A whimsical and readable blog
Indiegame: the Movie is a Canadian documentary about two groups of independent game developers and their struggle to take their platform-based, self-produced, self-developed games to financial success and public attention to the next level. The personal and professional lives of the gamers are barely separable as we plunge into the lives of Phil Fish, creator of “Fez”, Jonathan Blow, creator of “Braid”, and Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes who co-created “Super Meat Boy”. Film makers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky immerse you into the community and life-style of these gamers with as much enthusiasm as a teenager with a shrink-wrapped new game. In a world where the sweaty stereotype of gamers and game designers is waking up at 4:30pm, nuking a breakfast bagel and scripting code all over again till 9am without any contact with the outside, save via email, facebook or skype, the audience is not duped into thinking this life is devoid of glamour or without the sacrifices that accompany it just like any other artistic medium.
I was surprised by how much I related to these designers. I am a bona fide gamer, no questions asked, and have been since before I could even read. I was a very ambitious reader of books when I was a child but I remember trying to speak out Bowser’s threats to Mario in Super Mario Legend of the Seven Stars. Video games have always been a part of my life along with books, writing, movies and plays. To me it’s a medium like any other, an artistry full of self-expression, beauty (sometimes for its own sake) and the pursuit of immersion from the outside world. The designers in Indiegame see their art no differently than I do.
Theatre artists and video game designers have something in common–we’re both viewed by certain members of society as “weird”, and the documentary certainly doesn’t shy away from that. Not in a malicious condescending way though: the film-makers capture the uniqueness of their lives and chosen career paths that allows and audience to judge or simply see them as passionate about their work. I didn’t realise quite how similar how writers and game designers were until hearing the philosophies of Phil Fish and Edmund McMillen. McMillen describes quite vividly the mechanical perspective needed for creating a game level–how the player must be allowed to perform game mechanics and tricks rather than just being told they’re there. A writer’s version of “show, don’t tell.” Recently I wrote a play for the Vancouver Fringe Festival and I told my dramaturg towards the end of the rehearsal process, “I have absolutely no idea whether or not this is good any more. I’ve completely lost any sort of artistic objectivity for my own work.” I would learn that this is actually natural and a very good thing. It was a sound-bite I said and forgot but when I heard Phil Fish say it about his game, I was convinced of how similar our respective mediums are.
Tommy Refenes embodied much of my emotional situation after I finished the Fringe Festival. Like him, I had been developing a project for over a year and suddenly there was a deadline where this thing needs to get finished now so people can actually see it. I was frustrated and exhausted with many aspects of the show, and the happiness over doing it and finishing it was taken for granted. It was just a relief to have it out and relinquish the stress from what felt like years of preparation.
The documentary almost painfully reminded me of my love for video games. I am not a designer or programmer–I never learned those skill when I was young or growing up which is something I regret because creating a video game with my knowledge of story telling and dramaturgy would be a fantastically interesting journey for me. I can play video games without being asked, it’s a natural draw for me. Sometimes I play too much so it doesn’t contribute or add anything to my theatrical or literary career. In any case, it reminded me that doing what you love is important, what you truly in your heart of hearts love to do. It’s started a trail of thinking that maybe, perhaps, one day I could write the story for a video game which is a good feeling. Especially for someone whose had to separate video games from writing/reading for much of his life.
The documentary is beautiful, engaging, contemporary, relevant and makes you feel like a bit of a fan-boy for the old references and jokes the directors put in. It’s sensitive to individuals I have seen criticized and bullied, and gives them the legitimacy and empathy they have deserved for a long time. If anything, this documentary is a testament to doing what you love and pouring your heart into it while you do it. I don’t advertise that I love gaming and I think a lot of people hide that from everyday conversation as well. It’s still seen as a waste of time by some (and it honestly can be) but this documentary gently turns any perspective towards viewing video games and their creation as a genuine art form.