SloganYams / Member

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Being Indie Doesn't Make you an Artist

Of the many trends of modern gaming that annoy me, few irk me quite so much as the idea that Indie developers are some kind of beacon of gaming artistry, while mainstream games are somehow creatively inferior due to their big budgets and/or reliance on franchises.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the reverse either. There are plenty of Indie games that are great. But what I'm talking about is how so many people in the gaming industry treat Indie games as though they are the only source of artistic and creative genius in the gaming world. Indie games, like any other game, house good titles, bad titles, and titles that get more praise than they deserve. Just because a few Indie developers insist on themselves as artists doesn't make it so. Just the same, a major player in the industry not acting like they're making a work of art doesn't mean their work isn't just that.

Again, there are some great Indie games, though often times it seems the best ones are the ones that treat themselves as games, without the shoehorned political/philosophical themes. Meanwhile, the ones that reap all the praise for their supposed innovation and artistic depth come in two varieties: Those that take an established formula (let's say, oh I don't know, a platformer), add a little twist to the mix, either in gameplay or visuals, and add a heaping dose of pretentiousness. And those that, again, take an established genre, tweak a mechanic or visual, and couple it with an irreverent humor and sarcasm.

I'll try not to name names, but my references are probably obvious. The trends of Indie gaming are no less apparent than those of the mainstream. But they seem to get a free pass simply because, well, they're Indie. It too often feels like an Indie developer only needs to brag their game as a work of art for everyone else to join in the buzz.

Meanwhile, a big-budget, triple A title will end up in the "it's a great game, but it isn't art" category. And why? Because it cost more to make? Because an established studio was behind it? Because it's part of a franchise? Just because a game is expensive and looks to make a profit doesn't mean it can't also have creativity and meaning to it. And I'm not just referring to narrative, these are video games after all, not movies. A film's depth might be cheapened by a sequel that rehashes story elements or strays too far from the original's themes. Video games can more freely do new things and showcase new ideas, even with old faces. Being part of a franchise doesn't automatically render it heartless.

Once again, I am not saying all Indie games get caught up with self-aggrandizement, and I'm not saying mainstream games are immune to these same pretensions (case in point, Bioshock Infinite). What I am saying is that video games are an art form, but that certainly doesn't mean all video games are art (even the film industry, which brought us Citizen Kane, also spawned The Love Guru). Just the same, the artistic merits of a video game shouldn't be dictated by whether or not a game is Indie or mainstream, which far too often seems to be the case.

There are good Indie games, and there are bad ones. Just as there are good and bad mainstream games. Both categories have birthed a number of works that deserve to be labelled as art, either for the creativity of their gameplay or other reasons. The big name developers shouldn't have their own creativity be treated as inferior because they have more money or franchises involved. And a snarky hipster with a computer and a small team of friends calling their games art doesn't justify the claim.