Narratives of independent production in video game culture

  • Paolo Ruffino Goldsmiths, University of London


Independent gaming, by describing itself as 'independent', automatically establishes its opposing force: a 'dependent', mainstream industry to be emancipated from. However, such a narrative of emancipation does not seem to propose a solid ground for its definition. Independent gaming is often presented as based on a technological revolution in the processes of game development. Also, it appears to be based on the alleged freedom of the independent developers, who overcome the restrictions imposed by the mainstream industry in order to express themselves through a personal, almost intimate work. Such enthusiastic descriptions can be easily counter-balanced by noting the difficulties and risks of independent game development, which forces the designers to struggle to find sufficient budget and exposure to produce and promote their work. The concept of ‘independence’ seems to have emerged in video game culture as a discursive redefinition of some of the practices of production of a game product. As such, it is not only descriptive but also generative of further practices and interpretations. In this paper I would like to propose an understanding of independent gaming not as based on an actual revolution (being it technological, economic or based on a different organization of work), but more as a change in the discourses surrounding contemporary video game culture. As such, it can be understood for the influences it receives and replicates, such as those coming from the creative industries and contemporary forms of immaterial labor. I will look at some specific cases, such as the ways in which articles, public events and the documentary 'Indie game: the movie' present independent gaming. I will debate which kind of 'independence' is outlined through the discourses produced within these contexts. This analysis does not intend to flatten independent gaming as a mere mirroring of practices coming from other media contexts, but rather proposes to look at it from a different perspective, which could possibly support a partial redefinition of its narrative. This could advocate a milder focus on the individual as an agent of artistic and cultural innovation, and more attention instead to the practices of co-operation which might emerge from a more flexible organization in the production of digital games.