A Uniform Rebellion

Thoughts on the culture of "indie."

By: Lana Polansky

Filed Under: Culture Editorial Indie

One of the things I love most about indie video game communities is the diversity. The inclusive, nurturing, amicable environments have this profound capacity for encouraging discussion and inspiring everyone from amateurs to acolytes to participate in a more positive version of the culture surrounding the medium. I cherish these things. I cherish many of the people I’ve met, games I’ve played, and things I’ve personally been inspired to do, through my own associations with independent and alternative game-making. I value these ideals that indie gaming represents for me so much that I feel like I must address its failings at sometimes living up to them. I don’t expect this to be a good way to make friends.

Everything the mainstream represents—corporate cronyism, a lack of creativity and innovation, pandering to demographics, convention and formula—seem to find offsetting principles at work in much of the “indie” scene: originality, creative and cultural diversity, artistic integrity and authenticity, a refusal to bow to market pressure. To a large extent, I believe the coalescing of independent creative communities do bring these fruits to bear. As Anna Anthropy discussed in Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, it’s almost a mathematical inevitability that allowing more people from a greater variety of backgrounds to share their voices will naturally engender a deeper creative pool from which to draw. The democratization of creativity is and always has been the greatest way to harness the potential of its power.

But there’s a problem inherent in ‘sloganeering’ these ideals. There’s a problem in positioning the “indie scene” as something evenly opposed to mainstream gaming. The first, as far as I can see, is that “indieness” is far from a homogenous term. There’s been discussion here and there about what we mean by “indie”—does it simply refer to the lack of a publisher? Does it imply some adherence to a concept of anti-corporate integrity? Does it pride itself on knowledge of the arcane or the obscure—and does it hold that against people who don’t know of those same things? Does it have a uniform? Is it donning plaid, bearded, bespectacled, white, male?

There is no one “indie” scene, or community, or niche, or clique, and it’s dangerous to think of the surrounding culture of indie games as some kind of hivemind or special club. This is an attitude seen among those who wish to malign indie creations with nebulously and dubiously employed words like “pretentious.” But to some extent, the relationship with “indie” as a kind of badge representing an equally nebulous set of standards can infect these communities. As all sub- or counter-cultures are wont to do when gathering around an identity based on shared interests or values, indie gaming can engender cliques which protect and restrict who can be a part of them.

This kind of protection actually stifles that process of democratization Anthropy talked about by encouraging, often subtly, an implied conformity and uniformity of beliefs. This attitude is, on the other hand, totalitarian, and aims to impose strictures and standards on those entering the community. This attitude is an affectation of integrity that forces us to ask ourselves if what we say, make, do or even look like aligns with the ideology established by that niche or group. This breeds complacency and it shrinks the potential for diversity. In many ways that are reflective of the systems found in the mainstream, indie communities run a serious risk of becoming what they tend to try to eschew.

Cherry-picking specific examples of these kinds of social dynamics has me staring down not only the possible loss of friends, but career suicide. But it is interesting to go to an event, for instance, that is ostensibly all about the sharing and discussion of works or ideas, and witness myself and others coagulating into comfortable little subgroups like something out of a high school dance. I respect that to some degree this is bound to happen—of course people gravitate to other people they know—but these niches form isolating islands that aren’t very welcoming to those wading the seas outside of them. Being alone or with few others at an event like this is has the side-effect of making one feel like an infiltrator.

Within indie communities—at least, from my own experience—the majority group members tend to reflect dominant classes in the mainstream gaming industry, and for that matter, the rest of society: typically, young, white, straight adult males with college-level education (or some configuration of these traits.) While this is in and of itself only a reflection of what’s typical in our wider culture, it also tells us something about where access lies and the degree of diversity one is actually likely to find. There is, like in mainstream culture, a knowledge barrier. There is, still, the tendency to create cults of personality around people that reflect those dominant classes. There is still the work of creating truly inclusive, truly diverse and accepting environments. This can’t really be accomplished on just ideological terms, by clinging to certain ideals. This can only be done actively, through examination and demonstration of these ideals on a personal and community basis.

