A Reflection on “Indie Game: The Movie”

It appears to have become moderately consensual that the game industry is in a creative strut. Big companies are so obsessed with accessible, risk-free game design for the masses that even some mainstream audiences are starting to gain mild aversion to the formulaic nature of these titles. Whenever such a problem is posed however, the solution is always at hand: the independent developers are here to save the day. It is a seductive argument, since independent creators lack high stakes industrial production budgets, and as such can risk innovation, creativity, and can go as far as ignore large segments of the market. Thus, here is “Indie Game the Movie”, a documentary intent on supporting a movement that is bound to change the video-game landscape forever… or maybe not.

“The Movie” follows four people, “Super Meat Boy’s” Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, “Fez’s” Phil Fish and “Braid’s” own Jonathan Blow. Strange world is this where a movement is characterized by four individuals, all from the same country (more or less) and all from the same generation. It’d be fine if we were discussing say, Pre-Raphaelites or the French New Wave (and God pardon me for this offensive citation of such admirable gents), and not independent games, a category which is transversal to an entire medium, has had representatives from all around the world and ever since its inception, something like 50 years ago. To properly discuss the cultural relevance and creative value of independent game development, one would have to do a historical overview of several different moments and movements which can fit inside this adjective of “independent”. Many authors from Japan, Europe, Central and South America would need to be cited, on mere account of historical and cultural relevance to the medium. Really, even a simple Wikipedia page view reveals the obvious – indies have neither age nor country, they are a heterogeneous group rich in diversity. But let us be kind, and assume such a scope is too vast and extensive to tackle in a feature documentary; even thus, if we would simply stick to post-2008 North-America, we would find a large group of independent game designers who should have a say in this documentary and are only surreptitiously quoted. Where are Jenova Chen, Robin Hunicke and Kellee Santiago from thatGameCompany? Where is Jason Rohrer or Rod Humble? Kyle Gambler and Ron Carmel from 2D Boy or Alex Neuse from Gaijin Games? Where is so-called game design genius Markus “Minecraft” Persson? They are nowhere to be seen, as are major faces involved in promoting and awarding praise to indie games, either relegated to the background with the odd soundbyte, or not even a part of the film. The context for the entire indie game movement is a 10 minute show-reel filled with half-truths, random images of games from aforementioned designers, and some very personal observations from the four authors who the directors actually bothered following and interviewing. What the documentary seems to be validating is a misconceived, manipulative and provincial view of what goes for indie gaming – Nintendo game clones with quirky pixel art, entirely developed by North-American engineers and designers… for Xbox live. That’s the alpha and omega of the documentary.

A pondered selection would be key in getting a film to even come close to have some sort of meaningful debate on the past, present and future of independent videogame production. One would need to accurately characterize independent games context so as to approach its acquired meaning in a medium striving for change, and that would involve citing many authors, teams and games which the film doesn’t even seem to recognize. I won’t even get to the point of addressing the taste issues regarding “Team Meat” games, or the tone in which these newfound heroes are glorified as they are extracted from their real lives and shoved into narrative archetypes for the sheer sake of drawing a clean little Freytag triangle. No, that would be questioning the whole voyeuristic TV documentary style, its ethical and social implications, and would take too much effort. The greatest fault of the documentary is that it simply has no pretense of historical, pedagogical, or academic goals, let alone any mild artistic aspirations. It is purely commercial: it aims at entertaining, making some money, and maybe selling the image (and games) of a number of game designers. That’s “the Movie” to a T.

From the unfantastic four, only Jonathan Blow has something meaningful to observe, and he’s the least interviewed of the four. He’s portrayed as a mystical guru, an egomaniacal genius that sits in the dark as videogame Buddha, programming while standing, and calmly spreading pearls of enlightenment with each pondered phrase. He’s an indie scene God, and Fish and Team Meat are his devout acolytes. Blow speaks with an ease and thoughtfulness that clearly make him the odd man out. For instance, Team Meat becomes overjoyed with commercial and critical success of their title, filmed while intellectually masturbating at the sight of e-mails with sales numbers, flashing review numbers in the 90% and up Metacritic, all quotes of “awesome” and “fun” being trashed about, and even delighting in silly YouTube videos that show the fans doing what they do best. All the while, Tommy and Edmund glow as if they were watching Mona Lisa in the Louvre: they made it, they even outsold “Braid”, their reviews have the word masterpiece in the lead, and suddenly Team Meat is the reference. All hail the new prophets of the new art-form, the film implies. Blow, on the other hand, reacted differently to his acclaim: he says he enjoyed the success but went into depression. The reason? Nobody understood Blow’s authorial point. Nobody interpreted his videogame in a way that made sense to him. Nobody connected with Blow on the level he was aiming at. His expressive discourse was a one way soliloquy and no one was listening. After discussing these matters in comment pages with reviewers and commentators all over the web, he was shunned and became the laughing stock of internet town. Apparently, he then retreated into the superior plane of existence where he now rests while conjuring his forthcoming misunderstood masterpiece. The point is that unlike Team Meat, Jonathan Blow cared more about his artistic view than his commercial success – and that is a mark of someone who the medium would do well to listen to. The film never returns to probe deeper into these issues; Team Meat’s breakfast is more important, evidently.

