You get a game! You get a game! Look under your seats! You all get indie games!
When I first met my flatmate she refused to play Dead Island with me. “I’m no good at video games,” she would contest, holding up her hands as I tried to force a PS3 controller into her grip. Today I can rarely scrape an hour to dock my Switch for all her digital adventures. We got here through years of fairly forceful persuasion, an introduction to indie games, and a final breakthrough during a particularly stressful exam period. But that first statement has stuck with me: “I’m no good at video games”.
Sure, I’ll hold my own hands up and say I’m no good at Super Meat Boy. I’ll concede that Dead Cells rarely fits the bill for my particular digital skillset. But give me a few days in Don’t Starve or a deck of cards in Hand of Fate 2 and I’m golden. All games are different, but that aversion to picking up the controller often stems from an idea that all video games require the same skills, skills often only developed by playing games in the past. That’s where the “I’m no good at video games” statement comes from.
Of course, what many people mean by this statement is that they don’t have the practice of manipulating analogue sticks and buttons in quick succession in order to react with lightning precision to onscreen events. But this list of requirements only applies to half the titles on a video game shelf; and more often than not it applies to Triple-A games.
Borderlands 3, Gears 5, Daemon X Machina – if you had never picked up a video game controller, you’d be intimidated to jump into the high-octane action of this month’s release lineup. Untitled Goose Game, Telling Lies, Jenny LeClue – these are games that you don’t have to be “good at games” to enjoy. And this is the crux of getting more players on the scene.
While my mother has never seen the value in spending an afternoon in a digital world, she will regularly lose evenings and car drives in a book and she will binge Call The Midwife or Downton Abbey as much as the next person. Meanwhile, she will regularly wipe the floor with me in a game of Cribbage or Rummy and even spends a few minutes of her day making her next Scrabble online move. Yet she still sees video games as big explosion generators with arbitrary button inputs, despite the sprawling landscape of experiences on offer.
I see such a contradiction in her, and so many others who are “no good at games.” She enjoys inhabiting fictional worlds and cares about the characters within them, and she also relishes the chance to create and enact a strategy of gameplay within a set of rule constraints. But in her head, she’s not an adolescent boy and unfortunately, that’s the perception that still keeps so many outside the world of interactive entertainment. She doesn’t know that there are video games being made for her on a monthly basis now.
If my flatmate had played Old Man’s Journey before I’d handed her a zombie hack-and-slash machine in 2013, she would have known that to be “good at games” would simply mean to be able to understand how your own actions can impact a gorgeous world around you and the story it’s subtly telling. If she had spent a day or two tending to a Stardew Valley farm, she would have known that to be “good at games” would simply mean exploring a game world or system to express your own creativity. If she had wandered through the empty streets of Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, she would have known that to be “good at games” would simply mean enacting a story and allowing yourself the emotional space to inhabit that story through your own actions. If indie games had gotten to my flatmate first, she would have been far quicker to pick up the controller.
We know why indie games can create these unique experiences for us. We know that their studio set up is far less risk-averse and far more dedicated to personal expression. Triple-A developers can’t make games for everyone, so if we are to level this playing field it’s the indies we need to be celebrating. We need more players on the scene, if only to provide a counter to the toxic arena we seem to have created for ourselves.
Tabs’ perfect afternoon consists of a cuppa, a biscuit tin, and a good RPG. When she’s not writing, commissioning and editing indie game features, she’s writing for her own blog, Musings Of A Mario Minion.