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REVIEW: GameLoading: Rise of the Indies

on Thursday, Apr. 30th

Another indie film about indie games?

That’s the first thing I thought when I was pitched on the idea of GameLoading: Rise of the Indies, a documentary funded via Kickstarter that tracks a number of indie game developers in order to give a cross section of the international scene.

The sense of deja vu was strong: it was Indie Game: The Movie—an indie movie about indie games—which helped kick off the Kickstarter film funding craze a few years back, after all. GameLoading tackles the same topical territory. Yet where IGTM delved into the details of its subjects to tell a story about creativity the makers of GameLoading directors Lester Francois and Anna Brady take a wide angle approach.

This means that GameLoading is a less intimate film than IGTM, but while the later movie does an amazing job of unearthing the soul of the indie game scene Francois and Brady excel at giving a sense of the scene’s scope.

Or at least of the scale of a particular moment in indie gaming: late 2013 and early 2014. The winter of indie’s content… before the dark times of GamerGate came to spoil everyone’s fun.

A few of the targets of that reactionary campaign are present amongst the cast—chief among them being developer Zoe Quinn, who by the time the documentary was being filmed was already the target of hate speech online. Her segment, which comes towards the end, touches on the issues that women developers face, but that is far from the full focus of the film.

Given the long shadow that the firestorm of the fall cast, and its recasting of the decade’s long culture wars into mutated 21st forms, it’s great to be able to just see what the class of 2013 was up to before the shit hit the fan.

There’s Rami Ismail of Vlambeer playing the part of wandering indie maker. Christine Love (Analogue: A Hate Story) flies the flag for queer visual novels with a broad appeal… or at least as broad as fans of visual novels get. Then, amongst the dozen or so devs is the one I’m most personally familiar with: Robin Arnott, the creator of SoundSelf.

Arnott’s presence in the film was my litmus test for how well the filmmakers “got” their other subjects. I’ve interviewed Arnott numerous times, and we’ve had lengthy conversations about abstract interactive art projects, video games, and consciousness expansion. His special skill is making what might otherwise sound like new-agey bunk make sense. Okay… so maybe I’ve got a bit of hippie in my blood. I grew up in Berkeley, it just happens.

The point is that the film captures what its like to spend time with Arnott perfectly. Which suggests that it gets the personalties of the other developers as well.

So while GameLoading: Rise of the Indies might not an amazing film it is a valuable document. A reminder of the limitless creative potential that has been unleashed by the democratization of computing tools.

The best thing about the film is that it shows just how diverse the indie game scene already is. There’s so much talk in creative circles about the lack of diversity—in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation—that it occasionally triggers backlashes against those delivering the message. The exact psychological mechanisms that lead to these backlashes is material enough for it’s own documentary, but I sincerely feel that a vision of hope for the creative industries is the most valuable thing of all.

It’s one thing to talk about the need for diversity and it’s another thing to see a vision of that diversity in action. “Optics,” to use a media term, do a lot to reset cultural norms. These can sometimes be mere mirages: token illusions conjured to make us feel like we’re doing a good job of treating everyone justly.

What the makers of Gameloading do here is something different: by capturing that “Class of 2013” they demonstrate the breadth, if not the depth, that gaming already encompasses. Issues of whether a game should be “fun” or merely “entertaining” and how interactive they should be a touched on lightly and I think for good reason. Those arguments are so goddamn subjective that they’re akin to those over what is and isn’t beautiful. In essence: they are the eternal arguments of gaming… and like Batman and The Joker they will be going round and round forever.

Gameloading: Rise of the Indies is a bright reminder of the hope that indie gaming represents. A hope that individuals and small teams of people with nothing but imagination, skill, and will can open up new frontiers for the generations to come.

The film is currently available to purchase from Steam, iTunes, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, Humble Store and Gameloading.tv

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