Introducing the Intricacies of Indie Gaming: Dan Price’s ‘Games Corner’ Column

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Let’s delve into the expansive and emerging world of Indie gaming , with its unique art and graphics, dynamic story telling, and style dripping from every pixel. Dan Price brings us on a journey of all things Indie: from insights on the industry and its developers to game reviews- he’s got all angles covered. Even if you’ve never picked up a controller in your life, this influential industry is something that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.

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Some of my favourite childhood memories were spent watching over my sister’s shoulder while she played Pokémon Blue on Gameboy. At that age, it didn’t even feel important to play them myself. Hours would blur by, transfixed by the iconic 8bit synth music and pixelated Pokémon. By secondary school, countless evenings were spent playing split-screen Halo tournaments or Mario Kart with friends. I remember our excitement every year during the lead up to E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), staying up until 4am for announcements and trailers which we would obsess over the following day. 

Since then, although the golden days of split-screen all-nighters are over, gaming continues to have a significant impact on my life. It’s an escape, a tool for forging connections with people, and an artform that continually encourages me to reflect on myself and the world around me. Pokémon astonished me at the time, but games have come a long way in the last two decades. Development teams that once comprised of less than thirty people now employ thousands. The gaming industry is a phenomenon that is now more profitable than all other creative industries and pursuits. What was once dismissed as a hobby for children has expanded to a medium which brings in demographics spanning all ages and backgrounds. The industry has heralded a new era of competitive events with Esports, and has taken over online entertainment through Twitch streamers and Youtube content creators. Mobile games are now so popular, that in 2019 it is estimated that 2.4 billion people (almost one-third of the global population) downloaded one. Games are everywhere and they have become ingrained in our culture. Yet to many people, games remain unrecognised as an artform or as a medium for storytelling.  

For the Games Corner, I hope to explore the ins and outs of the industry, and to review, analyse and discuss how games create meaningful and thought-provoking stories. The industry is fascinating to me because games are a relatively new medium compared to theatre, novels and even film. Because the industry is still in its infancy, new developments are frequent and exciting. Whether it be creating entire life size universes with over 18 quintillion unique planets like No Man’s Sky made by Hello Games, or photo-realistic character models bordering the uncanny valley, to even blurring the lines between reality and fiction in fully immersive virtual reality. As technology advances, the scope for what games can accomplish is always expanding. 

My focus is primarily on games created by smaller development teams, known as Indie developers. Indie developers are frequently overshadowed by industry giants such as Rockstar, Ubisoft and EA, that have the resources to push the boundaries of graphical fidelity, and create marketing campaigns which rival Hollywood’s. Despite this, Indie games are at the forefront of innovation in the medium. They are unrestricted by the issues many large developers face, such as pleasing shareholders who incentivise short term profits over longevity, or forced mass market appeal stifling creativity and requiring designers to follow modern tropes such as unnecessarily large open worlds. Indie games differ in that they usually cater to niche audiences. Perhaps counterintuitively, they can afford to be more creative because they cost less to make, and need lower sales to be profitable. Smaller teams also tend to have a unified vision, because the unique style of individual creative directors is not lost amongst hundreds of artists, programmers and game designers. They are also far less predictable. Anyone with a computer and the know-how has the ability to make a game from home, leading to an explosion of overnight success stories from independent developers. Games such as Papers Please, a harrowing border-crossing immigration officer simulation, Stardew Valley, a ‘country life’ RPG, and of course Minecraft, were each made by only one person, and have been played by millions of people across the globe. 

 

This eruption of popularity and diversity in modern day gaming makes it the perfect time to take an interest. In the Games Corner I hope to articulate why games are an important and influential artform,  explore how their experimental and ever-changing scope can create profound, unique experiences, and discuss the techniques developers use to enable players to build deep connections to the virtual worlds and characters they create.

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Dan Price is a first year Linguistics student here at QMUL, and he hopes that his reflections on the industry and reviews of some particularly narrative-driven games will resonante with the student body.

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