Arthouse Games
by jcr13Monday, December 4, 2006 [5:34 pm]

Indie games have been getting a lot of attention lately. The host of a G4TV program declared that 2006 was going to be "the year of the independent game." We now have several successful festivals and conferences that focus on indie games. Websites about independent games are springing up like mushrooms.

The general idea is that independent games can save a risk-adverse industry that is stagnating in sequel-city. The hope is that a healthy indie scene will be a breeding ground for fresh ideas and fresh talent, just like the indie film scene freshens the movie industry.

But there is still a big gap between indie games and indie films.

The focus of independent films seems to be on non-genre or cross-genre art pieces that take creative risks. In fact, the most successful indie films are the ones that are really "like nothing else out there." Think Memento or Napoleon Dynamite.

On the other hand, the focus of the indie games scene seems to be simply on the idea that "we're indie." In fact, indie "clones" (re-makes, really) of existing commercial games abound. The rest of the scene is filled with games that fit squarely into existing genres.

So where are the art games? Ironically, they may be more densely distributed in the mainstream scene than in the indie scene. Titles like Ico and Katamari Damacy may be on the fast-track to the out-of-print list, but at least somebody in the industry is green-lighting a smattering of creative risks.

We need games that take risks and games that aspire to be art. It doesn't really matter what scene they emerge from, but the indie games scene is a fine candidate. The point is that it's not enough just to be independent. We need to use that independence to do something different---something that might not be possible in the mainstream industry.

We need arthouse games.

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