Context: This is about Geoff Keighley’s ‘Summer of Games’, an advertising showcase for upcoming video game releases, split into multiple parts. The broadcast of the main show, which presented a collection of Space Horror games and the Neil Druckmann hour, was followed by the long running showcase ‘Day of the Devs’ where indie game developers presented their projects, introduced by publishers Double Fine and Iam8bit, everyone sitting in gardens or on rooftops. After a reaction on twitter from games journalists (to the confusion of normal people who weren’t watching this marketing presentation) to the blandness of overtures in the main show, this sampling of indies was reacted to by this crowd (including myself) with a general delight.
There’s a reason they remake The Last of Us once again, it’s the same reason that they put a game about a fly who dies in an apartment like yours at the front of a showcase of indie games. It’s the same reason I’m writing this and it’s an old familiar one. “We can get attention from people who identify with our thing.”
An apartment like yours? Well, you’re into indie and alternative games coverage right, there’s no way you’re not a young student, graduate or someone unable to afford anything else living in a flat that costs too much, or perhaps your parent’s house right? That’s the demographic. You’re the fly.
The fly is relatable because you also fear that you are vulnerable, are going to die too soon having done nothing, seen nothing much but the walls of your apartment and a million adverts.
The men on spaceships die in the main show because the AAA market assumes that’s what most people want, because it’s what they wanted 5-10 years ago. That’s when they wanted The Last of Us as well, you know, the original one, and the remake, and the sequel. That’s why there’s a tv show and a second remake coming out from a team known to have historically been put under enormous strain by this project multiple times. PlayStation has faith in a story about demonising your neighbour to pull through.
They made a Halo tv show, for nobody. Remember that. PlayStation made a Ratchet and Clank movie for nobody. PlayStation made an Uncharted movie and turned their main character into Spiderman. Sony rereleased Morbius after people made fun of it online…
Boardrooms in which the imagination is ‘who?’ and ‘how do we affect them?’ and ‘how do we do that while keeping costs down and profits up?’ and ‘how the fuck do we gauge sincerity from online communities?’
So they bet on the fact that indie gamers on Twitter for sure know that the things they’re interested in are so much more relevant and interesting than Spacedread: Gunkiller. At least the online indie game scene is reliably sincere about loving things that look like ‘that’, and will spread the news, even if they never actually buy those games, no matter how desperately you try to make them feel guilty for not doing so.
They think, damn, there’s absolutely no way that a game about a fly is making money in the regular market, even with a publisher, without being the front of the showcase, not unless the magical effect of word of mouth pulls through.
Schedulers know that, after the death of E3, their precious gamers are here for Sonic and GTA VI, and will leave sorely disappointed because turns out games studios have burned out their workers during the pandemic, need time to develop things and are also dubious about Geoff. Anyway, gamers can reliably leave with the promise of better guns and more water physics.
This next part is for you, connoisseur and journalist of games who throughout the main show has been bemoaning how none of it is any good. Now it’s time for you, wholesome game fan, to take the mantel of supporting one of the wobbling legs of the table by being enthusiastic about a flash game, a white domesticity simulator and a game where you create some sort of “stone age tribe” that is clearly an amalgam of stereotypes about different groups of indigenous people.
I don’t bemoan it, (except for that weird racist one). Good on that little fly game. Good on the couple that come on and let you into their twee little house to organise their stuff because Unpacking was a success. Good on that horror game that is clearly an ambitious shitpost that the person developing it is having to take too seriously. Good on that puzzle that looks neat, and has all the hallmarks of a game from Rusty Lake. Good on that Bear game and that platformer about a sleeping child that isn’t that other platformer based on the same thing, and a girl on a magical planet and… and…
If I sound cynical it’s because yes, I am. But, as always, looking to an event like this to define the scene of popular gaming or indie games in any sense is highly flawed. I am also not immune to it, not independent from taking part in the reaction to it. I’m writing about it now, instead of a million other things.
But, arbiters of games, like Geoff and these types of event in general, look simply more and more like a bunch of folks propping up the decisions made in the head offices of publishers around the globe trying to grapple with a market that has stopped making sense to them.
Over and over and over, the games industries have been, like most things run by entertainment giants – financially risk heavy (falling on the workers), socially conservative, labour intensive and generally reactionary, doubling back constantly in attempts to protect interests, earn funding and find the thing that you will put a thousand hours of your time (money) into. A showcase like ‘Day of the Devs’ doesn’t exist outside of that dynamic, it’s just the part of it that’s aimed at ‘gamers like us’.
Because we’re just the same in every way, right?