One of my favorite moments from The Sopranos is when "the family" is talking about the hurting economy, and how it is adversely affecting their profits. Tony Soprano asks Silvio Dante which two businesses are recession proof, to which he replies, "certain aspects of show business...and our thing." When he says "our thing" he is referring to the collective criminal activities of the mafia, the very lifestyle itself, and how crime is consistently profitable, even in darker times. It is something which would be difficult to articulate in any other way because it is a part of who they are; it interpenetrates every aspect of their lifestyle. In short, they are their crimes, their business, and it is impossible to explain what that means to anyone outside of that circle.
The generation I belong to and the games we grew up with, have a similar association. We don't look at video games as simple entertainment; they are something which has largely influenced our lives, for better or worse, and helped to make us into the people we are. The games we grew up with and the culture surrounding them is "our thing", and to an outsider of "our thing" it is very difficult to define exactly what that means. It is something the new generation of gamers who will have grown up exclusively on first person shooters and shrug casually at things like DLC cannot really understand, and it can't be explained to them, either.
When I think about the next generation of games, the consoles which we will use to play them on, and the future of publishers and developers, I am not so concerned or interested with the masses and what will appeal to them. I no longer feel like I fit in with the current generation of gamers, and the games they hold dear. Sure, the odd title emerges from a major developer once in awhile which has some lasting impact on me, but I'm largely numbed to most AAA titles and what they represent at this point. The personal, emotional attachment I feel towards games has mostly dissipated, and it is only really by playing on my nostalgia that major publishers keep me buying their games. A new Mario here, a new Sonic there, and a few handfuls of money out the door a year is the only fleeting connection I really have with the industry at large apart from the odd unique title which manages to slip through the cracks. So for me, there is "everything else", which I avoid apart from a few rare exceptions, and then there are indie games.
The term "indie" has come to describe a wide variety of genres and styles within the gaming world. It can mean anything from a new platformer, to strategy game like Endless Space, an open sandbox like Starforge, and to the countless art games and their copycats which are so desperately trying to give the medium of gaming a sense of substance and importance which is all too hard to come by in the world of brownish, similar looking and playing titles which are shoveled into gamers collective mouths en masse as cash is tossed back in the opposite direction. All "indie" implies is that the games were made by independent developers, usually self funded companies with a grant or a loan and a very small team who pour their hearts and minds into their creations and throw them unto to the mercy of the public - sometimes with great success, and sometimes to zero with a bullet. But the term implies something more; it speaks of a relative purity in gaming which evokes a better time, when all games were made this way, when the industry at large was a mere shadow of its current, titanic self.
In a way, these people are waging a silent war against the great industrial machine; a war where artistic integrity, creativity, and imagination are the spoils at stake. A sinister precedent is being set, and it is this festering cancer of overly transparent money grabbing efforts and abysmal business models which currently threatens to poison gaming as we know it, now and forever, if some serious efforts are not made to repel it.
The past few years have seen some of the most memorable and ingenious titles in the history of gaming; everything from Braid to Minecraft, World of Goo to Super Meat Boy, indie games have proved that they have the goods and are able to stand amongst giants and make their voices heard, sometimes by shrieking at the tops of their lungs, if necessary. It is an oppressive world of big wig companies, teams of thousands, and billions of dollars in an industry now bigger than Hollywood; the proverbial Goliath which these modern day Davids have to contend with. But they are doing so admirably, and for the people on board with "our thing", for those of us who have been sifting through the vapid wasteland of mediocrity to find something which is able to give us the thrill of our younger years, back when games were new and unfettered by an industry gone numb, attention is being paid. We are playing, praising, and paying for the things we know to be truly special, and this is a trend that needs to continue so that true creativity is never completely swallowed up among the great bovine buffet of worthless junk food games which the huddled masses so greedily devour.
I don't want to take away from the folks in the larger industry who have worked hard to manifest their ideas, either. Indie games are not infallible because they are indie, they simply have a tendency to be more thoughtful and creative due to the lack of any real imposing restrictions. This is not a war between people after all; it is one of integrity and ideas. Many of my favorite developers work as cogs in that great machine, and are still pumping out memorable experiences of their own which deserve to be acknowledged, and they are doing so regardless of the limitations imposed upon them. But the restrictions they face, and the hands off approach some of them must take so that a hundred others can have their say can be horribly oppressive, and I think good games come out of the larger industry despite
it, not because
of it. The creative minds who have been able to stand out in said industry are allowed to flourish only because they have made a name for themselves, along with a hefty bag of gold coins or two as a result of their success, while everyone else is fighting tooth and nail for that same opportunity. For every decent title that comes out, a few dozen abominations usually follow, so the overall success rate of independent or otherwise small developers to produce memorable, worthwhile games is probably at least marginally higher. I would dare to say that had Notch worked for EA, or Phil Fish for Activision, that experiences like Minecraft and Fez would have never stood a chance being approved for development; the risk of failure would simply be too great, and risk is not something big companies look upon highly.
My hope for the next generation of gaming, then, is quite a simple one; regardless of which platform provider is in the forefront, whichever giant is absorbing the most money from the masses, I want to see independent development teams continuing to wage the battle full bore against their monolithic adversaries. I want to see games which are made by people, not the profit hungry, taking the spotlight consistently, with other young budding developers taking note of the success of these willing martyrs and following in their footsteps. I want the next generation to be completely regressive in a sense, going back to the way things used to be done; while the giants will be focused on free to play models, DLC, and DRM, I want to see indie devs continue to trod a more dangerous road, making games which put gameplay first while simultaneously ignoring the pleas of the money hungry who would tell them, "No! Profit is THIS way! The path of creativity leads to financial failure, the path of least resistance, to victory!"
In short, I want to see them fight the war for gaming, fight to perpetuate "our thing", because it is their thing, too; because they are part of a generation which understands what made games truly great in the first place, understands that it is dreams, not of success or money, which should inspire them to pursue their goal of creating new experiences for anyone with an eye to see, an ear to listen, and heart to play.
No matter what happens in the future, games will always be here. But their quality, and what they ultimately evolve into is in the hands of the creative, of the risk takers, of those willing to take a bullet and hope for a miracle. Whether they put their games out for the Wii U, the new Playstation, Xbox, or PC, as long as they are great games which push the boundaries of what the medium can do for us, the gamers, is all that really matters. Of equal importance however, is how we respond; that we make sure we support those who deliver the goods, and shun the ones whose meager "efforts" are as transparent and flimsy as they hope our wallets will be. Without a little discrimination, without taking a stand and deciding to help fight this war of ideologies between the creatively inspired and the profit driven, this industry will truly become a second Hollywood during the upcoming generation, and we will all be forced to feast on a perpetual diet of Michael Bay equivalent big budget monstrosities until we all see the world through the very same lens in which those joyless, sepia machinations are filtered.
One without color, wonder, or imagination.
LOOK WHO CAME: