F*cking Indies

At least this is the sentiment I see on my twitter too often to count at this point. 

Let me open with this question: can we retire this discourse forever? It hasn’t moved a single inch in years and every iteration of it is exhausting – “it” being the discourse which is usually simplified to:

  • Indies think they are better than us because they are newer and telling stories differently.
  • Non-indies think they are better than us because they have been around longer.

Let me help you today and, while I’m at it, make a point of reference to use forever because this happens every six months at least for no damn reason.

Being Indie

Y’all have made this thing a whole lot more than it ever should have been. Being indie means that you created something using means, medium, or concept outside of whatever is the accepted norm. That’s it.

You make games that aren’t about war, that don’t involve lots of dice or math, that only use a page, that don’t have a single person responsible for running the NPCs and handling the overarching narrative. Sweet! More, please; I enjoy these things.

Having History

All this means is that you’ve existed longer and have had, in most cases, more time to refine what your game is, or have more audience because you were the only games that made it to widespread public knowledge at the time. Okay, cool.

You like system mastery and crunch and war and tactics. That’s fun. I don’t mind these things. Some of these are really cool.

Across Enemy Lines

Before we get into this section, a quick note: yes, I did simplify those two groups above such that they are nearly reductive. But you know what else? You have an idea of exactly who I’m talking about, so further descriptions weren’t needed. Y’all will be alright. Let’s continue.

Remember those two bullet points a few paragraphs ago? There are only two, so it shouldn’t be hard to find them. Listen, you aren’t enemies to each other and watching this conversation happen a few hundreds tweets at a time is exhausting as all hell.

To The Elder

First, let’s talk about the older, more established gaming circles. Y’all continue to gripe about how indies act like they’re better because their rulebooks aren’t as extensive or crunchy or whatever else but forget that all of this happening now is a response to you.

You had decades of lead time. You had the dominant space for that time and said “this is what game is, this is what rules are, this is how people relate to the Storyteller/Facilitator/Game Master, this is the standard and you aren’t doing games correctly if you don’t do things as we have described”.

So now that the young upstarts have shown up with all the requisite pettiness and spite to go, “Fuck you, we’re doing this”, they’re painted as rebels without a cause. That ain’t it. 

Take some accountability here. Are they right for this behavior? No – and we will address that – but they also aren’t wrong. The amount of stories that come from this time are full of antagonism between players themselves and from players to DM. This is a defining characteristic of games from that age to the point that when people didn’t want these things, they were ostracized and worse. 

To be sure, some of you were ostracized by people who shared your spaces. There is a lot of good that came out of this time, to be sure. Games, lore, mechanics that defined things for many years to follow, but we do a disservice to the whole discourse when we just go “The indie kids think they’re so much better than us” when we don’t acknowledge the rest, some of which persists to this day. 

This behavior you describe is so attached to you that indies still don’t know how to describe themselves most of the time except to say they aren’t you.

To The Younger

Now, indies, I need you to listen: what you build is on the shoulders of giants. You do not need to worship these people in any capacity, but to behave as if their work has nothing to do with the work you’re doing or isn’t part of a spectrum of what stories can be is myopic at best.

While I cannot say that every single one of you are hostile as if you’re some monolith, what is true is that when you speak about games and systems, you tend to reserve your spiciest comments for what is considered the establishment and don’t spend anywhere near as much time talking about what it is your game does well and what inspired it because in doing so, you’d have to talk about the games around you which include some of these older ones.

Not all of this older stuff is bad. I get that a lot of this is just us seeking different experiences in gaming and that doing this requires a bit of rebellion to be sure, but I think we lost our way when being indie became a game of creating/gaining social capital by dragging games from established IPs that aren’t liked.

Something to exist solely in contrast to these older games and the people who made them rather than an expression of a unique perspective on things that people enjoy that aren’t considered as often.

Mr. Masyk expresses this pretty well here, but to quote him directly:

“Indie” is a nebulously-defined term for a socio-economic status of writer/publisher/whatever. It isn’t an organization or a group or a union or a community, it doesn’t have power or leverage.

Being considered “indie” or “not indie” matters as much or as little as you’d like it to. And quite frankly the crowd of whom it really, really matters to is beginning to concern me.

Source: This twitter thread by Nicholas Masyk

Were there grognards? Yes. Are there grognards now? Yes. Were they rampant and gross in their time (and this one, for that matter)? Sure were. You know what other spaces have gross people? All of them including the indie scene.

Yes, the games you make are different and cool and challenge norms and take things in different directions like we mentioned before, but along the way of growing and becoming more open and accessible to people you turned taking the path less taken into something else entirely. In that respect, those who have a bit more history are right about one thing is that you often throw out the baby with the bathwater, including terms and methods of solving problems or coming up with ideas.

This isn’t some superstructure we need to eliminate. We aren’t taking down the Sith or Shinra Corp. Instead, we’re expanding what is considered a game and going “here are the options for everything. Way back when, we had five. Now we have hundreds.”

And Finally

And to both of you on both sides of the table, if your efforts and conversations aren’t headed in that direction – if we’re not expanding the spectrum of games people can play and bettering the conditions under which they are made while we are at it – then let me ask: what the fuck are we doing here? Like there’s no discourse to be had here. Just play what you like and be quiet in a corner somewhere.

But if you’re determined to have the discourse, then at least progress somehow. Make more games. Make better games. Refine the language around them so it’s approachable for people who aren’t steeped in years of this hobby and not obscure the best parts of understanding how all of this works with academic language.

Also for the love of Pete (or whomever else) enough with veiling your “I clearly know better than you” attitude on either side of this with questions, pondering, etc. Specifically, if you’re going to step out into the public sphere with spicy takes and get clapped up, you don’t get to go “there goes those indie people/grognards again”. Log theeeeee fuck off and learn how to talk to people with respect.

Like gotdamn.