I sent an ask to thegamingmuse to the effect that it was strange to me that someone who cares so much about issues of representation and social justice in games never plays indie games, where those issues are typically explored much better and much deeper. I offered to give hir a list of games to try. Hir response was this:
I’d love a list! And as I’ve said, it’s mostly been an issue of availability that’s kept me from playing indie games. I have a very limited reserve of gaming money and I have to save it up to buy anything, and often I only buy things I’m absolutely sure I’ll like, like the next game in a series I’ve already played.
But my birthday’s around the corner, so maybe I’ll get some extra money and try out some indie titles.
First, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone cite low funds as a reason for sticking exclusively to AAA titles. That’s like citing starvation as the reason you’re throwing away all your food. You can often buy three or four indie games for the price of a AAA title. Secondly, only playing sequels to established franchises means you are missing out on so much of what gaming has to offer. If you want to make games your life as you say, I cannot strongly enough recommend branching out. With that in mind, here is a short list of indie games worth trying:
- Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
- The Binding of Isaac
- And Yet it Moves
- Dear Esther
- Braid (I didn’t like it, but most people do)
And if money really is the issue (and boy do I understand that), here are a bunch of good indie games that are absolutely free, many of which are playable in a browser and don’t even require a download:
- is it time?
- Don’t Look Back
- The Cat and the Coup
- The Company of Myself
- Every Day the Same Dream
And these are just games I’ve played and reviewed over the last year or so. There are so many more fun, beautiful, creative, amazing indie games out there for you to fall in love with. I’m hoping some folks will chime in with some of their favorites as well. So what do you say, guys? What are some of your favorite indies that I didn’t get to?
“Certain critics will always attempt to barricade themselves against the flood of the new, to fence in what they understand and can safely ascribe meaning to – but new art always seeps through. The next time someone tells you that something isn't art, that it can't possibly even qualify, know that what they're really telling you is that they are bewildered by change. That's okay, it's human, but it shouldn't be mistaken for criticism. Are games art or aren't they? Nobody need answer. Games are beautiful and important, we can leave it there and know that we are right.”—
Keith StuartAre video games art: the debate that shouldn’t be
Is games art?
Conventional opinion would have it that games are not art. This is because games are generally about driving or shooting mans or jumping, and these things are not art. However! Games are in fact art. In the olden days, you could not talk about games with women or old people because they are not art and are for geeks. Nowadays, games are mainstream because Sony gave away free roach material in 1998 or something and also Red Bull advertised in Wipeout, and you can talk to women in pubs about combos and stealth kills and games for girls such as Harvest Moon and that one about dogs.
Thanks to this cultural paradigm shift, there is now a market for games that are art. I have identified the following games as being art, with reasons.
Ico is art because it is a 3D platform game with nice graphics. The dialogue has subtitles, thus raising its artistic status, and it uses timeless storytelling techniques to tell its timeless story of a boy with horns who is in a castle who escapes but then falls in a hole and then escapes again, and is then on a beach. I cried at this point, although I am not sure why. The horns are possibly a metaphor for something.
The game uses advanced storytelling techniques, such as making the controls and combat really annoying as this evokes the real frustration of being a boy with horns trapped in a big castle. Also, at the end, you discover that you are the monsters. This is a twist. In a way, we are all monsters made out of smoke in a big castle.
Shadow of the Colossus
This game uses the art of games to raise important moral questions, such as whether pointlessly killing massive things for your own selfish purposes is a good thing. It does this by playing sad music whenever you kill a massive thing. The game uses a technique called ‘repetition’ to increase the impact of this sadness, by repeating the bit where you kill a massive thing and sad music plays sixteen times. This makes the game more effective than if it had repeated this fifteen times. If it had repeated it seventeen times, this may have been too much repetition, as it may have made you so sad that you kill yourself.
Grand Theft Auto IV
This game appears to, on the surface, not be art as it is about shooting and killing and driving like other not-art games, i.e. Fifty Cent: Blood on The Sand, Army of Two, and Hard Drivin’. However, the surface image of a game about killing people endlessly is a façade, and the game is a satire of these things. An example of the satire in the game is the brand of beer called ‘Pisswasser’. This is a satire of beer.
