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IndieCade East and the Other Indies

Posted by Jess

This past February, thanks to the support of TAG and the mLab, I spent Valentine’s Day in New York City at the Museum of the Moving Image as a speaker for IndieCade East.

Some of you may have already had the chance to play the game that I was there speaking about. It’s called In Tune and I made it with Allison Cole and Zach Miller. We make up Tweed Couch Games (so named because of our suggestion couch, a tiny box upholstered with tweed to look like a couch).

For a lighthearted look at the weekend, you can read my Top 5 favourite things from IndieCade East over on the Tweed Couch website.

I want to take a closer look at something that I’ve been thinking about as a result of IndieCade East. I mostly have questions, not answers. I hope that’s okay.

This is probably a story that will sound familiar to a lot of people who have been in just about any creative medium for long enough: the buzzwords come and go quickly, and creators must rebrand themselves constantly in accordance with those buzzwords. Nothing is ever here to stay. What kind of artist are you? It depends on the year.

One of the categories that you could apply under for IndieCade East was “the Other Indies.” Initially, I thought, “what does that even mean?” Heck, what does the word Indie even mean anymore (oh, man, is that ever a big can full of wriggling fish bait)? Increasingly, it feels like it means “AAA with a smaller budget” and it has been majorly co-opted as a marketing term. So now, I’ve heard tell that some of those “other indies” are calling their work “alt games” instead, and apparently alt games are the kind of game that I make. Oh. Okay, the other indies.

I still didn’t think there could possibly be that wide of a gap between alt games/gamemakers (which I just discovered I was) and indie until I went and came back from IndieCade East. At IndieCade East, there was not just one game that talked about or dealt with consent in some form or other (y’know, mine), but four (Dark Room Sex Game, Realistic Kissing Simulator, Consentacle). The games and talks there were legitimately pushing at the boundaries of the medium, demanding diversity and laying out concrete steps for achieving it. I met so many of the creators and thinkers that I admire. The discussions were amazing. In her opening talk, Clara Fernandez pointed out that half of the speakers at the event were women, and that it wasn’t hard to do. I felt like we belonged there. But, Indie was still in the name of the event – so we were indies even if we were the other indies, right? Did we really need this alt game business?

Then, just after coming back, In Tune was a part of an Indie arcade during Montreal Joue, which is an incredible festival full of events aimed at bringing games into libraries and to new audiences. TAG’s own Arcade 11, as you may have already heard, was a roaring success both this year and last year as a part of this event. At this Indie Arcade, though…it sort of felt like we were the token alt-game. Also, I don’t think anyone showed up to that event expecting a physical game about navigating consent unless they already knew us personally. We met a lot of interesting people (for example, I loved the physical game that P.D. Warne was showcasing at the event – it involved one player covering their field of view with a cardboard mask and another player hiding another cardboard object in the physical space. That second player then directs the first player to the object [with whatever roundabout path they want] using a phone and some headphones), but this event still made me feel pretty different from the other creators showcasing there. I felt like the “other indie.”

This is still something that I’m thinking about. I guess one of the reasons why all these different terms exist for what often feels like the same thing, or what started as the same, is because their meanings change and are claimed by different groups and people with differing agendas over time. Changing identities as a creator to keep up still certainly feels strange, though.

Thanks to IndieCade East for inviting us to speak and to TAG lab and mLab for helping us get there.