Personally, I don’t think “Braid” ever stood a chance. It is a sophisticated, nuanced work that does not lent itself to oversimplification. Its theme, of course, concerns Time, and how Time shapes a fundamental archetype of human life – men’s relationship with women. Mother, friend, girlfriend, wife, daughter… Princess. If “Super Mario Bros.” was a plumber’s dream of saving a beautiful princess made surrealist, joyful adventure, “Braid” is an oniric poem on the variations of that same basic theme. Inspired by Italo Calvino’s work, it is a tale of infinite arrangements, kaleidoscopically interconnected through a weave of unconscious thought and memory, a search for a figure both illusive and ever present, a feminine voice that draws you in with its allure till you’re close enough to feel it, and yet remains out of touch. This hyper-fiction does not fit the excel columns of Graphics, Narrative, Value, Design, Fun, Longevity, ‘bang for buck’ and whatever else Gamespot and IGN can add up to a neat number or statistic. Superficially, “Braid” shines in these hollow nouns, for its visuals, soundtrack, story and gameplay are immediately accessible, and its technical proficiency (in terms of budget segment) is unquestionable. Its basic references are recognizable by an autophagic medium that knows Mario and Donkey Kong and little else. In this sense, it is indistinguishable from “Super Meat Boy” – but everything else that lies dug deep in its essence, remaining hidden from uncouth sight, is precisely what elevates “Braid” to a distinguished category inside the confines of the North-American indie scene. Superficially, and only superficially, “Braid” garners success in the dark avenues of videogames, because it can lend itself to a positive evaluation from a commercial understanding of what a videogame is – a product. It is sellable, and as thus, reviews and sales were positive, irrespective of any writ whatsoever that can take into account the (aest)ethic, symbolic, cultural and interpretative aspects which Blow yearned to explore. It just doesn’t equate, relate or resonate. To Blow, mechanics and story were a means of expression; to the industry at large, they were means for having fun.

Scholars are also to blame, for despite being free of short term commercial goals and similar considerations, failed in realizing what Blow intended with his game. They present their academic discourse with passion and insight, but naively base their analytical prose on references and axioms that are as ill-suited to the proper analysis of an artwork as Gametrailers valuation categories. Their point of view is highly influenced by a short-lived Media Communication field that wishes to come of age by ignoring and even re-writing millennia of Humanities knowledge with half-concocted theses and theories. When probed deep enough, popular academics reveal an unconscious subscription to many ideological perversities: the mercantilization and mass industrialization of the arts, a hedonic and consumerist view of life, and a total disdain for intellectual criticism and education, understood as forms of presumptuous elitism and therefore, antithetical to the universal values of free, democratic, opinionated access to the arts by the people. What scholars tend to reveal is, basically, a lack of adequate education for the study of the cultural phenomenon of the digital arts. Those few who bear the right tools for a proper discourse either fall into two traps. The first is that with time, the persuasiveness and ubiquitous nature of the dominating videogame discourse gets to them and their reference point is corrupted beyond repair. Long standing axioms on what constitutes art and good art get rewritten by pressure of the all-powerful zeitgeist. Those who do not fall in such a trap end up cast-way, rejected from the videogame society, insulted by everyone, misunderstood by all, relegated to the interstices of the internet, as obscure beacons whom only the most lucky, illuminated audiences know where to find. The finest example of this is Bruno de Figueiredo, an intellectual (in every sense of the word) whom I consider to be, without a shadow of the doubt, the leading world authority in videogame aesthetics, criticism and history, now writing in some obscure blog which is not divulged by fear of visit by unwanted eyes. Other exiles are sure to roam in the vast ocean of the internet, hidden from search engines, writing that which needs to be written by videogames. Vanguardist authors suffer similar fates. Either they leave the industry, or survive in ghettoes. Take the notgames movement, the most recent of these processes of social exclusion; when “Tale of Tales” was attempting their breakout work with “The Path”, no critical praise ever gave them a chance to succeed in the limelight. They were called pretentious and pseudo-intellectuals. Their opus was carefully deconstructed in terms of value: you could say it is good, but only with a trailing series of if’s, like ‘if you’re into art-games’, ‘if you are not looking for fun’ or ‘if you value pursuit of the mind’. “The Path” was great… if and only if you didn’t expect it to be like videogames. Their oeuvre was deemed as not even deserving to belong in the same medium… on hindsight, thank God for that.