Other satirical games include Fifty Cent: Blood on the Sand, which is a satire of Fifty Cent, and muslims, and Damien Hirst, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City which is a satire of the years 1980-1989.
This is art because the music is classical music, and the graphics are done with a pen. The story is something about a woman. I could not understand much of this to be honest, which makes it even more likely to be an art.
Heavy Rain is art. Older games, such as Pac-Man and Thundercats had no characters, with no emotions. Heavy Rain has three dimensional characters, who are living, breathing people, such as a man whose wife is dead and who has a son. He displays complex emotional states, such as sadness. The other character is a woman, who not only wears lipstick, but dances around. She is basically a real woman inside your television.
The game is also art because it has a script as good as a Hollywood movie, although I am not sure which one.
Rez is a game about synaesthesia. This is when colours appear as sounds, and tastes become other things. The game recreates synaesthesia by making the graphics wobble a bit in time to the music. In order to explore the relationship between drugs and art, I took a drug and played Rez, which made me feel a bit hot and then tired.
Space Harrier and Microcosm are a bit like this game, only they are not art. I think this is because Rez was inspired by a man called Kandinsky who made art with lines. If Space Harrier had been copied from a man (i.e. Robert Maplethorpe), perhaps it would be art?
Half-Life 2’s status as art is best defined by its relationship to Goldeneye. Goldeneye had Natalya who was rubbish and died all the time, and had a head like a Picasso painting. This is deceptive, as Goldeneye is not art. Half-Life 2 has Alyx, who is a step forward for women in games because she has small tits and a gun. Alyx is also a step forward for emotion in games, as her facial mapping is so realistic you can tell her emotions quite easily, such as when she says ‘stop pointing that torch at me’ or ‘ow’.
Half-Life 2 is also a quantum leap for narrative because it does not have any cutscenes which break the illusion of immersion in the gameworld, and instead has unskippable sequences where characters explain things to you at great length while you jump around the room knocking things off shelves and not saying anything.
Bioshock also pushes forward the boundaries of storytelling in games, by using a plotline worthy of a book (art) of over 300 pages. The story is about a mad scientist who creates a magic city under the sea, which is taken over by monsters. The monsters demonstrate the dangers of implanting sea slugs into kidnapped children and using their sick as a magic potion to alter people’s DNA, while also turning tramps into cyborg deep-sea divers with drills for hands who speak in whale noises.
The game forces you to make important moral decisions, such as whether to kill the little girls or to save their lives. This choice is made more difficult by the fact that killing the girls gives you some of the magic potion, and saving them gives you slightly less magic potion and also loads of other stuff.
Flower is a game that is based on the greatest art ever to have been made in the world, which is the film ‘American Beauty’. In ‘American Beauty’, there is a bit where a plastic bag blows around in the wind for a bit. This is the beauty to which the title refers, and also a metaphor for life. In Flower, you blow around in the wind for a bit and then I couldn’t understand how to get to the next level. It is difficult, like all great art.
Passage is like Gauntlet on the C64, except there are no enemies and you cannot go left. The music is frightening. This game is a metaphor for life, in that you walk right for ages and then the floor changes colour and you die. Your hair falls out and you get a wife, who also dies, so this is an accurate metaphor for life. The bit of the screen that you can see is very small. I do not know why this is. There is a number on the screen.
This is probably the most art it is possible for a game to be.
There are a number of factors that make this game art. The game is very short. You don’t have a gun, except a gun that fires portals, which is like an art version of a gun. The portals make my brain hurt. I got to the second room and then I thought I was still playing Rez with the drug in my head and I had to lie down for a while.
I was too scared to play this game for much longer, but I read some things on the internet about a cake and apparently there is a song at the end, so it is probably art on the balance of things.
No idea what is going on here.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
An important thing in art is when you break the fourth wall. This is when someone tells you that something is art, like that time in the Tate Modern when I needed a wee and got confused by an installation. Metal Gear Solid 2 says “you are playing a game” at one point, which is a witty use of recursive tropes in a ludic environment, and is also useful because I had been watching two people talk for half an hour and thought I was watching television.
