Feature

Gamer's Heaven

Indie exhibit features the bizarre and innovative

The Museum of the Moving Image is an underrated gem in northwest Queens. Behind the double glass doors, the entire interior of the Museum is white—floors, walls, and furniture—and upcoming exhibits and events are projected onto the wall. The museum’s modern architecture creates a space clearly devoted to enhancing the visitor’s aesthetic experiences.

The museum’s current exhibit, Indie Essentials: 25 Must-Play Video Games, is bringing back the long-lost appeal of the arcade. Going there, pockets laden with quarters, is a trip down memory lane. With games ranging from N and QWOP to Diner Dash and Minecraft, the exhibit provides a modern approach to the once-popular arcade setup that has been usurped by home video game consoles in a changing video game industry. The home video game console and the likes of Grand Theft Auto V have replaced PONG and other arcade games. Thanks to the enormous popularity of Xboxes, PlayStations, and PC-based games, when we game with friends, we’re often sitting in our underwear on a beanbag chair in our living room, communicating via headsets. But this exhibit is a reminder that gaming extends beyond that.

The Indie Essentials exhibit sprawls across the third floor of the museum, allowing visitors to experience indie video games in an environment other than the home. The exhibit houses 2013’s top indie games, the dimmed rooms offer ample space for visitors to play any of the 25 games on offer for the cost of admission ($9 for students, and free from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays!).

Gamers and non-gamers alike have been drawn to this exhibit in large numbers. Steve Spinella, a New York City resident and first-time visitor to the museum, describes the Indie Essentials exhibit as a “gamer’s heaven.” He believes that most adults don’t have time to invest in learning new games because they “have other things going on.” Another museum visitor, Tarra McFarlane, enjoys the exhibit out of nostalgia, and says “it’s easier to relate to games similar to the ones you grow up with.”

According to Joshua DeBonis, co-designer of New York City’s Killer Queen Arcade, exhibits like Indie Essentials are “very important for presenting games, especially local multiplayer games, to a broad audience who might not have even thought to have looked for them in the first place.” Killer Queen Arcade is a huge arcade cabinet that until now was housed at the NYU Game Center in downtown Brooklyn. The game “is a 10-player team-based real-time strategy platformer inspired by classic arcade games like Joust and Mario Bros.,” according to the game’s Facebookpage. It was the recipient of the Game Developer’s Choice Award at IndieCade in 2013 and is one of the games showcased at the Indie Essentials exhibit.

Although many of the games at the exhibit are available via digital distribution (buying and downloading games over the Internet), games like Joshua DeBonis’ Killer Queen Arcade are currently exclusively available arcade-style at the exhibit. Described by both the creators and players as “StarCraft meets Joust,” I found Killer Queen a little bizarre yet incredibly addictive. In a matter of minutes, I was able to figure out the gameplay and was soon battling the opposing team alongside strangers, ultimately succeeding in bringing the giant snail god home and winning the game.

The indie game offers a drastically different experience than do more mainstream, or AAA, video games. “[While] AAA games generally need to appeal to a very broad audience, indie games can and often do appeal to a very specific niche,” DeBonis states. “Indie games generally offer a more focused experience, and are often either more artistic or more ‘pure fun’ focused than AAA games.” This level of focus is perhaps what more mainstream games are lacking.

Games like Everyday Shooter and Gone Home allow players to directly manipulate their environments. In Everyday Shooter, players act as traditional shooters while playing in the confines of a virtual musical album. Each level lasts
the length of an entire song, and “shooting one type of enemy will trigger a guitar note or riff, while destroying another enemy will result in a different guitar sample,” according to the
Indie Essentials website. When I played Everyday Shooter, I found myself not only appreciating the soundtrack to the game and the organic style of the game’s development, but also enjoying the effort and skill required to navigate the game and plan my next move.

Gone Home is artistic in a different way. The player is involved in an interactive story adventure, focusing on the player’s exploration of the plot’s setting—a home—in order to “slowly uncover the history of the family who lived there,” according to the exhibit’s website. Gone Home offers an incredibly uniquely emotional and intellectual experience to the player. I had to take note of minute details, ranging from journal entries to notes and objects, all while listening to a remarkable narration and trying to figure out the reason for the family’s disappearance.

Clearly, the games presented in the Indie Essentials exhibit offer a wide array of styles to satisfy any gamer’s interests. Justin Owen, a senior in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and co-president of Columbia University Science Fiction Society, thinks indie games have “much more novelty [than mainstream games], can have very good stories, and can be absolutely brilliant.” Owens explains that exhibits like Indie Essentials introduce non-gamers and gamers alike to “some of the depth and artistry that is visible in [indie] games.”

Mainstream games are “paralyzed by the need to turn a profit, and that means appealing to a mass market and not taking so many risks with gameplay or content,” explains Barnard senior Brooke Jaffe, co-president of Columbia University Science Fiction Society. Indie games are not bound by these same rules.

“The designers and developers of the games presented in Indie Essentials take daring creative risks to explore new forms and methods of play...Independent games are a fountain of innovation and experimentation, advancing games as one of today’s most dynamic and important cultural forms,” Jason Eppink, Museum of the Moving Image curator, says.

The rise of the indie game is establishing a pathway for aspiring video game developers with limited budgets to channel their skills and meet the interests of video-gamers worldwide. It may very well be the future of video games. 

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the author. The Eye regrets the error.

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