The medium we have is the one we want. When players buy “Call of Duty” or “Super Meat Boy”, they embrace the same ideals. They may think “Super Meat Boy” is different, and in a sense, it may very well be, being developed by two instead of two hundred, but budgets and developing teams are details when it comes to creative pursuits. The audience is the same, and the values pursued by creators who engage with that audience, whether they are two or two hundred, are thus the same. Take a look at “Team Meat’s” bedroom walls and at the games they claim to want to buy. Is it chance that their games are carbon copies of “Super Mario Bros” (”Super Meat Boy”) and “The Legend of Zelda” (“The Binding of Isaac”)? That their game design value is as discardable and hollow and conservative as that of the latest “Fallout”? That their aesthetic is as crude, insulting and prepubescent as that of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” or their narrative as immature and hedonistic as that of a “Transformers” cartoon? No: authors honor their cultural environment, and Team Meat only knows retro games and shallow mainstream entertainment. Their cultural heritage is not different from the latest AAA game, because they play AAA games from past and present. Team Meat games are hedonist pursuits, devoid of cultural taste and lacking any form of moderately adult expression… and the same can be said of any “Call of Duty”. They may not like the industry’s alienation of workers, and thus, symbolically reject big-budget titles, but from an aesthetic point of view they see eye to eye. They cannot offer anything that is not already polluted and disiminated in the cesspool of popular videogames and media, for a simple reason: they don’t know anything beyond that world. They can only reiterate, recombine and regurgitate, ad-infinitum, that which they know, which is all we already know and are fed-up with. They have nothing new to tell and so they cannot challenge their audiences to grow as human beings. Now, don’t get me wrong, Team Meat is not the issue here. Their commercial and critical success is, at best, a symptom of a larger disease. A film that elevates them to mythological status, as sacrificial knights in shining armor that are trying to save the game industry, is only adding to the insult. How Jonathan Blow even acquiesced to be placed in the same film as them is puzzling.

Not that Phil Fish is any better. His angsty ambition may seem the appropriate act for a visionary, but what I saw was an arrogant perfectionist looking for approval everywhere he found. His game is as derivative and thematically inept as any by “Team Meat” and perhaps even more so – or am I the only one who sees “Fez” as an inflation of “Paper Mario” mechanics? Visually, “Fez” is delightful and pretty, with superbly detailed pixel art and a cool gimmicky 2D/3D engine. But, as Fish himself states, his notion of aesthetics is that design is knowing when green looks good with blue (I’m paraphrasing). He forfeits any mention of expressive desires, meaningful communication, thematic exploration, movement citations, etc. Even Edmund gets that part, whilst rudely trying to communicate his troubled childhood! At some point, Fish claims his game is a cubist painting made interactive. I’m guessing he has never looked at a Picasso, or he’d realize the foolishness of his affirmation; if anything, his game is anti-cubist. Phil only did “Fez” to look good to an audience who praises fan-art, pixel-art and retro-styled games, but has never looked at a painting in their life. Of course, like Team Meat, he catered to an adolescent audience and succeeded. But what does “Fez” seek to achieve in terms of author intent? Fish admits to everything, really: he wanted to recapture how players felt in the age before the internet, when secrets in a videogame were… secret, mysterious and illusive. The theme, again, is that of an adult (or a seemingly adult) that wishes to recapture his infancy. He makes games for kids and adults who behave as kids. His grand ideal of design is doing that which “Zelda” did in the 1980s… that’s almost 30 years ago in case you didn’t notice. Like Team Meat, Fish imagines himself doing art for the sake of homage to Nintendo-Power… now that’s one quote for the Taschen covers. Phil doesn’t even wish to recapture that sense of awe with added spectacle, beauty or a new-found reflection. There is no reinterpretation of the oft referenced theme, there is no subversive discourse, no subtle reverential play. While Blow reimagined an entire genre, by conveying his own emotions and thoughts, Fish, like Team Meat, is happy to just copy and paste, adding nothing. No, such musings are far and beyond Phil Fish. He’s the author who clones Japanese videogames so he can say they just suck.

“Indie Game the Movie” is a manipulative documentary intent on vindicating an aura of triumph for a group of people who have little in common, who do not represent the best that videogames have to offer, and who are proof of everything that is wrong with videogame creation. The directors are dumbfounded, arrogant, naive youngsters who got mixed in a movement they knew little about, and they didn’t even care about it enough to improve on their and their viewers lack of knowledge. Their film, of course, teaches you nothing. You’ll only learn of a contemporary world where authors value ‘art’ through numbers – sales, review classifications, metacritic scores, facebook likes, youtube views–, and you’ll come to witness the same emptiness, rudeness and lack of growth present in mainstream media in a different garment. Thankfully, independent videogame development exists beyond this farce, and there are authors who can help us dream of a brighter day for this medium. You‘ll just have to look elsewhere to find out something about them.

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  • Comments (15)
    • Ninja Dodo
    • July 7th, 2012

    I came across this post via twitter and would respectfully disagree with a number of your points.

    Indie Game The Movie is a film about the creative process, not a comprehensive breakdown of all indie gaming worldwide and criticizing it for what it is NOT rather than for what it IS seems a futile exercise.

    Your assertion that the film fails because it focuses on a few key protagonists demonstrates you either do not care about or do not understand narrative structure. The film is obviously designed to be the story of a few people (though the upcoming special edition extras may satisfy the need for a broader view).

    A long series of interviews with a representative subsection of all of indie games, while certainly interesting for other developers, would not have been a film with a beginning, middle and end… or for that matter one that would’ve won at Sundance.

    By focusing on the personal journeys of a few developers it provides an accessible look into indie game development as experienced by Refenes, McMillen, Fish and Blow. If the goal of the film is to reach people not already interested in games, I believe theirs was the wiser choice.

    I love art in many shapes and sizes and it always makes me sad that accessibility is seen by some as a sin rather than a virtue. A work that can communicate the same themes and depth to many is worth more than something that speaks only to a few, all other things being equal (ie we’re assuming both are of the same substance and depth, while one is impenetrable and the other is not).

