Driving Indie Games From Margin to Center

In the early 90s, in college, I recall studying a theory that talked about the driving force of innovation and new ideas as they move inward from the margin to the center. As a fascinated onlooker and participant on the edges, I have always been interested in the consistency of that process.

Until a few years ago, I thought it was only my friends and I who were interested in the wild and wonderful creative experimentation happening on the burgeoning fringes of the game industry. After all, no one else really talked about it in polite mainstream industry conversation. But could we really have been the only avid fans of innovation? I was politely told that the people weren’t ready.

Clearly it was time to shake things up. And so began the quest to find great independent games from around the world and show them to people…  which became IndieCade: The International Festivals of Independent Games.

Timely in its inception, IndieCade began holding curated exhibitions of independent games far and near in 2006, as digital distribution both online and through the console space completely shifted the paradigm and began to make the distribution of independent games truly viable. We drew a breath of excitement that independent gamemakers could actually make money from their own games, that the movement could really take hold.

These days, an excited buzz about the potential of independent games seems to float above every event I attend. In the past year alone, games made by independent individuals and small teams – like Jon Mac’s Everyday Shooter and Jon Blow’s Braid and Metanet’s N/N+ have become new landmarks in the terrain.

At IndieCade, we have had the honor of showcasing those games around the world. As a community builder, IndieCade has worked to move beyond the metaphor of Sundance, as appropriate for the game industry, and focus on exhibiting games in ways that validate their cultural and artistic significance. Even the big dogs are turning their heads to see what we are doing, and we have only begun.

As more fans of innovation join this quest every year and at each event, new and refined approaches to gameplay emerge from the “margins.” At the GDC awards this year more than half of the awards went to games of either independent or student origin. With the mainstream game industry in cookie-cutter mode, it is an exciting time to be a part of the momentum of change coming from the edges. IndieCade’s natural constituency is growing exponentially, Maybe the people really are ready?

Up until now, IndieCade showcases have been attached to larger events such as E3, E For All, PAX, GameCity England and China’s International Cartoon & Animation Festival (CICAF), but this year IndieCade will move to the center of its own event, IndieCade: the International Festival of Independent Games. More than two dozen platform-agnostic games finalists, selected by a prestigious panel of internationally renowned jurors, will be exhibited at the Open Satellite Gallery in Bellevue, Washington from October 10-17. The event will launch with two days of artist talks, salon discussions, master classes, celebration, entertainment, and interactive entertainment highlighting artists’ voices and bringing collective attention to great independent games from around the world.

IndieCade Festival Director Sam Roberts and Festival Chair Celia Pearce worked with the jury selections to design a unique show that truly reflects the breadth and the depth of the independent games field — including game submissions that deliberately defy the conventions of what is and is not a game. IndieCade finalists will be announced throughout this month as the festival approaches.  The initial announcements of finalists have included the US premiere of Dark Room Sex Game a two-player audio installation using the Wiimote to explore the metaphor and mechanic of sex; The Night Journey, by world-respected MacArthur-winning video and installation artist Bill Viola in collaboration with Tracy Fullerton, exploring themes of spiritual enlightenment; the rusty, metallic, adventure-game Machinarium, by the makers of Samarost; Jonathan Söderström’s multi-genre compilation Cactus Arcade; Julian Oliver’s wildly innovative reality spatial puzzler, levelHead, and Blast Theory’s Rider Spoke, wherein players head out into the streets armed with a handheld computer mounted onto their bicycle handlebars. Divergent in form and subject, games will span the predictable, the unexpected and more…..

The month of October marks an important moment for independent games with our first stand-alone independent gaming event entirely open to the public. Hopefully the games industry will come out and support the festival at Open Satellite, but should it be missed, highlights will tour around the world at a variety of IndieCade showcases that will soon be announced. The fringes may or may not reach the mainstream, the important thing is to make sure they reach an audience. Ready or not — here we come!

Stephanie Barish is the Founder and President of IndieCade. (www.indiecade.com) IndieCade encourages, publicizes, and cultivates innovation and artistry in interactive media, helping to create a public perception of games as rich, diverse, artistic, and culturally significant. IndieCade’s events and related production and publication programs are designed to bring visibility to and facilitate the production of new works within the emerging independent game movement. Like the independent videogame developer community itself, IndieCade’s focus is global and includes producers in Asia, Latin America, Europe, Australia, and anywhere else independent games are made and played.