Metal Gear Solid 2 breaks the fourth wall a lot, which is clever and revolutionary. For example, when you die it says ‘GAME OVER’, which means you are playing a game. Metal Gear Solid 2 asks important questions of games, such as ‘what is a game?’. Metal Gear Solid 2 is a game. Or is it? It is. It says so.
Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 uses clever techniques to make the game more scary, like the bit at the start where you have to walk down a path for a very long time and nothing else happens. This is like a technique that horror writer Stephen King does, where he mixes the mundane and the scary. This makes the scary bits even more scary. An example would be an episode of Coronation Street with a skeleton at the end.
The game uses this technique a lot. There is a bit where you row across a lake for ages, and a bit where you walk down some stairs and down a corridor. Then there is a scary thing, such as a monster or a woman. This game scared me so much I blacked out.
Chime is a game which is a game that is a unique fusion of music and graphics, in that music plays during the game and the graphics are rubbish. In this sense, it is like other arts that contain music and rubbish graphics, like the video to ‘Money for Nothing’ or Ceefax. You put blocks down on a square and a line thing moves across the screen and then some music plays. It gives you achievement points for buying it. This game is a charity.
Other charity art include Band Aid II and that version of ‘What’s Going On’ with the man from Limp Bizkit. This game is on a par with those.
Presentation is important in art, for example when I submitted my novel to JK Rowling, I wore a clean t-shirt and made sure not to get paint on my hands climbing over her fence.
Space Giraffe has graphics. Loads of things appear on the screen, on top of loads of other things on the screen, while Monty Python samples play and there are colours and then you die. In this sense it is a bit like suffering a lethal drug overdose in a student house in about 1972. In the game, a picture of J Allard appears. This is an example of self-referential post-modern humour, as J Allard worked for Xbox ages ago, and the game is on the Xbox. This is funny.
I once attended an interactive music installation, where I went into an empty warehouse and some students who’d been smoking drugs looked at me and I pressed a button on a thing and it made a noise and I got scared and ran out. Wii Music is a bit like this.
In Wii Music, you and some girls hold the Wii controllers and shake them at random and ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ comes out. This is a good game for girls, because there are no chainsaws or explosions or rapes, and the ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ is the kind of music a girl would like and is also tinkly and soothing, rather than loud and terrifying like ‘Guitar Hero: Metallica’.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
This is like a game, except it doesn’t look like graphics. Lots of children in America did not like this, because Link, a child, looked like a child and did not have an earring. As such, the game does not handle mature themes, as all art must, and therefore I am inclined to agree with the assessment of the children in America.
However, it is also a bit art because the graphics are a tribute to classic animation, such as Walt Disney. I think there is a bit in classic Walt Disney Animation ‘Fantasia’ where Mickey Mouse sails across a featureless blue ocean for about two hours. This game is about 19% art.
To be continued as more artgames is released.
Sendoid is actually awful, and only for individual transfer, so what the hell.
If anyone wants to sample my gamestylings, feel free to click the download link below.
Also, I realize this is a .exe file, and you might be a total stranger that’s now become highly suspicious of me. That’s okay. I promise not to virus you.
Oh, and I apologize for the lame loading screen. It won’t be that way when this is finished. Pinky swear.
The Last and Final Word: Christoffer Hedborg
Christoffer Hedborg one of the many talented independent videogame developers that come from Sweden. While he feels that he has not made much of an impact, he keeps good company. His game releases so far include Toys (an IGF 2011 Student Showcase finalist) and Cathode Rays.
“The term art game is not so much a genre as it is a sub-medium of video games. If you're expecting the term to be a catch-all descriptor that will tell you everything about the software in two words, well, you're doing it wrong and that's your fault, not the term's.”—
This is unrelated to my earlier quote, but it is by Jim Sterling as he tackles The Definition of Art Games in a way that I think everyone should be able to understand and appreciate.
I’ve rewritten this a couple of times, but really, it all comes down to the idea that “art games” is not some alternate medium but another aspect or facet of it. A game like Okami or Shadow of the Colossus is no less deserving of the term than Portal or Limbo. People need to stop assuming that “art game” only applies to Indie works and also realize that such games can, in fact, exist in established genres.