    I am struck by this: “Bruno de Figueiredo, (…) now writing in some obscure blog which is not divulged by fear of visit by unwanted eyes”

    Aside from suggesting an unfamiliarity with Google, I am puzzled that while you dislike accusations of elitism you neglect to link to a blog because it cannot stand up to scrutiny by those unwanted eyes apparently not part of the club worthy of discussing true art? The internet may be full of trolls but good criticism (and art for that matter) is meaningless if it is read by no one.

    It doesn’t help that your article is full of personal attacks and assumptions (“never looked at a painting in their life”). Every word referring to Team Meat or Fish, “an arrogant perfectionist”, is coated in a negative tone that goes otherwise unexplained: “whilst rudely trying to communicate his troubled childhood” “the unfantastic four” (really?)

    As someone who rails against anti-intellectualism you should know that your being unable to appreciate a work does not make it it bereft of value. You put Blow on a pedestal for exploring themes that are personal to him yet completely gloss over how McMillen’s games reflect various aspects of his life and personality.

    You apparently see no merit in creating a sense of wonder describing it as “an adult trying to recapture their infancy” but only a cynic would speak so derisively of a capability for childlike wonder. Frankly, the world would be a better place if more adults possessed it.

    • zed
    • July 7th, 2012

    Unfortunately, by titling their film “Indie Game: The Movie”, the filmmakers are making an implicit claim to an authoritative (or at least, broadly representative) view of independent game development. As author of this piece points out, it simply isn’t. A better name might have been something like “Four Developers”.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 7th, 2012

    Dear NinjaDodo,

    I respectfully disagree with your comment’s assertions, and will try to answer them as best as I can. I apologize if I may not do so in the future, as replying to comments in an ongoing debate takes up precious time which I cannot afford to waste.

    “Indie Game The Movie is a film about the creative process, not a comprehensive breakdown of all indie gaming worldwide and criticizing it for what it is NOT rather than for what it IS seems a futile exercise.”

    On the matter of my reflection being adequate to the intended view of the authors on what it should be, a few thoughts are in order. One, it is called Indie Game: The Movie – such a title alone makes my criticisms on its inadequacies in characterizing ‘indie games’ valid. Two, the film is about independent games, not independent film or independent music, again validating my oppositions to it. Third, the film often points out the relevance of the videogame art-form, and blatantly subscribes to the appalling notion that its interviewees are its grand auteurs and saviors of its industry. Of course, such a point is made by the interviewees themselves, while the directors use the appropriate editing to give salience to these statements. Four, if it is indeed a film on “creative process” it I believe it to be a poor one at that, as I did not find either Team Meat or Phil Fish very creative, and I saw very little of their creative process. Do they brainstorm? Do they design their games using some special document or method? I saw none. As such, I think your assertion is wrong, and if it is not, it doesn’t bode well for the film.

    “Your assertion that the film fails because it focuses on a few key protagonists demonstrates you either do not care about or do not understand narrative structure. The film is obviously designed to be the story of a few people (though the upcoming special edition extras may satisfy the need for a broader view).”

    I know more than you probably think on “narrative structure”. The film is obviously designed to transform a group of childlike misfits into heroes of a movement that doesn’t even exist. It is meant to make viewers feel warm and fuzzy on the fact that success is possible despite great hardship and work, for if Team meat can do it, anyone can. We are meant to identify with such characters. Blow is there to give some insight on the dangers of success, and Fish is the imponderable meant for the audience to thrill with anticipation at an undisclosed ending: will he succeed? Will he fail? We all know how that went about. In the end, the film presents a sanitized and saccharine view of independent game development, oblivious to martyrs and true visionaries, and choosing characters that fit their own preconceived notions of the “creative” act. That is the structure.

    “A long series of interviews with a representative subsection of all of indie games, while certainly interesting for other developers, would not have been a film with a beginning, middle and end… or for that matter one that would’ve won at Sundance.”

    A film does not need beginnings nor ends. And even if one would subscribe to such a cramped view of documentaries’ structure, there are for more interesting ways to go about it. As a popular example demonstrates: I don’t remember Michael Moore having trouble in imposing three acts while interviewing many people. Furthermore, what is in question is not whether or not the aforementioned structure can make the film more interesting or viewable for the public at large, at least not to me. What I am thoroughly devoted and preoccupied with is the impact of such media in the perception of audiences on what art, culture and videogames are. And in that vein, this film, as my reflection on it describes, is nefarious, propagating pesky and uneducated views on all these subjects.

    “I love art in many shapes and sizes and it always makes me sad that accessibility is seen by some as a sin rather than a virtue.”

    I neither think it a blessing nor a damnation. The value of art is irrespective the size of the audience. Unlike Team Meat’s programmer, I do not believe it is the size of the audience that matters.

    “A work that can communicate the same themes and depth to many is worth more than something that speaks only to a few, all other things being equal (ie we’re assuming both are of the same substance and depth, while one is impenetrable and the other is not).”

    In this we disagree. For the simple reason your conditions are impossible to achieve. Complexity and depth tend to come at the cost of a much needed effort from readers. Or do you think a 9 year old is capable of reading The Odyssey and even skimming the entire depth of its literary art? It is true that a film for the masses may be extraordinarily profound, but for it to be contemplated by all, it must either be accessible in a way that avoids depth in which case it is meaningless to me, or in a way that hides it from plain view, needing an acute set of eyes to decode it, in which case I would favor it. In either case, for the ‘depth’ to be unearthed, the audience needs study and effort, for that is the way that greater revelations are made bare. A child playing a videogame is but a child; it takes an adult to contemplate it in its entirety.

    I believe your comment actually points out to one of the values I criticize in my text: the notion that art to be great art must be democratic and understood by all. I find such a value arrogant and typical of those who do not wish to learn more, for fear of their own ignorance. A great work of art can be most demanding, showing us our ignorance, and requiring of us to learn and better ourselves as human beings, before we can face it and begin to try to understand it with the humility and respect it so deserves.

    “The internet may be full of trolls but good criticism (and art for that matter) is meaningless if it is read by no one.”

    The internet if full of idiots, yes. And this is not a case of no one reading, but of only those who benefit from such readership being able to read. And yes, I know of Google, thanks for the snarly, ho so non-trollish remark.

    “It doesn’t help that your article is full of personal attacks and assumptions”

    It is. Sometimes things must be said the way they are: acidic and sour. I would apologize if I hurt someone’s feelings, but it would be a polite hypocrisy on my part. I did consider cleaning the text to make it more amenable, but it would do a disservice to that which I value most. As such, I can only admit that my tired self is filled up with negativity, one which arises from witnessing the dominance of ignorance in the medium.

    My assumptions are mine alone: take them or leave them, it is your call. If you wish, we may discuss them.

    “McMillen’s games reflect various aspects of his life and personality.”

    As I referred, “Even Edmund gets that part, whilst rudely trying to communicate his troubled childhood!” I am quite aware of Edmund’s “expression” of his life.

    “You apparently see no merit in creating a sense of wonder describing it as “an adult trying to recapture their infancy” but only a cynic would speak so derisively of a capability for childlike wonder. Frankly, the world would be a better place if more adults possessed it.”

    I adore any artistic object that can suscitate such a sense of wonder that can make me a child again. Journey would be a personal example of mine. But I fear you mistake my words: it is one thing to recapture your infancy in a form that is seductive and elaborate so as to delight an adult into feeling such an emotion of infantlike awe. I agree that a feat as the one you describe is of extreme merit, and to a point I think J.Blow is capable of such a feat, as was Miyamoto in his classic masterpieces. It takes an adult in full possession of his artistic abilities and personal sensibilities to achieve such a prowess. But it is quite different to express yourself as a child and expect your audience to act similarly, which is what McMillen actually strikes me as being able to. When Edmund designs a vagina and a penis, squirting blood and sperm, he is being as profane and provocative as a child who just learned the word “Penis” “Penis” “Penis, Penis, Penis”. Now look at the clever boy, so funny and charming with his “penis”. When Edmund clones Zelda with his signature gore-ish cartoon ‘aesthetic’ on top, obsessing over infantile portrayals of blood, excrement and violence, all while narrating his infant traumas, he is as artistic as the adolescent who enters the psychiatrist and draws with red crayons murderous scenes of his parents. You may want to pity and relate with the psychological maladies of the boy, but that does not afford artistic merit to the work. If he were capable of expressing himself in a form technically and aesthetically superior, that would be of value to the artistically inclined… which is not as it stands in “Binding of Isaac”. Finally, when Edmund did a game for his niece, in what is surely his sole unrepulsive game, he did so at the cost of all sophistication. His game was as infantile as would be the drawing of a child: we may smile and amuse in a form of condescending and paternalistic endearment, but there is not feat to applause at the work of an unknowing 5 year old. There is also nothing to applaud at a young man who acts and expresses himself as a 5 year old, which is my point. Now, you may rightfully disagree with my understanding and aesthetic judgement of Edmund’s work, but that is a matter of debate in terms of taste, which I fear may bog down to me being less… generous shall we say, than yourself.

    Thanks NinjaDodo (such a lovely nickname), for your gracious rebuttal. Cheers!

    • Ninja Dodo
    • July 7th, 2012

    I will admit the Google remark was perhaps a bit snarky, but honestly I do find the notion of shielding (potentially) interesting writing from the ‘wrong’ people worthy of some snark.

    I do not (mean to) suggest that art must be understood by all (or most) to have value, merely that to communicate with depth AND clarity is a rare skill and one that is greatly underrated. I consider myself a curious person and object to the suggestion that I am against expanding one’s horizon, to learn new things and to more deeply appreciate the things one already knows…

    Regarding tone I think ad hominem attacks do your argument a disservice. Sarcasm works just fine when directed only at the work.

    I would add as well: I think you mistake the developers’ rejoicing at success as excitement about money. They are excited that they get to continue to make games and that others are enjoying something they made, which is a unique joy that I think anyone who has done something creative can recognize.

    We do actually agree on one matter of taste, while I do very much like a number of his games, I am not actually a fan of the more gratuitous aspects of McMillen’s work.

    As for the title of the film, I think that’s a fair point, but I’d say debatable… Personally I think it fits as implying a part of a larger movement. I don’t think it automatically reads as presuming to speak for all of indie games.

    I’m glad my nickname amuses you. I find it conveniently unusual.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 8th, 2012

    Good to know that we agree on the gist of the matter.

    Cheers!

