Review: Indie Game: The Movie – Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky

Indie Game: The Movie follows four game developers working in the recently explosive industry of independent videogames.

The documentary follows the developers of three indie games: Jonathan Blow with Braid, Phil Fish with Fez, and Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes with Super Meat Boy. Though not the most adept viewer for an indie videogames docu, the way Pajot and Swirsky construct the film lends itself to an audience who, like me, have extremely limited prior knowledge of the videogame scene. This, perhaps, is a mistake.

Blow’s Braid

One main audience exists for Indie Game: The Movie – the indie gamers themselves. The viewing experience for them, I would imagine, must border towards the tedious when these games and their developers are already well-known within their niche market.

On the other hand, in the long-run the accessibility of the film for non-gamers has the potential to create a wider, much needed awareness of indie games should it manage to draw the attention of an audience outside of the gaming world. Hopefully indie gamers themselves won’t feel too short-changed by the sacrifices made as a result.

However, in accordance, a problem ground exists due to the film’s lack of coverage of the other major indie games of the previous few years – notably Minecraft – and its omission of the development of the industry itself. Rather, Indie Game: The Movie decidedly focuses on the experience of the developers and their relationship to their games. Most of the film attends to the distress, isolation and frustration that define the lives of Blow, Fish, McMillen and Refenes.

The emotional attachment of the four developers to their respective games illustrates their struggle to produce a final product they are satisfied with. This struggle, it seems, is something which some gamers take for granted when awaiting the release of an indie game for years and years (4 years for Fez in fact). On the behalf of the game developers, it certainly makes a strong case for the theoretical field of indie games as art.

Still shots intersplicing the discursive scenes are artfully constructed, particularly when following Blow, with his silhouette standing in a room lit only by his PC monitor and thin slats of light seeping in between industrial-style blinds. Juxtaposing the composed stillness of Blow’s scenes, Fish neurotically rages against his former business partner. In the rest of his scenes he nervously babbles about the collapse of his whole life should his game fail.

McMillen and Refenes as a pair seem to keep the other relatively (I emphasise relatively) sane. Their game-baby, Super Meat Boy, goes some way to express their subconscious – Meat Boy, a boy with no skin, is constantly bleeding and sensitive to all external elements, he tries to save his girlfriend, who is made entirely of bandages, so that she may offer him some protection from the world.

Despite minor flaws and a tendency towards melodrama (though perhaps not in the eyes of the developers themselves), Indie Game: The Movie cannot be faulted for giving the fascinating world of indie games the commercial exposure and artistic credibility it needs and deserves.

 

Indie Game: The Movie, dir. Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky (2012, Canada)

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