The popularity of indie games has been great for the industry and for many individual game developers. The success of indies games comes down to the determination of these individuals to persevere despite all odds. Some gamers and the general public take for granted how complicated making a game can be.
Gameloading: Rise of the Indies
documents the stories of several indie developers that explain how they got into the industry and the problems they face every day. I went into the movie expecting a so-so experience and I could not have been more wrong.
Things begin with some popular indie devs telling their stories about finding their place in the movement. One of the amazing things about this movie is listening to these passionate developers explain why they make games. Davey Wreden, of The Stanley Parable, wants gamers to ask questions and challenge standard mechanics. While others like Robin Arnott, Soundself, wants people to experience ‘gaming’ in an entirely different way. Each person has their own story and being able to watch the enthusiasm on their faces explaining why they do what they do is so awesome. These people love to code because it is a way to express themselves and create. They knowingly develop these games for others to share in their experiences and their passion.
This movie is not afraid to shy away from emotion. Ryan and Amy Green developed That Dragon Cancer to reach out to people in similar circumstances and to share their experiences with others so that they can feel what it is like to have a child with terminal cancer. This game and many others showcase the game industry’s ability to tap into many different emotions. Fun and joy are some of the first emotions you think of when you play a game, but some developers challenge what it means to be a game. That Dragon Cancer or Cart Life might not be the most fun games, but they are a way for us to connect with each other in society by ‘playing out’ each other’s experiences. There are a lot of indie game that share this same value in their creation, and hearing about the developers stories in this movie is what really brings everything together. You understand why it is that some games, although not fun, are an experience that changes you for the better.
Each indie dev believes that everyone has the means to make a game. One of the best examples in the movie is the Game Jam that tasks indie developers with forming teams to create a game around the theme “disconnected”. The catch is that each team only has the duration of the train ride to the Game Developer’s Conference. Before you learn of the teams’ efforts however, the movie takes a turn to show how narrow the field is. The two developers at Tale of Tales, Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, hone in on what has defined games up until this point; racing, fighting, sports, action. These two believed so much that games could be something bigger and broader that they quit their jobs in order to work on indie games that challenged people’s perception of what a game really is. Hearing their stories help redefine what you think is important in a game, because it helps redefine what a game is to you.
After explaining how they got in the industry and why they created the games they did, the movie starts talking about the reality of how hard it is to make your game stand out. You would think that the best place to start is at PAX at the ‘Indie Booth’ but as the indie devs explain, theere is so much saturation that marketing becomes one of the biggest challenges even if they have an excellent game on their hands. After being strapped for assets and time to make their games, few developers think of marketing their games and gearing up for the big launch day. The movie does an excellent job showing how hard it is for these indie developers to get the spotlight they need to show everyone their games. Often it comes down to the connections that these indie devs make and the bonds they form within the community that gives them the space they need on the show floor or the attention they need to go mainstream.
One thing that sets this documentary a part from others like Indie Game: The Movie, is the inclusion of women developers. I think this one addition adds a subtle yet huge side to the whole indie story. The game community and industry has embraced women gamers and developers now more than ever, yet there still is resistance among individuals. Hearing Zoe Quinn’s testimony of the hurtful things that were said to her because she had the courage to create a game, Depression Quest, that pushed the boundaries of people’s emotions is one of the most compelling reasons to watch this movie. Likewise Christine Love’s story of creating her game, Analogue: A Hate Story, as a way to change the perception of women in Japanese visual novels, shows how the game’s medium can help redefine gender roles in our society. For the longest time women have been ‘Player 2’ when it comes to games, but hearing these women’s stories show how they are ready for ‘Player 1’
Overall, Gameloading: Rise of the Indies, does what it sets out to do and more. It gives you the backstory of some of the most critically acclaimed indie developers and their games. Instead of highlighting the games themselves, this movie does an excellent job at explaining the existence of these games and the difficulties that indie devs face with not only making their game but getting others to except it. The movie is a reality check to those that believe making a game would be a piece a cake, but it is also a movie that inspires you to be creative and imaginative. The indie scene has been breaking boundaries in the game industry and this movie is a prime example as to why these games are so rewarding to play. Yes, some are fun but it is the games that make us share in each others experiences that redefines what a game can be. Despite what some critics have said about this documentary, do yourself a favor and put down that controller because this is a movie you are going to have to see.
As a side note, some of the indie developers and games you might want to check out before watching include: Rami Ismail (Vlambeer), Davey Wreden (The Stanley Parable), Christine Love (Analogue: A Hate Story), Trent Kusters (Armello), Lucas Pope (Papers, Please), John Romero and Tom Hall (id Software founders), Nina Freeman (Code Liberation), Jens Bergensten (Minecraft), Richard Hofmeier (Cart Life), Zoe Quinn (Depression Quest), and Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone).