Indie or Mainstream? Tensions and Nuances between the Alternative and the Mainstream in Indie Games

Óliver Pérez Latorre

Abstract

The commercial emergence of “indie games” since 2008 represents a fundamental challenge for contemporary game studies. As we still do not have a clear definition of the indie game, its popularity and commercial success have made the conceptualization of this type of game even more complex. Far from being a pure videogame model, completely separated from the mainstream sphere, indie games often involve hybridizations and ambiguities between the alternative and the mainstream.

Thus this article aims to problematize the neat conceptualizations of indie games as an opposing “genre” to mainstream games by exploring the many tensions and nuances between the alternative and mainstream dimensions that can be identified within indie game production, culture and design.

The first part of the article focuses on the production and distribution issues, as well as on the cultural construction and artistic legitimation of indie games. The article then posits a design-centered analytical approach to indie games inspired by Kellner (1995) and based on “procedural rhetorics” (Bogost, 2006; Flanagan and Nissenbaum, 2014). This approach is used to look at commercially successful indie games, which we consider to be an especially suitable object of study for exploring and understanding contemporary culture through the frictions between hegemonic culture and counter-culture, progressivism and conservatism, capitalism and anti-capitalism, as well as the way we conceive these notions.

Keywords

indie game; design; culture; ideology; mainstream

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