    • Allosaurus
    • February 26th, 2013

    @ruicraveirinha

    If you don’t mind, could you clarify some points in that statement for me? I’ve read this blog a bit but never commented, and I’m genuinely interested in your opinions.

    -What specific issues do you have with brash, straightforward, gratuitous art pieces such as Binding of Isaac? Are you not aware that The Binding of Isaac is told from a child’s perspective, and thus is intended to look at serious issues like religion-based self-loathing, and existential terror from the perspective of a simple-minded, small child, and thus, serves itself by taking a childish approach to such things?
    (By the way, Edmund’s game “Cunt” was simply intended to be a joke in poor taste, not a piece of artistic expression. He’s been asked what it meant and he’s said on multiple occasions that he just made it because he was bored at the time and wanted to see how far he could push a tasteless joke.)

    -Have you ever played “Time Fcuk”? It’s one of McMillen’s most artistically significant games, and despite the title, it’s also one completely devoid of profanity, blood, feces, urine, gore, or any of the other things you (understandably) find distasteful. It’s a minimalist, symbolic adventure into the deeper nuances of human motivation (there’s an extremely clever “box” metaphor that I guarantee you won’t fully understand until the very end). You can play it for free on Newgrounds. It isn’t very long but I think it may help you understand his art in a different way if you ever get around to playing it.

    • Allosaurus
    • February 26th, 2013

    Oh, and also (apologies for double-posting, but I can’t edit my last submitted post):

    -What game were you implying that Edmund and Tommy were content to just “copy and paste and add nothing” to? I don’t know of a single game that play like Super Meat Boy.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • February 26th, 2013

    Hi Allosaurus, and thanks for your comment.

    I am aware of Binding of Isaac and its narrative, yes. I have not played “Time Fcuk” (I’ll check it out when I can), but I suppose my answer will fit that bill as well.

    The question here is: does it matter that a childish and vulgar work is self-consciously childish and vulgar? What difference is there between a bad game and a game that is bad but admits it is bad? Is it not bad all the same? Is it not even worse: for a bad author may not know the extent of his inability, but a cognizant bad author knows he is showing a bad work, for he conveys such a reflection (naturally, with some rationale or context), and yet he avoids attempting to do something good and worthy of presenting to a mature audience. I have seen that clever post-modern trick many times before, and I always think the same: if the author knew it was being childish and vulgar and knew that was worth of reproach, why did he still create his work in such a form? Could he have not accepted the challenge of addressing such issues in a mature and intellectually provocative way? Either he could, and he is wasting his talents, or he couldn’t, and he is without talent. Either way, what we get is not good, so I label it as such. A tasteless joke is a tasteless joke, no matter if it is intended as rhetoric on tasteless jokes or not.

    Cheers!

    • Allosaurus
    • February 26th, 2013

    @ruicraveirinha

    This comment demonstrates one ultimately circular and frustrating quality to your work: you seem to associate (no matter the intent) childishness or vulgarity with a lack of quality or artistic potential. You throw around terms like “bad author” and “intellectually provocative” if they’re supposed to mean anything after you say them. You don’t seem to grasp that your work is heavily based in subjectivity and your condescending attitude to the commenter up there only solidifies that. This quote in particular paints you as an overall unpleasant and pretentious person only able to see art in binaries:

    “…which I fear may bog down to me being less… generous shall we say, than yourself.”

    That quote, whether you meant it or not, implies two very unpleasant things that I don’t think a self-proclaimed intellectual like yourself would want implied:

    1) That there is an objective quality to art that must be judged with varying levels of generosity (or leniency for all things “bad”).
    2) That your subjective tastes are somehow more discerning than your opponent’s.

    A narrative from the perspective of a child, based entirely on said child’s personal fears and fantasies, is only meriting itself being told with the same restraint a child would show while expressing themselves. Did you not like The Catcher in the Rye because it was blunt and juvenile? Did you not like A Confederacy of Dunces because there were childish fart jokes in it? Did you not like Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer because they were childish in nearly every sense of the word?

    Childishness is not an inherently negative trait and using it as such is showing an ironic level of immaturity on your part. Many great works of art have used childish themes and a childish approach to narrative or aesthetic to create truly important works, and to see you use it the same way a radical feminist uses the term “patriarchal” (an all-in-one instant dismissal button) is nothing but disheartening.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • February 27th, 2013

    Hi again Allosaurus,

    I think you got me backwards – apart from all the negativity you associate with my character, which I feel needs no answer – I stoutly believe in the inherent subjectivity of the arts. And precisely because of that belief, I see no reason why I should discard my personal and subjective view of these matters and try to encompass yours or anyone else’s subjective point. I will argue with you as much as I feel is interesting for both me and you, as a way of exchanging ideas, which may one day lead to new understanding and new beliefs. However, that implies me being candid in my assertions, and not stressed by their antithetical nature to others. You used a snarly comment to make that objectivity claim – but believe me, that was merely a snarly, (though polite) comment – yes, yes, I have acid in my blood, I should be nicer to people, blah blah.

    As to my tastes being more discerning than others – I can see why you would say that – and yes, I am naturally inclined to think I am right and, when you disagree with me, that you are wrong. But, not only is this not always so – I have reverentially disagreed with others whose tastes surpass mine – as I also find this to be a most common of traits, for we all believe our tastes are better, for that is the very reason they are ours, perhaps I am just more blunt and honest in showing that I do not approve of your taste.

