Magazine article The Spectator

Video Games: Rise of the Independents

Magazine article The Spectator

Video Games: Rise of the Independents

Article excerpt

Sometimes a guy feels abstracted from the world. He visits Europe's finest galleries, but the paintings seem to hang like corpses from the walls. The great symphonies fail to stir his interest, let alone his soul. So he goes home, pours a large whisky and does the only thing that's left for him -- he buys a PlayStation.

That's what I did last year, and I've been wired to my screen ever since. Parachuting from skies to impale some oblivious mercenary. Driving off buildings to escape the cops. Shooting and shooting -- and shooting. Why haven't I done this all my life?

It was blockbuster games such as Grand Theft Auto that drew me in, but something else held my attention. There, in the PlayStation's digital shop, are games that you won't see advertised on the sides of buses. Each costs about five or ten pounds. And each is made by a handful of people, independently of the major gaming studios.

These indie games may be less expensive, but they offer more than just cheap thrills. One called Never Alone was made in conjunction with the Inupiat people of Alaska. It involves guiding a girl and her Arctic fox through the snow. The whites, greys and greens massage your retinas, while the soundtrack conjures aurorae in your mind. Jump, jump, weave and climb. You've probably never met an Inupiaq before, but here you are playing through their folklore.

But if that sounds too Greenpeace for your liking, there are plenty of other indie games to try. How about Resogun, a crazy Space Invaders for our crazy times? Or Fez, in which you bounce your character between two dimensions and three? There is even one that lets the player poke a scalpel around someone's innards.

It must be what New York felt like for cinephiles in 1959. John Cassavetes's Shadows had just been screened at Cinema 16, and suddenly every American knew that films could be made outside of Hollywood. A hundred thousand other independent movies followed. Some were great, others were as lousy as you'd expect from a bunch of amateurs with cheap handheld cameras. But -- gosh! -- just the very idea of it. People creating what they want to create.

This is the joy of indie games. Some of them are as lousy as you'd expect from amateurs stringing together lines of code in their bedrooms, but the great ones are great because they are personal. Indie programmers don't just have the freedom to invent; they have to if they want to stand out alongside Grand Theft Auto and its colossal marketing budget. …

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