Andi Santagata plays "Spaceteam" during IndieCade 2013 in Culver City, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2013. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)Link
Garrett Dewald tries out the Oculus VR, a high definition virtual reality headset game, during IndieCade 2013 in Culver City, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2013. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)Link
Louis Strongin, left, Lilian Chan and Ben Strickland act as robots during a game called "Batonk" during IndieCade 2013 in Culver City, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2013. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)Link
Andrew Fleming, left, Matt Kriete and Mark Piszczor play "Batonk" during IndieCade 2013 in Culver City, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2013. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)Link
Sarah Scialli, left, and Alex Beachum play "Nidhogg" during IndieCade 2013 in Culver City, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2013. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)Link
Jacqueline Cottrell plays "Perfect Woman" during IndieCade 2013 in Culver City, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2013. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)Link
Amy Allison plays "Perfect Woman" during IndieCade 2013 in Culver City, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2013. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)Link
Brianna Lei plays "Qube" during IndieCade 2013 in Culver City, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2013. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)Link
Romain Deciron, left, Luke Larsen, Josephine Tsay, Alexander Martin and Daniel Murray play games during IndieCade 2013 in Culver City, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2013. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)Link
Adam Levy, left, Justice Daniels and Elise Inferrera play "Gone Home" during IndieCade 2013 in Culver City, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2013. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)Link
Gaming culture today stands at a crossroads.
Games are regularly being studied and critiqued as the cultural force they’ve long claimed to be, and some in the community aren’t reacting well, to put it mildly, to the newfound microscope. Those attempting to intellectualize the medium — “social justice warriors,” as they’ve been labeled by their online disparagers — are portrayed as destroying all that’s been great about the medium, namely obscene violence, scantily clad women and the idea that games are for play and not social commentary.
Granted, interactive entertainment is still a relatively young medium and therefore one not immune to struggling with issues of maturity. But credit the annual IndieCade festival, now in its seventh year this weekend in Culver City, for its part in slowly leading the community into adulthood.
IndieCade has long been a showcase for the odd, the experimental and the risk-taking, but in 2014 it may just be one of gaming’s most important events.
Every year IndieCade brings a bounty of independent games and their developers to the streets of downtown Culver City. And every year there is an unspoken message: Most of us know very little about the full breadth of gaming.
This year’s IndieCade crop deals with topics as far ranging as sexting, immigration, how babies are made and little-known Alaskan folklore. IndieCade’s growth over the last seven years has coincided with the expansion of independent gaming, a still-developing area that has emerged with a multitude of viable alternatives to the shoot-em-up titles that dominate home video game consoles. And when it comes to celebrating a diversity of characters and subject matter, it’s independents leading the charge.
“Use of Force” uses virtual reality gear to place participants at a tragic scene that took place at the Mexico-U.S. border in 2010, asking wearers to play as witnesses to a violent incident that ultimately led to the death of an undocumented immigrant. It looks like a game, but its creators call it “immersive journalism.”
Not all of the 150-plus games shown at IndieCade are of the serious variety (Google ”Daphny Needs to Poop,” for instance), but what’s shown often pushes the boundaries of what games can talk about — and sometimes even how they can be played. Part industry event and part fan festival, IndieCade’s focus on Saturday and Sunday is on getting the public to play, with games set up outdoors on the sidewalks of downtown Culver City and inside a nearby fire station, many with an emphasis on new experiences.
In the mobile game “Soulfill,” players must follow orders instructing them to make eye-contact with strangers on mass transit. By only listening and swiping on a touchscreen, “Soulfill” raises questions on the difficulty and the awkwardness in connecting with others, all while using the very smartphones that constantly divert attention away from face-to-face communication.
Others, such as “Framed” and “Ice-Bound,” tinker with game narratives. In the noir-looking “Framed,” players rearrange comic-book panels to alter the story’s outcome. “Ice-Bound” is even more peculiar; part mobile application and part printed book, its game content is altered by scanning in the printed pages.
That barely scratches the surface. “Mini Metro” turns the challenge of building a citywide subway into a puzzle game, “Ether One” attempts the solve the mysteries of a life by delving into a mind stricken with dementia, and “Redshirt” is a sci-fi parody in which getting ahead in the universe comes down to navigating social networks.
Plenty of play at IndieCade isn’t even confined to a screen. “Coffee: A Misunderstanding” is a game of improv driven by screen prompts designed to stimulate conversation around the awkwardness of online-first friendships. “Bloom” can be seen as more of an art installation than a game, as it asks a community of players to construct a large tentacle-like pink structure around an outdoor environment. And then there’s an open-to-the-public Saturday night outdoor game session designed to showcase titles that the IndieCade schedule says will bring us toward “a deeper sense of connection and wellbeing.”
Taken as a whole, such games represent a burgeoning underground, bringing to interactive entertainment the variety and alternatives prevalent in other forms of mass media such as music, film and television.
Yet for a medium that’s also long been driven almost exclusively by advances in technology, IndieCade represents a fundamental shift in game-design thinking. Increasingly, it’s the creator rather than the tools that matter most.
And it’s inspiring more than a little soul-searching among the game community. A shift could even be seen at this summer’s Electronic Entertainment Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center, an industry-only event designed to showcase upcoming blockbuster games.
As registrants strolled a floor awash in the glowing hues of giant television screens — pummeled by images of violence and one macho white guy after another — questions couldn’t help but be raised: Where are the female game characters? Where are the game characters of color? Can even our pure escapism be just a little bit smarter?
The ensuing months have seen such conversations snowball, sometimes in ugly ways. Cultural game critics such as Anita Sarkeesian, whose series of videos under the Feminist Frequency banner dissect the sexism that plagues many a video game, have become the targets of weeks-long social media hate campaigns.
A number of industry talks at IndieCade are set to delve into subjects of race, politics and misogyny. These are still difficult issues for the gaming world to openly address. It was unclear, for instance, if a Sunday-morning talk dubbed “Misogyny, Misinformation and Misunderstanding” would be open to the media.
Such discussions are an important part of gaming’s growing pains, but they won’t matter to many of the 5,000-plus at IndieCade this weekend. And that’s as it should be. Because ultimately, what IndieCade stands for — the belief that there should be a game that appeals to everyone — isn’t all that revolutionary.
IndieCade Village & Festival
Where: 9300 Culver Blvd., Culver City
When: All participating games will be shown to the public beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. A Saturday-night game session runs from 7-11 p.m. IndieCade closes at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Cost: Day passes are $30. A Saturday pass, which includes night gaming, is $40.
RECENT AND RELATED: