Over the next thirty days I will be playing one indie game per day. My intention is to play many different types of indie games: From those that are as fun and traditional as Cave Story to games as obtuse and experimental as The Marriage. I don’t have a triptych or the equivalent of a summer reading list, just a few recommendations from our in house indie game expert Jordan Deam, hopefully some suggestions in the comments of this article and the firm rule that I have to play at least one new game each day for thirty days.
I’m hoping I will have to wade through piles of tedious, boring and conceptual games. I’m hoping to encounter more than a few outright failures along the way. But mostly, I’m just excited that gaming has reached a point where I can sit down for an hour each night and dive into something that challenges and frustrates me. I’m sure more than a few of the games I play will be fun, but I’m hoping that at least as many won’t be.
The problem with fun is that it occupies only a small portion of my life. And when the only games I play are fun, they end up trivialized as a small piece of my larger experience. I want games to permeate other areas of my life besides the comfortable relaxing bits. That’s what our really great creative works do: They inform and color all aspects of our life. I’m not suggesting anyone turn their noses up at Team Fortress 2. On the contrary, I’m sure I’ll be playing that right along with my one indie game a day.
I’m also not trying to suggest that consoles and triple A releases are a wasteland of carnival ride material. There are certainly many very popular games that deal in all sorts of difficult emotions, but major releases tend to operate at extremes: you’re saving the world, a major character just died, some horrifying sight greets you around every corner. There’s definitely a time for all of that. But I wonder if indie games might offer a wider variety of experience. Can games also address the more mundane aspects of our lives in an equally interesting way? After all, I make room for this kind of variety with other mediums.
I wouldn’t call The Sopranos a particularly entertaining show to watch, in fact it was often pretty excruciating and painful. But America tuned in every Sunday for six seasons. At first to follow the drama of Mafia crime life, but eventually because they identified with the pathos depicted in its portrayal of suburban domesticity. It wasn’t a pleasant exercise, watching that show, but each Sunday TV reached deeper into my daily life than the parade of satisfying dramas and sitcoms.
Books hold a similar appeal for me as well. One of my favorite books is Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. It’s simply a collection of letters from a preacher at the end of his life to his son. The letters are mostly just about his life as a small town minister and the few small dramas therein. This is not a book that jumps off the shelf at the bookstore. But it feels true, and when I read it I felt connected to it in a real way. I’ve often felt a connection with videogames, but on a more mythic, allegorical level.
This desire for something more ordinary holds true for movies as well; I love a well made action movie. Lately, if it’s got Daniel Craig and a gun you can bet I’ll probably see it. However I once saw a short film by Stan Brackhage called Mothlight, which consisted of carefully taped bug and plant detritus on the actual film stock. It wasn’t entertaining, horrifying or particularly tense but it was a sensory revelation. It conjured almost tangible memories of summer evenings, sounds and smells I’d long forgotten. Now, when I see insects flying around a bright light in the warmer months I not only think back to my childhood but to that film as well. I wonder if I will find a game in these coming weeks that speaks to something so quotidian.
I don’t know a whole lot about indie games and in that sense it is exciting to think of all the new things I might experience. Although perhaps I’ll discover that I’m ascribing more importance and significance to this movement than it really deserves. After all, I sometimes wonder if the moniker “indie game” is really more a marketing ploy to describe a mainstream friendly title that has yet to find a publisher. Maybe the majority of indie games are more Clerks than Sex, Lies and Videotape. If I’m lucky I might find a masterpiece, but mostly I just hope I’ll encounter a couple of small moments that will stick with me.
Beyond my expectations and hopes lies the simple desire to explore. It’s what drives me to books that give headaches after one page, yawn inducing experimental films and music that offers outright aural confusion. I know where the intense, the epic and the outright fun games are and they’re great. But over this next thirty days I’m on a hunt to see what else this passion of mine can offer. Exploring is a process that can be boring, tedious and at worst frightening, but it can also be transcendent. Regardless of the outcome of these thirty days, I’m sure that I’ll be glad I did it, if only because I’ll know a little more about what this amazing medium has to offer.
Tom Endo would love your indie gaming recommendations in the comments section below this article. The games need not be free.