And often enough, it is. The Pixelles Game Incubator, for example, was something that was inspiring enough to remind me of why I continue to care about indie communities in my city or anywhere. The program, coordinated by Tanya Short and Rebecca Cohen Palacios, included 10 women who, over six weeks, became first-time game-makers. No prior skill required. The games were then showcased at an event which prioritized a low barrier of entry and the celebration of new ideas from a commonly marginalized group. During her introduction speech, Short noted that the women were given very little advice on how to create their games or use their tools, to avoid the accidental colonization of design ideas or create unwanted influence. There was no conceptual echo chamber; all 10 games were vastly different from one another. There was camaraderie, warmth, and pride, but also a free-flow of ideas and an openness to the unconventional. I was so inspired that when I got home, I immediately downloaded Stencyl.

I realize that to some extent, I’m imposing my own set of values and ideals onto whatever I think “indie” means. But without getting caught up in ill-defined notions of authenticity, or integrity, or originality that don’t even begin to deconstruct how enmeshed “indie” as a label is with prevailing, questionable social or economic systems, those of us within “indie” communities can still do more to ensure whatever principles we do have possess credibility through examination with a critical eye. We keep ideas diverse, and communities diverse, as long as we keep discussion diverse.

[art credit]

Filed Under: Culture Editorial Indie

About the Author:
Lana Polansky is a game critic and writer peddling her wares at Kill Screen, Gameranx, Medium Difficulty and here at Bit Creature. Also, a ludonarrative disco-dancer.

291 Responses to “A Uniform Rebellion”

  1. Ethan Gach

    “As all sub- or counter-cultures are wont to do when gathering around an identity based on shared interests or values, indie gaming can engender cliques which protect and restrict who can be a part of them.”

    Are there ways then in which “indie culture,” as nebulous as it is, is more cliquish and restrictive than other cultural groups? Or are you saying that it’s just as limited as the culture it’s breaking from, and necessarily so (in which case these tendencies couldn’t be reformed–only recognized and taken into account)?

  2. hey

    Taxi moto line
    128 Rue la Boétie
    75008 Paris
    +33 6 51 612 712  

    Taxi moto paris

    Howdy, i read your blog from time to time and i own a
    similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam responses?
    If so how do you reduce it, any plugin or
    anything you can advise? I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any
    support is very much appreciated.

  3. cheap flights

    I am in fact pleased to read this blog posts which contains tons
    of valuable information, thanks for providing these kinds of statistics.

  4. cheap flights

    Good site you have here.. It’s hard to find quality writing
    like yours nowadays. I truly appreciate individuals like
    you! Take care!!

  5. cheap flights

    Hi would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m looking to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and
    Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking
    for something unique. P.S Sorry for being off-topic
    but I had to ask!

  6. tinyurl.com

    I am really pleased to read this weblog posts which
    carries plenty of helpful data, thanks for providing these information.

  7. cheap flights

    What’s up to every one, since I am truly keen of reading this
    webpage’s post to be updated regularly. It carries good stuff.

  8. tinyurl.com

    Hello, i think that i saw you visited my web site thus i came to “return the favor”.I’m attempting
    to find things to improve my site!I suppose its ok to use some of your ideas!!

  9. gamefly

    Wow! In the end I got a blog from where I can genuinely get helpful information concerning my study and knowledge.
    games ps4 185413490784 games ps4

  10. coconut oil

    Hi to every single one, it’s genuinely a good for me to pay a visit this web
    site, it includes helpful Information. ps4 games 185413490784
    ps4 games

  11. ps4 games

    Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles?

    I mean, what you say is fundamental and everything. Nevertheless imagine if you added some great pictures
    or videos to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics
    and clips, this website could definitely be one of the greatest in its niche.
    Terrific blog!

  12. ps4 games

    Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it’s
    really informative. I’m going to watch out for brussels.

    I’ll appreciate if you continue this in future. A lot of people will be benefited from your writing.


  13. tinyurl.com

    What’s up to all, since I am truly keen of reading this blog’s post to be updated daily.
    It carries pleasant stuff.

  14. tinyurl.com

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon every day.
    It’s always helpful to read through content from other authors and practice a little something from
    their websites.

  15. web hosting

    I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I’m now not certain whether or not this submit is written via
    him as no one else realize such certain approximately my trouble.
    You’re incredible! Thank you!

  16. http://tinyurl.com/yeqbzado

    Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic however , I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a
    blog post or vice-versa? My site addresses a lot of the
    same subjects as yours and I believe we could greatly
    benefit from each other. If you might be interested feel free
    to send me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you!
    Terrific blog by the way!

