Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

(On Cable TV, December 2013) I may not have gamed seriously in a while, but I’m still sympathetic to the scene, and films such as Indie Game: The Movie are a good reminder that, even as the Gaming industry has grown large enough to create thousand-employees monsters such as Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, there is still a place for the independent game creator, especially now at a time when digital distribution makes it easier than ever to reach an appreciative public.  While the creators of Indie Game have, I’m told, interviewed a large number of independent gaming scene creators and pundits during development, the finished film focuses on four creators: Phil Fish of Fez, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes of Super Meat Boy, and the irreplaceable Jonathan Blow of Braid fame.  (Confession: While I have Steam keys for both Super Meat Boy and Braid, Braid is the only one of those games I played before my voluntary hiatus away from the gaming scene began in late 2011.) By focusing on three games (well, really only two, since Jonathan Blow is featured mostly as an accomplished veteran –the others are fighting it out with their development as the documentary is shot), Indie Game is able to tell heartfelt stories of creators struggling with the practical realities of business even as they aim to provide a transcendent experience.  Two interviewees openly equate non-development to literal death (as in: “I will kill myself if the game is never released.”), while the financial, emotional and romantic toll of protracted development is starkly shown.  While Indie Game eschews overt narration, subtitles provide just enough context to make the film accessible to anyone not steeped in community lore, and the film thankfully provides a third-act moment in which we are reminded that games are still largely about fun.  Cleverly put together by Canadian filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky (with bit of help from their Kickstarter friends), Indie Game is an heartfelt, revelatory and compelling look at a very particular field of human expression in which individuals still put their health, fortune and emotional sanity on the line in order to provide an entertainment experience for other people.  The film is perhaps most wonderful when it taps into this vein of creativity and doggedness that make independent game-making so different from more corporate creations.  It’s a blend of exotic technical know-how, absolute dedication and straight-up mania.  Though I would have wished for broader commentary on the field, the choice to focus on a few creators makes for dramatic viewing.  All have interesting things to say (I have rarely found Jonathan Blow less than fascinating on-line: it’s a treat to see him on-camera in a similar mode), and their struggles in bringing those games to release day are worth telling.  Fascinated viewers should hit Wikipedia immediately after Indie Game to find out what then happened to the games and creators… so far.

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