Insomnia | Commentary

On "Indies" and "Dependies" (Or, The "Indie" Game Conundrum)

By Alex Kierkegaard / August 9, 2011

Summary of contemporary art by a London cab driver, in front of Tate Modern: "When one enters, one understands why it's free."

Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories

The purpose of this article is to clarify my "indie" game reviewing policy, in light of the astounding revelations seen in my recent article on the subject (in a similar manner to how the RPG Conundrum essay clarified my "RPG"-reviewing policy on the heels of my On Role-playing Games essay). In other words, with the theoretical aspects out of the way, it's worth taking some time to explain how I'll be applying them in practice.

The major problem I'll be facing is that the stupider readers, having failed to understand a single fucking word they've read, will complain whenever I give high marks to a so-called "indie" game without adding the review to the "indie" abortions collection. In fact Yu has already done this, contacting me to complain for neglecting to add the Imperishable Night and ADOM five-star reviews, which would show the world that not ALL "indie" games are terrible — thereby demonstrating his failure to understand my position, which is that NO "INDIE" GAMES ACTUALLY EXIST — at least not using any of HIS definitions of "indie", all of which I've shown to be either outright absurd or self-contradictory.

Things change, however, if we adopt MY definition of "indie", according to which Imperishable Night and ADOM are not "indie" because THEY DO NOT NEED TO BE. Remember that, according to me, "indie" is a game whose developer has fabricated this non-existent category in order to hide in it; it should go without saying, therefore, that if his game is great (or even merely decent) THERE'S NO NEED FOR HIM TO HIDE. I mean id Software and Platinum Games openly claim on their websites that Vanquish, Bayonetta and the upcoming Doom 4 are "indie" — yet I still refuse to classify the games as such and to include them on the same list with the true "indie" abortions. Bottom line is that I AM THE ONE HERE WHO DETERMINES WHAT IS "INDIE" AND WHAT IS NOT, SINCE I AM THE ONE WHO MADE THE GODDAMN DEFINITION, MORANS! The fact that Yu and his cohorts have managed, through a decade-long relentless propaganda of slander and disinformation, to brainwash the entire industry to think that some stupid random meaningless five-letter word is cool, and will automatically make you and your game look cooler if you adopt it (as well as excuse any and all failings it might have), has no bearing whatsoever on how I conduct my criticism. My Spelunky review, for instance, would still contain the exact same criticisms even if Yu had never claimed that it was "indie"; the only effect his adoption of the scam has had on me is to force me to add several paragraphs in which I expose and criticize it. I do not, however, plan on doing this for games which ARE CLEARLY NOT PART OF THE SCAM. My upcoming Bayonetta and Vanquish reviews do not need long digressions to the effect that these games are not really part of it, and that the Platinum dudes are dropping the word simply because everyone else is. My ADOM and Dwarf Fortress reviews do not need to be burdened with paragraphs of invective. I do not want to penalize real developers for being dragged into this realm of lies and sophistries due to their negligence in buying into all this hype — these people are game developers, not critics, nor philosophers; their area of expertise is designing and making videogames, not investigating and debunking the elaborate deceptions that ressentiment creates to protect inferior creatures whose survival is dependent on them. Let us be understanding and forgiving of the good guys who have fallen prey to the scam, and let's keep the swearing and general unpleasantness for the reviews OF THE SCAMMERS' GAMES, who are responsible for everything and consequently deserve it.

Having said all this, and in an effort to help those who are still having trouble wrapping their heads around what's going on here, let's work out some specific examples of proper games that are mistakenly labeled as "indie". One of these is Frozen Synapse [ > ], an ingenious little tactical game that everyone, including its developers, is categorizing as "indie tactics" (whatever the fuck that's supposed to mean). This game, then, which I recently started playing, has absolutely nothing "indie" about it: it is not in any way retrogressive; its developers have nothing to be ashamed of; it can stand on its own next to the most respectable examples of the genre; indeed in some ways it even goes beyond them and creates its very own little subgenre (something which, nota bene, true "indie" games NEVER do, precisely because there's absolutely nothing innovative about them). Yet everyone is for some reason calling the game "indie" and dropping the word in every other sentence of commentary they scribble on it. So let us try investigating THE CORPORATE POWER STRUCTURE of its developer, Mode 7, and try to see whether it differs at all from those of other devs. And, not to waste any time mincing words, here comes THE COLD HARD TRUTH, straight from Mode 7's corporate history page:

"Mode 7 was founded in 2005 by Joint Managing Directors Paul Taylor and Ian Hardingham.

We are a core team of three, and are backed up by a group of trusted freelancers."

Will ya look at that! An "indie" developer with Joint Managing Directors lol! Where's the "indie" spirit of love, harmony, brotherhood and peace on earth now, fagots? And what about that "group of trusted freelancers"! How many of them you reckon there might be? Without checking the game's credits, let's make an extremely modest guess and say, oh I don't know, SIX of them. So now we have two "Joint Managing Directors" — obviously the really independent guys in this power structure —, then the third member of the "core team", who must have joined up later and hence is probably far less influential than the directors (which also explains his lack of a fancy title), and finally the six "trusted freelancers" who, in brutally non-euphemistic terms, are basically the peons hired to do PRECISELY WHAT THE JOINT MANAGING DIRECTORS TELL THEM TO. Now, again, as I've already explained in the "Myth" essay, this doesn't mean that the peons may not have ideas of their own, some of which might make it into the final game; but all of these ideas must necessarily pass through the Managing Directors, and may well be VETOED in the process. Dudes, you have to finally get this into your stupid little "indie" heads: THERE IS NO OTHER WAY FOR A TEAM OF COLLABORATORS TO FUNCTION. Even if all members possessed an equal amount of power (something which in reality should NEVER happen, because people are NOT equal — or if it DOES happen it will be extremely anti-natural and counter-productive, with a Shinji Mikami getting as much say on the direction of the project as the fucking cleaning lady, until he gives up in disgust and leaves, with the most talented contributors eventually wisening up and following his lead, abandoning the fate of the project TO A BUNCH OF CLEANING LADIES), they would still have to vote on every decision, which means that many proposals would STILL end up being rejected, hence NO ONE could possibly have had that fabled "COMPLETE ARTISTIC CONTROL" that the bums keep hallucinating about.

And now the question is, what's the difference between THIS power structure, and the one that's in place at, say, id Software? Doesn't Carmack (and whoever else directs things over there, I can't be bothered to look it up) play the exact same function for id as Mode 7's two "Joint Directors"? Isn't his team filled with basically LACKIES who have to basically do what he tells them to, just as Mode 7's? And if the "team size" pseudo-argument is brought in again, to the effect that, yes, id Software and Mode 7 function EXACTLY THE SAME, only id's team contains MANY MORE PEOPLE than Mode 7's, hence Mode 7 is "indie" and id isn't, I will again reply that the team that made Flower CONTAINED OVER ONE HUNDRED FUCKING PEOPLE, and if you think "Functional Testing Assistant Lead David Weaver" had as much say on the project as Santiago and Chen there's no helping you no matter how many articles on the subject I scribble. And we don't even have to go that far (comparing the power differential between a game's directors and some random playtester) to see how things work. To take the case of, e.g. Braid, whose most well-known developers were Jonathan Blow and David Hellman, if you think these two had an equal say on the direction of the project you need to get out of your bedroom and stop living in a fantasy land. In subhuman terminology: Blow was the "indie" and Hellman, along with the dozens of other contributors to the project, the "dependie", and no amount of "artistic freedom" hallucinations can change that.

At bottom, as anyone who is not retarded should have figured out by now, the question is not at all about "indies" and "dependies"; or, in human terms, about "dependent" and "independent" game developers, but about RELATIVE DEGREES OF INDEPENDENCE (i.e. of power) WITHIN ANY GIVEN PROJECT. Which goes to show how absurd the idea of an independent DEVELOPMENT TEAM is (let alone of an independent GAME, lol, as if games were SENTIENT FUCKING BEINGS which possess A WILL that might be either "dependent" or "independent" lol) since every single goddamn project will be comprised of BOTH "dependent" AND "independent" game developers, according to the degree of power that each contributor wields within it. Therefore it is STUPID to say that Derek Yu is an "independent game developer" and Shinji Mikami "a dependent one" — since both of these people have worked on a variety of projects, within which they have held a variety of posts. So, for example, in Capcom's Aladdin for the Super Famicom, Mikami was not very independent, since on that project he was merely one planner among many, whereas in Biohazard, which he directed (and produced, by the way), he was the most independent person on the team, and so on and so forth. The attempt of the scammers, therefore, to divide games and development teams into "independent" and "dependent" ones is just as sly and disingenuous as the attempt of, say, the Christians and the moralists to divide people into "good" and "evil" ones — all of them crude universalist categories that ignore the true complexities of the issues involved in order to promote, via means of lies and brainwashing, the interests of the people who created them. But a person cannot be "evil" universally — only from the perspective of a group whose interests he threatens. Similarly, a developer cannot be "dependent" universally — only in relation to other members within the team in which he is operating. Which explains why a person dubbed by the bigots as universally "evil" (say, Julius Ceasar, Genghis Khan or Adolf Hitler), may in fact, from the perspective of a certain group (in this case of the Romans, the Mongols and the Germans respectively; or, from an even wider perspective, of the ascending line of mankind) be a thousand times MORE GOOD than someone whom the bigots dub as universally "good" (e.g. an ascetic wasting his life away in some fucking cave), and similarly, a person dubbed by the scammers as universally "dependent" (e.g. Shinji Mikami), may be a thousand times MORE INDEPENDENT on a given project than someone the scammers dub as universally "independent" (e.g. any one of the dozens upon dozens of contributors to Jonathan Blow's Braid project).

To be continued in Part II...