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Opinion: How Indie Video Games Helped Bridge The Culture Gap

How is the rise of indie games accelerating the cultural integration of the medium? Gamasutra publisher and IGF Chairman Simon Carless looks at some encouraging signs.
[How is the rise of independent video games accelerating the cultural integration of video games? In this opinion piece, IGF Chairman Simon Carless looks at why equal coverage for indie games in the independent media is a big deal.] The evolution of all forms of creative culture inevitably means the establishment of an initial niche, and a gradual leaking out of that medium until it permeates popular knowledge, almost without notice. And clearly, we're quite a long way down that path with video games. But the fact that we're ever speeding towards our destination was brought home to me by Paste Magazine's latest print issue which I just got in the mail today, and seeing alternative game coverage so seamlessly integrated with talk about music and film. As Gus Mastrapa recently Twittered, "My Spelunky review is in the new Paste (March/April). Thanks Jason [Killingsworth] and co. for dedicating an entire page (!) to a single indie game." And this does feel like a big deal to me, too, because it's an adult discussion of how games are "one of the few means of expression that improve under constant, obsessive iterations" and an analysis of Derek Yu's clever Rogue-like platformer, all sandwiched between ads for the Sasquatch Music Festival and The Watson Twins' new album. Even more notably, the 'Emergent' section highlighting interesting creators in this issue of Paste has a piece on Weapon Of Choice's Nathan Fouts, talking to the ex-Insomniac developer and Xbox Live Community Games creator about his deranged doodle of an action game, just next to a profile of singer Justin Townes Earle. Another good example of this kind of crossover online - with some of the writers actually involved - is The Onion A.V. Club's game section. The site varies coverage of interactive fiction and indie game obscurity Cloudphobia with mainstream titles, all alongside a variety of independent music and film coverage. What I'm trying to say here is that video games do finally seem to be developing a breadth of tone and criticism - and not just a breadth of conceptual genre. This allows mature discussion of them alongside other forms of expression that have been around for much longer. On the other hand, there are still plenty of barriers to further evolution. There are intelligent mainstream magazines like Entertainment Weekly, which actually does an excellent job in cult and offbeat books, TV, DVD, movies, and even theater - but largely ignores video games (there's no category for it on the EW website, even). In EW, games do get reviewed every month or so, but largely mainstream titles like Grand Theft Auto IV - and without the kind of profiles of independent creators or looks at alternative game styles that Paste Magazine or The Onion AV Club is helping to bring forth. Other respected outlets do cover game and game creators on occasion, and I do think this is happening more and more often. For example, Will Wright's profile in the New Yorker was encouraging, even if Cliff Bleszinski's felt a little pitchy. In particular, the featuring of auteur-style game designers in creative arts lists is on the increase (see Esquire's Jason Rohrer piece and Creativity Magazine's Top 50 for 2009 with Jon Blow, the Area/Code folks and the LittleBigPlanet chaps.) Of course, I'm aware that there are ever-increasing numbers of game bloggers and sites that have a mature, culturally aware approach to game discussion. But a telling measure of games' integration is when there's seamless and thoughtful discussion of the medium in the same breath as music and film. Now that this evolution of nuance is happening, we're moving inexorably away from the token one page 'pre-reviews' of the most obvious mainstream titles that have been sneaking into mainstream media in recent years. And things can only get more interesting from here on out. [Simon Carless is the Chairman of the Independent Games Festival and Summit, as well as group publisher for Think Services' Game Developer magazine, and the Gamasutra Network of sites, and a former game designer for companies including Eidos and Atari.]

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