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The Poeisis of the Indie Game

A brief examination of a concept called Poeisis and how Indie games save technology through a revelation of the artist. The article uses a new game by HASHSTASH STUDIOS, called 'Circulets'

Pooja Sagar

June 5, 2013

7 Min Read

The object of inquiry here is a seemingly innocuous independent game called ‘Circulets’ produced by a fresh young company called Hashstash. They would like to call themselves a company, and has registered themselves as a private limited for the sake of existing rules and policies regarding the same, but I would like to regard their operations as that of a collective, a four or five member team, with their computers and associated paraphernalia, typing away codes and skyping conference calls, getting up from their seats only for the occasional bodily ablutions or cigarette breaks.  A lone kettle whistles in tone of displeasure, the room heater disapproves its overtime duty hours and the bean bag groans under their weight.  They are a community of programmers and artists, their minds and bodies inextricably attached to their technology, their souls wandering through the nooks and crannies of the internet.

The scene that I have painted above is not unique to Hashstash. Indeed a community of independent game developers across the world builds code, commit and slug away as I speak. It may appear to be the most solitary activity in the world, not to say one of the most difficult. As the programmer types in endless lines of code, a small part of the game is engineered, perhaps a jump, a slide, a trivial interaction that lets us play the game with the swipe of our finger tips. Independent game development, as the name indicates is driven by ethical value systems. They are independently conceived, produced and often published without a corporate backing. That is to say, the people who are working under this form of production will have to make their games with the hope that buyer will chose them amongst the hugely marketed commodity that corporate companies such as EA Games, Ubisoft, Zynga etc showcase in the electronic market places. Nevertheless, independent games like Minecraft, Braid, Super Meat Boy, Canabalt, etc have managed to break into this market and gross millions. Let us do some math here, a two member team will take as much as two years to complete a game, that is, if they work for 16-18 hrs a day, building each and every game aspect, while a company delegates this  task to many and assembles a final product.

Technology as it was redefined in the 1830’s, came to mean “scientific thought applied to manufacturing”.  In the same sense, we could derive a relationship between the corporate games and their mode of game production as technological manufacturing. Given this hasty premise, let us examine how Heidegger searched for the lost meaning of technology of the very modern sense, in the Greek word ‘techne’, where it is derived from. He propounded a fascinating discovery. “Techne not only meant the activities and skills of a craft worker, but also the ‘arts of the mind’ and the fine arts…Techne also contained something poetic, that is, something of poiesis”.  Poiesis in the Greek sense means bringing forth, or bringing into presence and this happens in all arts or crafts. Techne and Poesis are both forms of disclosure. Heidegger proposes that technology in its modern sense, does disclose, but in a way that it obliterates poiesis.  It operates in a way that it disposes, that is to say, it reveals things that are completely available, for use, extraction, manipulation etc. Everything therefore becomes a STOCK, a fund or supply, ready and waiting.

Take the example of the corporate games that have come out since their beginning. We do not know the artist who has built the cars in NFS, the tombs in Lara Croft or the civilizations in Age of Empires, the guns in counter strike. We drive, kick, shoot,  kill without engaging with the vital forces that build the game, neither are we encouraged to examine. They are ready for us, to be consumed, to indulge. The pleasure or process of creation is hidden from the consumer. There are a number of car racers, shooters and role playing games that are reproduced on the basis of one successful model, thereby diluting the essence of the original. We are buying from a corporate that does not disclose the Poiesis that lies concealed within its technological disposing. Poeisis is shriveled. Disclosures are blocked. This according to Heidegger is the danger of technology. It is not surprising as corporate game companies drive on the principle of maximum yield at the minimum expense. There is no artist here, surely there must be one or many, but he/ she lie consciously hidden.

“The only hope”, Heidegger suggests, “is to entice the emergence of Poeisis”. A saving of technology can happen only when art combines with technology, to foster a newly poetic techne. Art brings with it reflective thinking, and consciousness of the being that could include entities like ethical thinking and love. Independent game development is the marriage of the two. It forces a revelation of the artist, through the game, the pain of his creation, anxiety and depression. One needs to see Indie Game the Movie, to understand exactly what I mean. Super Meat Boy is an exposed chunk of meat that has to save itself from the circular saws and the blades to save his girlfriend, the Bandage Girl who has been kidnapped by Dr. Fetus. Tim of Braid takes up a lyrical journey to solve a number of time manipulation puzzles to look for a princess, but to realize only when he reaches the balcony of the princess that he is indeed the monster that is chasing her away.  It would be impossible to ignore the consciousness, of the artist in these games. The soul of the player attunes with the philosophical inquiry the game takes up. Hence in a very Heideggerian sense, these games create the conditions for ‘letting- be’, a reflective attunement to being.

Circulets is a two player game for the mobile platform that works on the simple principle that you win by collecting as many coins of your color choice.  This is a clear example of how sometimes the simplest of the game ideas can be executed to create truly enjoyable game plays. The artists behind this game have made a conscious effort to leave it open ended, so that the player can determine the terms of his game. As the translucent skittles are dragged to your pitch, you create the conditions for your victory over the other, not to say ending up in fights and minor skirmishes. But that just reveals more about your being and raises questions about how you engage with the world. Since the artists behind this game have been successful in creating such a game environment, it moves in the direction of solving the crisis technology, that is to bring mankind closer to being. If technological manufacturing obliterates Poesis, this is the closest it can get, on a technological platform, to bringing a union of the two.

The end note to this article begins thusly:

Please buy Indie games. There is no other way, you can support the movement, other than supporting the artists who almost kill themselves trying to create them. They do not lead healthy lives; spend endless hours in front of their computers, foster unhealthy eating habits, go through depression or artistic dilemmas or hit a coding wall. They may not live long. But, I’ve found a fighting spirit in all of them; the spirit to create something that confronts and enters into a direct conflict with STOCK products. This international community thrives on the strength of each other, sharing source code, camaraderie and support for each other. Their battle with the giants in the free market is constant.

Circulets is produced by team Hashstash

Yadu Rajiv, Vasu Chaturvedi, Vidhvat Madhan, Kinshuk Sunil, Mayank Saini

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