Indie games are great. Indie games are bad. Indie games are basement dreams, cobbled together from free visual assets and raw human stubbornness. Indie games are revolutionary, primitive, problematic, inclusive, divisive. Indie games are the spine and heart of the annual IndieCade Festival, a no-holds-barred celebration of independent gaming.
Sometimes referred to as “the Sundance of the video game industry,” IndieCade has taken place in Culver City since 2009, where not even October weather can detract from the sweltering Los Angeles Area heat. Here, digital titles hold court beneath massive white tents, while passing onlookers are enlisted into transmedia theatre performances and reimagined games of tag. Buildings are commandeered for panels on history, game development, and societal issues, or, in the case of the downtown fire station, transformed into a showcase for IndieCade award contenders. It is a haphazard sequence of days, partitioned by musical performances and impromptu meetups, with after hour parties providing even more opportunities to drink in the festival’s eclectic line-up.
In many ways, IndieCade represents the alt-punk hipster cousin to traditional video game conventions. Although industry megaliths like Nintendo and Sony made appearances at the event, they came without their usual stable of fanciful accoutrements, nothing but larger-than-average tents to distinguish them from their grassroots counterparts. Only virtual reality technology company Oculus VR boasted of a truly eye-catching display: a futuristic silver trailer replete with lawn chairs, fake grass, and white picket fences.
What IndieCade lacked in pomp and pageantry, it made up for with games. There were indie darlings like the neon-blooded Hyper Light Drifter and Night in the Woods, an adventure about a cat, the inevitability of death, and pizza parties. In one tent, Ronimo Games showed off the sequel to its award-winning Swords & Soldiers. In another, players explored a vertical slice from That Dragon, Cancer, a heartbreaking glimpse into the life of a family and a cancer-stricken child.
Gravity and whimsy walked hand-in-hand during the IndieCade weekend. Intermixed with more serious games were more experimental titles like iPhone game Sext Adventure, Daphny Needs to Poop, and Nina Freeman’s How Do You Do It. The virtual reality games were arguably the biggest show stealers, however, with everything from Star Fox-esque shooters to the deeply unsettling Use of Force, which recreated a real-life case of police brutality.
With all the animosity circulating through social media, it’s easy to imagine that the general atmosphere would have suffered for it. But while IndieCade did not shy from discussing recent events, the festival did not appear dulled by their existence. If anything, the sense of camaraderie and excitement seemed fiercer, suffused by the understanding that happiness and acceptance are ideas to be fought for and held on to with white-knuckled fists.