Not Punk Enough to be Indie

I have some problems with the article over on Kill Screen that starts with the question “Do game designers actually need to go to school?” Not only is that very difficult to answer, but it is also, at least in my mind, highly subjective. What might work for some will not work for others. The goals of the person, wanting an industry job versus working on their own personal projects for example, plays a major role in that decision.

“I suspect half of the community at IndieCade is made up of academics: students and professors that believe in a formal way of teaching and creating games. The other half is made up of rogue developers that make games because they have a natural talent.”

However, what I particularly find troubling are these two sentences. Not only does it presuppose that, if you are an academic you do not have “natural talent”, but it also furthers a binary I personally find insulting: you must be this punk to make indie games. Academics, since they are part of “the establishment,” cannot possibly make interesting games. “[To] be fair” starts the second to last paragraph, you might make some contacts and have the space to make mistakes with “formal education”, but it “proves too costly and and many students find their portfolio doesn’t match up with real-world experience.” Basically, don’t bother.

And while that might have been enough to make me close the tab and go back to grading papers, as I increasingly find myself doing on weekends anyway, the next sentence really annoyed me.

“If the indie game industry is to reflect the values it wants: anti-establishment, free speech, and sticking it to the man, then it needs to be come from the people that aren’t shaped by establishments and told what to say.” (Emphasis mine)

Sure, there are many games from independent developers that could easily be placed in an anti-establishment category of some sort, but not all of them. In fact, many of the developers I have personally talked to don’t make games out of a sense of “sticking it to the man,” but because they cannot help to make them. It’s a part of who they are. If they had no other responsibilities, they would make games for the rest of their life, maybe only releasing them as needed to get feedback.

Because that is the other problem with this article. It positions indie developers as The Starving Artist. To make the most pure work, they cannot be infected with ideas from outside themselves. Never mind reading documentation or learning through code examples others have posted, it must come from the individual or it doesn’t matter. It has to be punk.

I’m not sure where that idea that all indie games have to be personal came from, but I’ve been finding it as exclusionary as it is trying to be helpful. I have heard way too many people state that “I can’t make an indie game. I don’t want to be that personal.” or “I don’t want to write about myself.” There is an image that all indie games need to be a certain way and it simply isn’t true.

If you want to make a game, do it. There is no punk enough. Make whatever you want about whatever you want.

There is no single formula for making indie games, no single valid way to do it. Nor should all of them be about the same topic. While I personally think we could do with a great deal less shooting and more on unexplored areas of personal relationships, I also know I probably won’t make those games myself. I spend my time with robots, cats, and time travel. Those topics interest me.

If indie development can be said to be about anything, it’s freedom. Not from “the establishment” nor “to be punk”. It’s less about the environment and more about the person. Some grow in academic settings while others don’t. The only way anyone can become a game developer though is by actually doing it. The school doesn’t matter. The setting doesn’t matter. It’s about you.

Make games. Not excuses.

One thought on “Not Punk Enough to be Indie

  1. This is a very good post! I only glanced at this article previously, but now I take a closer look at it, it could be seen as very biased and anti-academic.

    I think the truth is that every good team needs a mixture of talents – in this case academic and non-academic. Games may well have been succeeding with teams that had strong leanings one way or the other, but you still need a mix I think, particularly for the big stuff.

    For instance, I often feel that Spore failed because its team seemed to be made up of mostly academics – there was too much science, not enough fun. If they had a dash more non-academic influence, maybe it would have played better. But without their academic influence, the game could never have had the ground-breaking technology that it had (self-pollinated content, procedural music, and easy access 3D modelling).

    I hope that there isn’t really a split between academics and non-academics in the games industry, as I think that would be extremely detrimental in the long-run!

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