetics should be or what can be really done.


  9. I find myself in this particular conversation fairly often. The problem is that there aren’t indie/underground/avant games. The problem is that there isn’t a vibrant community supporting them. To that end, congrats to Santiago for creating his hub. We need places for people to gather, and personally, I feel that the more of them that aren’t in cyberspace the better.

    Most of the brilliant avant games I come across are installation pieces- you can read about them online, but you can’t expirience them. In my opinion, the answer is to ressurect the arcade. Someone needs to bring the [physical] games together, and that will bring the people together. We need a flash point. Underground gaming needs a SoHo. To quote Kinsella, ‘If you build it, they will come.’

  10. What about art games, interactive fiction, political games, those little flash games that have their links forwarded madly for a few weeks – aren’t they indie games? The idea that indie games should have an INDUSTRY seems a little backward?

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