  17. 0mniartist

    With havin so much content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or
    copyright infringement? My site has a lot
    of unique content I’ve either authored myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot
    of it is popping it up all over the internet without
    my authorization. Do you know any methods to help reduce
    content from being ripped off? I’d truly appreciate it. asmr 0mniartist

  18. gamefly when

    you’re in reality a just right webmaster. The web site loading
    velocity is amazing. It seems that you’re doing any distinctive trick.
    In addition, The contents are masterpiece. you have performed a wonderful activity
    on this matter!

  19. when asmr

    I think this is one of the such a lot vital information for
    me. And i am glad reading your article. But want to observation on few normal
    things, The site taste is wonderful, the articles is
    actually great : D. Just right job, cheers

  20. of asmr

    Hi there, I enjoy reading through your post.
    I wanted to write a little comment to support you.

  21. asmr the

    I was recommended this website by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my
    problem. You’re incredible! Thanks!

  22. when gamefly

    Hi I am so happy I found your webpage, I really found you by accident, while I was browsing on Yahoo for something else, Anyhow I
    am here now and would just like to say thanks for a fantastic post and a all round exciting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read through it all at the moment but I have saved it and also added in your RSS feeds,
    so when I have time I will be back to read more, Please
    do keep up the excellent job.

  23. what asmr

    Hello mates, how is all, and what you wish for
    to say on the topic of this paragraph, in my view its truly
    amazing in favor of me.

  24. http://j.mp/3f4MpEl

    Right here is the right webpage for anybody who
    hopes to find out about this topic. You know a whole lot its
    almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa).

    You definitely put a fresh spin on a topic that’s been written about for many years.
    Wonderful stuff, just wonderful!

  25. asmr it

    Very good info. Lucky me I recently found your blog by chance (stumbleupon).

    I’ve book marked it for later!

  26. when asmr

    An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague who has been doing a little homework on this.
    And he in fact ordered me lunch due to the fact that I discovered it for
    him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the
    meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to talk about this subject here on your web page.

  27. j.mp

    Hi mates, how is everything, and what you want to say regarding this article, in my view
    its actually awesome in support of me. scoliosis

  28. BradleyDrolf

    buy cialis insurancecialis online without prescription buy cialis doctor – monthly cost of cialis without insurance
    generic cialis canadian

  29. euryka.rdi.uoc.edu

    What’s up colleagues, pleasant post and pleasant urging commented at this
    place, I am actually enjoying by these. scoliosis

  30. https://785days.tumblr.com/

    free dating sites
    I’ve been surfing on-line more than three hours nowadays,
    yet I by no means found any interesting article like yours.
    It is lovely value sufficient for me. In my opinion, if
    all website owners and bloggers made just right content as you did, the
    web will be a lot more helpful than ever before. https://785days.tumblr.com/ free
    dating sites

  31. https://6869milesoflove.tumblr.com/

    dating sites
    I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but great topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding
    more. Thanks for excellent information I was
    looking for this information for my mission. dating sites

  32. dating sites but

    Hey there would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with?
    I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a hard time choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs
    and I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!

  33. dating sites there

    Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it.
    Look advanced to more added agreeable from you! By
    the way, how can we communicate?

  34. of surgery scoliosis

    Link exchange is nothing else but it is simply placing the other person’s webpage
    link on your page at proper place and other person will also do same for you.

  35. surgery scoliosis on

    I like the helpful information you provide in your articles.

    I will bookmark your weblog and check again right
    here regularly. I am fairly sure I’ll learn plenty of new stuff proper right here!
    Best of luck for the next!

  36. tinyurl.com

    Good info. Lucky me I discovered your site by
    accident (stumbleupon). I have book marked it for later!

  37. kebe.top

    When I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked the
    -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added
    I recieve 4 emails with the same comment. There has to
    be a way you can remove me from that service? Appreciate it!

    Here is my blog: kebe.top

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

The Latest:

  • Originals

    Swan Song

    This is a tough one to write. For those of you who know me, in person, by my writing, or…

  • Originals

    The Fool and the Villain, Part II

    (Warning: In Second Life, pixelated tits and dicks abound. Abandon all hope, all ye who enter this article at work.)…

  • Commentary

    The Edge Of The Ocean

    The problem is to plot the map. My sense of geography is spotted with black holes. There’s the Chinatown and…

  • Originals

    Play Everything

    Play everything. No, I’m serious, play everything. Play that game of hopscotch those kids drew up on the sidewalk with…

  • Commentary

    Genre In Question

    Why are there so few video game comedies? At least twice in the past year I’ve bumped into conversations trying…