Over the last week I’ve been spending a lot of time writing about Zoe Quinn, GamerGate, 4chan, and all that stuff. I’ve made it sound like a huge deal - like the industry is doomed or something if we don’t take control of this. But, with all the stuff I’ve written about empowerment, I don’t want to end this on a message of hopelessness. I need to get back to my own responsibilities, but at the same time I want to make sure I leave this on a positive message.
So, I’ll say this:
If you’re an indie game developer who has publicly spoken out against Zoe Quinn or gaming journalists, don’t be afraid.
Remember: we are indies.
I remember indie gaming half a decade ago. One time on a Game Maker forum I found this little platformer where you played as a raptor trying to stop the extinction of the dinosaurs. The production values were amazing for a Game Maker game. I bought the full version for ten dollars, which I paid directly to the developer through some now-long-forgotten microtransaction service. I loved the game, though today I can’t recall its name and can find nothing about it on Google.
I remember the time my father was in the hospital after a car crash. Spending hours in a surgery waiting room with nothing but a game-less laptop, I decided to finally buy the full version of Avernum. The website cited there as being a “24 to 48 hour processing period on orders”, presumably because the developer had to check his Paypal account and manually email you the fucking download link. My father was out of the hospital by the time I got the game.
I remember Iji. It was a little freeware action RPG made by a single person, but even today it stands out as one of my favorites. There is this one enemy in it - an alien soldier visually and statistically identical to all the others - but if you kill them you’ll find a journal later on where another alien soldier struggles to cope with the death of her girlfriend. If you let this enemy live, you can find journal entries suggesting the two of them run away at the end and live happily ever after. It was the first time a game made me feel like I had actually killed someone.
We are indies. Our resources are limited, our marketing is ghetto, and our creations are unconstrained. We derive our spirit from the way gaming used to be - back when games were made by men with mustaches and women in colorful 80s tights, hunched over a computer in their kitchen as they decided that they were no longer just Ken and Roberta, but Sierra. Our advertising is whispered praise between friends, our audience is the scattered gamers obsessed enough to seek us out, and our delivery is a hand-labeled floppy stuffed in a ziplock bag. We are indies because the mainstream doesn’t crave the things we want to make. But we carve a niche, because we know there are people like us out there - people who want to play the exact type of games we want to make, even if the bulk of society doesn’t.
Are you worried a news site is going to blacklist your company or refuse to give you positive press because of some opinion you held? Well screw them, you’re a goddamn indie. There’s a word for companies that help you with advertising if you follow their rules: they’re called a fucking publisher - only if you were working for EA they’d at least be giving you minimum wage, not under-the-table Kotaku pennies in a Patreon. Indies don’t need a publisher because they have their niche. They work for gamers, and gamers work for them, spreading their renown through fan campaigns and word of mouth.
"Mainstream indie" has lost this. It became about banal and simple games that could hit it big in the iTunes store. It became about hoping for a nice Destructoid mention, or stirring up enough controversy that people would see your game. We see this “gamer is dead” bullshit because our self-declared indie developers stopped caring about gamers - instead choosing to work with their journalist-turned-publishers to target a mainstream audience. They don’t need gamers because they are no longer indies. Well, fuck it, gamers and indies don’t need them either.
No matter what happens, we will have gamers - passionate individuals who see games as something more than the latest form of popular media. And as long as there are gamers, there will be space for indie developers - people who can make the weird-ass games that specifically appeal to that bizarre niche. If the mainstream wants to re-stigmatize us, let them. We once got along fine without them, and we can do it again.
Just don’t be afraid. You’re an indie: make the games you want to make. If you care about your audience, they will always care back. And if you don’t care about your audience… well, maybe a dispassionate mainstream audience will let your own dispassion slide.