You don’t need words to have a narrative. An experience can convey more than you could ever get across with words.
Indie games drive a lot of the creativity in the gaming space. From things like The Bridge, which offers a new aesthetic take on old gameplay ideas, to Papers, Please and Gone Home, which largely eschew everything you know about games in favor of delivering an experience true to their creator’s vision, independent developers are able to take creative risks that just don’t make sense in the AAA world. What drives creativity in indies, though? That’s what I was hoping to find out with the “Creatrilogy: Three Talks Exploring Indie Game Creativity” session at GDC 2014.
Pippin Barr started things off, talking about a game he created that was a digital interpretation of Marina Abramovic’s performance art, where players queued up to sit across from a red-clad artist in a digital museum, mirroring her real-life performance. After learning of the game, Marina reached out to collaborate on a new game, of similarly odd design. “Game mechanics can interact with this world of performance art,” Barr explained, elaborating with a number of different “mini-games,” if you can call them that, like walking in slow motion up a ramp. While the very existence of this “game” may seem like a joke to anybody that was expecting a game in its traditional sense, it was ultimately not intended to be a game so much as an artistic vision.
By the time the second speaker, David Kanaga, began, it was clear we weren’t in for anything remotely resembling a traditional talk. Kanaga likened music, hearing, and even seeing to touch, referencing an archaic philosopher, “Everything is touch.” With Kanaga likening creating games to designing “ways of touching things,” it’s rather difficult to convey the substance of this talk, which seemed more akin to performance art than anything instructional, but what jumped out at me was the recurring reference to Pythagorean ideas that mathematics is music and vice versa. The whole of the talk was a din of sound, music, and speech. Kanaga concluded with a final dogma, “Play everything,” which he clearly takes to heart, given the playful nature of the auditory assault that was his brief lecture.
The third speaker told an anecdote of a trip to the beach with his children, which ultimately boiled down to the question of the nature of a pebble. Millions of interactions define each of the innumerable pebbles on the beach, so each is the same in its uniqueness. Tom Betts, who is currently working on Sir, You Are Being Hunted makes procedural games. He sees video games as a truly unique space. The tools at our disposal allow us to create mathematical systems that generate outcomes – in the form of entire worlds – that we may not even be able to predict. “The world is an abstract set of possibilities,” he said, going on to talk about creating spaces in games that players may never even witness. Betts takes there to be something romantic about AI exploring a space that only they will ever experience.
Oddly enough, the most down to earth speaker in this trio spent most of his time talking about a game where you’re mimicking performance art, which has never really struck me as terribly down to earth. Every speaker brought something wholly novel to the table, from the power of collaboration and syndication between real world ideas and their digital constructs, to the touch-based nature of everything from sight to sound, to how every procedurally generated game world is as novel and unique as a pebble on a beach, which has its own history. Creativity in the indie space is clearly something these creators bring with them.