The schedule handed out at the beginning of Indiecade was wrong. You had to go to the registration booth and look at a sign any time you wanted to know what talk was going on or when and where a special event was starting. The main conference talks were often more of a conversational nature than an instructive one, and were scattered across three buildings and tents in three square blocks of downtown Culver City, with games shown in a fourth. Ultimately the event wound up not being about the conference -- but everything surrounding the show was an affirmation of why indies do what they do, and why they continue to thrive.
Who's an indie?The games showcased were great (by and large), and the show drew interest across a range of people -- from indies that were just starting out, to industry powerhouses like John Romero, Brenda Brathwaite, Richard Lemarchand, Jenova Chen, and Spacewar! creator Steve Russell. But that's to be expected at a conference like this. What was really impressive was the diversity. Walking around the show, playing the games, and networking with peers, it was striking how many people there were who didn't look just like me. There was a noticeably greater female presence than at many game shows, both as general attendees and on the game making side. I watched a girl who "doesn't play games" dominate Super Space __ for 30 minutes, saying "it's not as intimidating as I thought!" I overheard indie dev Anna Anthropy say that never had she felt so safe around game fans. I saw my friend Erin Reynolds display her game Nevermind while her husband acted as booth babe. I saw people from all sorts of backgrounds playing and demonstrating games. I don't think the traditional industry purposefully avoids diversity, but it doesn't especially encourage it either. It's difficult to do within a large organization, and you certainly can't hire people just because of how they look or what their background is. Indie games by their very nature represent varied perspectives and viewpoints, and pride themselves by being different from the mainstream. The faces I saw at Indiecade showed me what those varied perspectives look like, and there was a real positive vibe to each interaction.
Cardboard kings and queensA peripheral event also stuck out - the Imagine Foundation's global day of play, which coincided with the Saturday of Indiecade. The idea is based on Caine's Arcade, which is worth checking out if you haven't already. In short, it's the physical cardboard arcade creation of 9-year-old Caine Monroy, which became popular through a viral video. Monroy embodies the spirit of play and creation, and at Indiecade this was shared with any kid who wandered by. The huge playspace began with some of Caine's arcade pieces, which kids could play to win tokens. These tokens were traded in to "buy" materials to make their own games out of cardboard, tape, PVC pipe, cups, whatever was around. Kids were making games, playing games, and feeling empowered, in an incredibly positive way. Seeing the joy on a 4-year-old boy's face when I successfully completed his ball maze game was kind of a revelation. Nearly everyone likes to create, if given the chance, and nearly everyone likes playing games. At the cardboard arcade, a 9-year-old girl hustled Brenda Brathwaite and John Romero into playing her whack-a-mole variant. Brathwaite asked if the girl played video games. "Of course!" she said. "I play shooters.
"Oh, my husband John pretty much invented shooters," said Brathwaite. "Hmm," said the little girl. "But did he make Halo?" The more things change, the more they stay the same. But she was great at promoting herself, and her game - she believed in it, and she wanted anyone she could find to play the thing. Across the event, the takeaway was the same. Anyone can make games, if given half the chance, and try to make their mark on the world. This is why we're seeing so many odd and interesting indie games, as tools like Unity and GameMaker lower the bar for entry to digital game creation. As social games and the triple-A studios cast around for direction, indies choose all directions, at the same time. I, personally, am all for it.