Note: This article contains mention of misogyny and racism. But I also talk about cats, so that kind of makes up for it. Kind of.
If I like games, then I love indie games. They are often imaginative and unconventional. Many of them are made by people still learning how to program or, better yet, are making their very first game. That inexperience is often what saves them from the mind-numbing sameness of the big leagues. Free indie games in particular can be an experimental playground where anything goes, where that which is untested is often most promising. Knowing this, I hunt for intriguing experiences on GameJolt, Itch.io, and underrated, lesser-known sites, hoping to find something I’ve never seen before. And of course, there’s always Steam. As videogames are my storytelling medium of choice over books and TV, this hunt sustains my soul.
However, some of you fellow indie devs really try my patience. After a couple years of doling out everything from freely-downloadable pain to probably-overpriced-but-maybe-worth-it-whatever-I-have-Steam-credit pain, it’s time for me to bash back. The situation is so dire that I actually wrote a listicle. Hate me all you want, but this is your own fault and you know it. I present to you The 10 Indie Games I Never Want to Play Again. This article, of course, represents my personal, subjective opinion. Which I, of course, rate an objective 10/10. Headshot, would fire again. If any of us got hired at a real company or made money in the first place. So forget I made that pun, I guess. Bear with me instead as I describe the don’ts of indie dev, while tipping my hat to those that did the do’s.
1. “Simulator” Games
This is the cardinal sin of indie development. Sure, cheeky “simulators” that aren’t actually simulators were cute at first. We had that surgery game, and that was pretty funny. But face it, with Goat Simulator we’ve hit Peak Sim. Now that we’ve got a simulator for every animal and mundane activity in existence (I never said I was innocent!), we’re ready to call it quits. The joke is dead.
…That said, go ahead and add some funky physics to your game. Make it cutesy. But don’t call it a simulator. And if you have the skill, add something else that makes it interesting.
2. “Women Make Me Horny/Angry/Some Other Emotion” Games
Misogyny runs rampant in videogames, and free indies are no exception. We’ve got games where women are killed as plot devices, where women are killed as literal background scenery, and where women are naked just because, you know, naked chicks, man. There are long, rambling point-and-click-click-click adventures through millions of lines of whiny dialog about “the one that got away”, as if a girlfriend is a small insect you keep in a jar until it suffocates.
And then there are the angry games. The ones that shame some poor girl for refusing to fuck a guy who (sort of) knows how to program in Game Maker and who (barely) knows how to draw pixel art. Your games are boring, immature, and treat women like a gigantic Borgian hive-mind. We don’t care what you have to say. Step off the keyboard and get a therapist.
…Unless you actually know how to write good erotica or design a good visually-oriented interactive pornographic experience, but going by the numbers that’s approximately 0.000000001% of all people on the planet, regardless of gender. Congratulations, all seven of you. You’re keepers. Just remember your games don’t have to be about het dudes. Human sexuality is rich, complicated, and hard to parse. Like Dwarf Fortress.
3. “Game That Stars My Favorite LPer” Games
Jesus Christ. Games are self-referential enough as it is. The gene pool is already dry, and a circle-jerk won’t fill it back up. Make your game star someone from a Jane Austen novel or something. You’ve heard of her, right?
…Fine then, make it star Chuck Palahniuk. And make sure he dies by the end of it.
4. “Jump Scares Are All You Need” Games
Horror is a genre that can give deep insight into the human psyche. It’s also a genre that is fundamentally misunderstood. As I discuss in one of my LPs, jump scares are an arms race, and just like with nuclear warfare, everyone loses. We know the spooky monsters, we know the tired tropes. They’re predictable. Hit us in the feels instead.
…That’s not to say that jump scares are impossible to do well. However, they have to carry meaning. The only way they can carry meaning is if they are rare and surrounded by story that resonates on a human level. And no, “my girlfriend was just horribly murdered-slash-I am a sociopath and murdered her myself” doesn’t count. See number 2 above, and then see me after class.
5. “I Don’t Know How to Implement a Flashlight” Games
This is related to the previous entry. Games with flashlights don’t have to be horror games, but they often are. So often in fact, that people think my game A Night in the Woods is a horror game despite the fact I’ve never described it as even being remotely scary. Thanks a lot, Slendy.
Anyways. Your flashlight implementation. It sucks. It points straight forward from the dead center of the screen so that there’s no depth to the scene. It doesn’t have a bounce light to illuminate the surrounding area and give context to the player’s position. You should fix that.
…And you’re in luck, because I wrote an article that illustrates exactly how to fix it. [Link is broken, I’m working on mirroring the article.] Remember: a game isn’t horror just because there’s a flashlight. Code a game about making out in the woods at summer camp or some shit. (Just don’t whine about the girl leaving you when camp ends. Those are some good memories and you know it.)
6. “Let’s Single Out Dark-Skinned Celebrities for Humor” Games
Charles Barkley. Jay-Z. 50 Cent. They’ve got money and you don’t, and you’re white, so something’s obviously wrong! Or maybe your sense of humor is kinda racist and you need to grow up.
…What an embarrassment. As if people aren’t alienated from videogames enough already. Give people of color the space to tell their own stories. This is much more interesting.
7. “Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Survival Roguelike Crafting” Games (Especially the Ones with Cubes)
Remember what I said about that gene pool? It’s reaching California-levels of dryness here. This is a bonafide emergency drought zone. This precise selection of descriptive words. No more, no less. And I say “no less” because this arrangement of stale genre-ready buzzwords is now the bottom of the barrel. There is no “less”. (Nor are there “fewer”, you comma fucker.)
…Just pretend Minecraft never existed. I know, it’s hard. It’s a great game. But do it for your own good. Also pretend you’ve never heard of zombies. Your homework is to read up on manifest destiny, because between these two genres you’re virtually reenacting it and probably don’t even realize it. Cultural memes run deep, man. So does black lung, which they never told you about before you jumped down that well wielding a pickaxe, because every mining endeavor is exploitative. You’re right, I’m a fun-wrecking social justice warrior. Your games will improve because of it. You’re welcome.
I kid you not, at this point in the article it took time to find more examples because I kept seeing the previous seven entries repeated, page after page after page.
8. “Let’s Make It About Cats Because Internet” Games
Don’t get me wrong, I love cats. I’m allergic and I still go crazy over them. Buuuuuuut… just as too much cat-time makes my nose bleed like an anime perv post-panty flash, the glut of rushed cat games makes me never want to see a polygonal feline ever again.
9. “GUNS GUNS GUNS” Games
The videogame industry solved for guns in 1998. The equations are perfect. The math checks out. It’s down to a science. We got it. We can move on.
…Unless you make a fascinating game that just so happens to have a gun in it, like Nuign Specter. Make those bullets count, asshole. We’re in a recession.
10. Any And All Sports Games
…Just kidding! Sports games are the least aggravating of the lot. The jocks have you beat in the “empathy and intelligence” department. That’s a baaaaaad sign.
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