‘Indie’ and Independent Games and Culture in the Australian Video Game Industry
The global financial crisis has brought the Australian video games industry to the end of an era. The survivors emerging from the independent sectors are now competing directly with the older studio system whose ongoing survival is reliant on an industrial work-for-hire production and distribution model. New independent studios, partnerships, and collectives have responded to the opportunities of online and mobile games, and their successes have reaffirmed the relationship between the cultural production of games in Australia and their globalized mainstream audiences. This seminar examines these changes and considers their effect on the synonymous relationship between the terms, ‘indie’ and independent. It argues that if ‘indie’ culture is to maintain its ideological relevance and critical creativity it must be active in the overlapping spheres of operation between itself, the independents and ‘big gaming’ culture in order to better address issues of identity, gender, sexuality and intellectual property in the content and context of making games.
Deciding on the pitch for the abstract was difficult. I could be talking about machinima, affect, mobile play and first person shooter games. I am going to be talking about persona and social media, but as I am hoping to conduct research interviews while in Sweden to find out more about the industry there, I felt I ought to tell people about the industry and the culture of making games in Australia.
Ever since #Freeplay11, I have been preoccupied with the tension in the usually synonymous treatment of the terms “indie” and independent. The post GFC changes to the local games industry serves as a microcosm for the larger global patterns, and the independent games festival functioned as a lense for the study of the actors of the small but significant network of games Australian development.
The biggest thing to come out of the independent games festival publicly was the explosion of blog commentary, twittering and blog activity following the unexpected tension over gender issues that bubbled over in the panel – the words we use –
The issue of gender is central, but also take note of the diferent media spheres the discussion has crossed, from the live conference panel, to twitter, facebook, podcasts, blogs.
Topy Twitter coverage of the festival
The blog coverage represents what is left of the overlap between indie and indepdendent. Can we call academics independent, or journalists and critics unbiased, similarly is it possible to make games outside the dominant systems for their production?
I was already aware of the great disparity between the number of men and women working in the industry: only one in the 15 respondents so far have been female and only two considered the lack of women working in the industry to be a problem. Instead, at Freeplay11 I saw the resistance, a challenge that I understood to represent the qualities of ‘indie’ culture.
The ‘indie’ position, is one from which to criticise dominant operations of the mainstream, it is an oppositional culture. Indie cinema, says Newman (2009, 20) shares a common principle with other kinds of ‘indie’ culture, in that the attempt to appeal to a mass audience on its own terms entails an unacceptable compromise. I don’t think that is necessarily true or possibly in game design.
In the seminar I will be asking if the success of independent studios post GFC, in Australia is an environment capable of sustaining the oppositional perspectives and frameworks from outside the mainstream, particular on issues of gender, race, sexuality and age that are central to the operations of indie cultures in other entertainment mediums. I intend to map out where I think the independent and the indie have spilt, and how that split has a lot to do with social media, and the importance of the digital persona in games culture and developer culture.
Newman, M. 2009. Indie Culture: In Pursuit of te Authentic Autonomous Alternative. Cinema Journal, vol. 48, no. 3., 16-34.
Edit: Apologies to SearingScarlet for posting the wrong link to her blog.