    I will say the following, not referring to you in particular, but of my experience in discussing games or other art-forms on the internet. I may boast many defects – big ego, loathes of cynicism, uncompromising arrogance, whatever – but I respect whoever decides to come here and criticize me. As long as it is polite, I take the time to answer your point, and give my own view on the matter – if that is not a symptom of someone who likes to hear others, respecting their opinions, and openly discuss them, without pejorative remarks or ad-hominem rhetoric, then I don’t know what is. However, this does not mean that I don’t have scathing reviews of my work spread throughout this blog, or dozens of vicious insults that were either edited or downright deleted in the admin page. I may be a bastard with opinions you hate – but I am the most polite bastard in this corner of the village.

    As to the childish point – there is a huge difference in having the theme of infancy and being infantile in our portrayal of something, whether it be infancy or not. The works you cited as to provide an analogy for TeamMeat’s creations, I would easily place in the former category, whilst TeamMeat’s – in my subjective assessment of their work, just so we are clear – I would place in the latter. The theme of infancy is, of course, a theme like any other, deserving of all the reference. Now, what do I mean with BoI being infantile? Well, using an aesthetically crude visual design, for example, with very low low range of color and contrast, a heavy use of an iconographic style that comes from popular comic books, cartoons and videogames, a use I find most distasteful, easy and popular so as to cite, and technically uninteresting. Also, replicating many classics’ game design – LoZ and Rogue – without changing their inner logic, or re-appropriating it in a meaningful experiential discourse (in essence, I question why should Isaac’s life look like an action-adventure/rpg and of all things why one that so heavily relies on past references?). Finally, and most of all, being infantile is never wasting a chance to present humor with no subtlety, sophistication or moral value, one which bogs down to a focus on direct scatological remarks, cartoonish violence, and post-modern use of references (look at me, knowing you know I took this animation from Zelda). That is an infantile game – one which treats its audience like immature children who enjoy bad jokes and can’t be bothered to spot a good visual study, an obscure design reference, or a creative use of game design language. I judge games by their capacity to make us grow as human beings, and I don’t see how BoI can ever accomplish that, in fact, quite the opposite, and so, I rate it negatively. I accept you might think otherwise, but I also think I am right. Sorry.

    Cheers.

    • Allosaurus
    • February 27th, 2013

    @ruicraveirinha

    “Also, replicating many classics’ game design – LoZ and Rogue – without changing their inner logic, or re-appropriating it in a meaningful experiential discourse (in essence, I question why should Isaac’s life look like an action-adventure/rpg and of all things why one that so heavily relies on past references?).”

    Because it’s in part an analysis of the themes touched on but never explored in something like Zelda. Edmund McMillen draws a parallel between four vital aspects of his childhood and connects them all together through the game. From what he’s explained, they are as such:
    1) His own isolation as a child, exploring the woods near his house with a stick in his hand, pretending it was a sword.
    2) His relation of that sense of isolation to The Legend of Zelda, a game he took refuge in as a child.
    3)The Legend of Zelda’s deeper yet unexplored themes of isolation and forced heroism/maturity from a young age (Link is a mere child, yet he’s tasked to trek across the lands, kill countless creatures and other humans, and risk death on thousands occasions).
    4) His relation of those themes to the religiously-charged, psychological abuse he came to both experience and witness as a child.

    He’s not only re-appropriating the concepts brought up in The Legend of Zelda, he’s subverting them wholesale: telling a similar (albeit far more disturbing and overall more realistically-themed) tale of forced maturity, isolation, and fear from a young age. A startling amount of children are psychologically and physically abused (sometimes even killed) because of dogmatic religious beliefs, and The Binding of Isaac explores those themes allegorically, through the eyes of a child and through the conceptual but not necessarily intended depth of another similar game. The references to retro-games are intended to further point #2. (The only things I personally thought were unnecessary and gratuitous were the internet meme references.)

    Also, the art style is intended to be crude, as if a child had drawn it (Edmund McMillen himself said he doesn’t agree with that stylistic choice and is now re-making/expanding it in a different style). Pay attention to the menu screens and it becomes very clear.

    While you believe that The Binding of Isaac itself is told in an infantile manner, I believe the exact opposite: it’s a thoughtful, interesting, allegorical work, however filled with blood and feces it may be. I believe the same of The Catcher in the Rye. It’s a thoughtful, interesting work, no matter how many fragment sentences, ‘goddam’s, or directionless musings there are. They serve the experience and the point-of-view, they don’t bog it down.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • February 28th, 2013

    Dear Allosaurus,

    I appreciate you taking time to do some analysis on BoI’s themes, but I would point your gaze to your own answer, and ask you to notice that what you are arguing about in a positive manner, is for the most part, not issues of “form”, but issues of “intent”. Again, I do not think that McMillen’s intention is corrupt at heart, as I mention sarcastically in my original text:
    “Even Edmund gets that part [i.e. expressive desires, meaningful communication, thematic exploration, movement citations, etc]”
    My critical assertion of his work, is formal, that is, his materialization of his intended themes – infancy, loneliness, religious and personal abuse – is infantile. Whether consciously or unconsciously justified, such crass infancy is there – in the aesthetic, in the references, in the vernacular, in the iconography, in the scatological elements, etc. I don’t think you disagree with me on this being true, for you say things like: “the art style is intended to be crude”, “The references to retro-games are intended to further point”, “it’s a thoughtful, interesting, allegorical work, however filled with blood and feces it may be”, etc. It’s bad – but there’s an expressive point to it being the way it is, is what you are getting at. Whether or not feces serve a metaphorical point is irrelevant to me, because they are feces, and I think the use of feces as humor is easy, childish and debasing, whilst you appreciate the subversive act of using feces as an expressive statement on Edmund’s life.

    So our discord stems from different understandings of what art can be valued for, not necessarily on we not seeing the same qualities in BoI. You accept these crude elements as a conscious part of an allegoric discourse which you support, whilst I see them as mere justification of inaptness on part of its author to delve into a subject matter with formal properties that dignify both it and its audience. If Edmund had tried to make his point without the constant vulgarity of his images, words, design tropes and elements, I might’ve appreciate him, but he chose such vulgarity to become a part of his aesthetic – for there is no game of his I know of that escapes this vulgarity.

    As to his authorial intent and style, I would like to mention some things. Have you noticed how the first 3 themes/emotions/ideas you mentioned are all present and an integral part of LoZ and to a minor extent in the Rogue genre? Have you noticed how all Edmund’s games are based, to different extents, in a Nintendoish legacy of game design? Have you noticed how all his games are visually crude, in one way or another? Have you counted how many references he uses that are not popular and known to every north-american teenager of his generation? Have you noticed the consistency of his humor, his style, his game-design and his themes?

    Edmund will be Edmund. He is what he is.

    • Allosaurus
    • February 28th, 2013

    “Whether consciously or unconsciously justified, such crass infancy is there – in the aesthetic, in the references, in the vernacular, in the iconography, in the scatological elements, etc. I don’t think you disagree with me on this being true, for you say things like: “the art style is intended to be crude”, “The references to retro-games are intended to further point”, “it’s a thoughtful, interesting, allegorical work, however filled with blood and feces it may be”, etc. It’s bad – but there’s an expressive point to it being the way it is, is what you are getting at.”

    Exactly. Crass infancy is indeed there, however, while you believe that it’s use is in poor form, I believe it’s use serves the experience. Let me point back to my “Catcher in the Rye” analogy. In that book, there are countless fragment sentences and directionless and meaningless musings about petty things, but they’re accurately contextualized because the person telling the story is supposed to be an angst-ridden teenager and thus bound to make such observations and foolishly think highly of them.

    “Whether or not feces serve a metaphorical point is irrelevant to me, because they are feces, and I think the use of feces as humor is easy, childish and debasing, whilst you appreciate the subversive act of using feces as an expressive statement on Edmund’s life.”

    Who says the intent was humor? I don’t believe much in The Binding of Isaac is intended as comedy. The feces are there because of the recurring themes of uncleanliness, both physically and ‘spiritually’. Pay attention to the flashbacks Isaac has in-between basements.

    “Have you noticed how the first 3 themes/emotions/ideas you mentioned are all present and an integral part of LoZ and to a minor extent in the Rogue genre?”

    They are not an integral part of The Legend of Zelda in the slightest and they’re never even mentioned let alone touched upon in the roguelike genre. Link, as a character, is a cypher; a character meant for the intended audience (of children) to project themselves onto, and as such, is almost never explored as a character, lest the illusion be broken.

    “Have you noticed how all Edmund’s games are based, to different extents, in a Nintendoish legacy of game design?”

    I don’t see how 2D platforming/dungeon crawling is necessarily a Nintendo-only legacy. Also, only two of his games fit into that criteria: Super Meat Boy and Binding of Isaac. Time Fcuk is a puzzle game, Coil is a metaphorical art piece with different means of interactivity for every screen, Triachnid is a physics-based traversal game with an overarching theme of maternity, and Aether is another physics-based traversal game that takes on much lighter themes of childhood than Binding of Isaac.

    “Have you noticed how all his games are visually crude, in one way or another? ”

    It depends what you mean. While, yes, there is a consistent cartoon style to his work (that I personally enjoy), all of his games are visually distinctive; Super Meat Boy as a very angular, geometric look about it, Binding of Isaac looks childlike and sloppily done (an art style that Edmund later regretted), Time Fcuk is a desaturated and pixelated piece that’s meant to evoke the look of an old television set, Coil is evocative of gothic/biological imagery, etc.

    “Have you noticed the consistency of his humor, his style, his game-design and his themes?”

    I literally have no idea what you’re talking about here. His games are extremely varied both in terms of deign, themes, and humor, with most of his games intentionally lacking the third element. If you can find comedy or any substantial design similarity (2D graphics and side-scrolling don’t count) in Triachnid, Coil, Time Fcuk, or Aether, I commend you. I certainly can’t.

    I genuinely do suggest you check out his earlier work. All the games I mentioned up there are completely free and relatively short.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • March 1st, 2013

    Your reply gives the impression that you correspond themes in games like LoZ with written text – surely you see there’s much more to LoZ than a blank avatar?

    Alas, I see no point in furthering the discussion: your point is clear, so is mine.

    Cheers Allosaurus!

    • Allosaurus
    • March 1st, 2013

    Thanks for the fun and interesting conversation.

    Cheers!

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