It was 2009 and I was set to go on a trip to San Francisco with some friends to the Game Developers Conference to see the video game industry first hand. I was the one who proposed the idea since I didn’t have a job at the time and was a very young student so to go on my own was not an option. It was three other friends and I that would go to the largest gathering of Video Game Developers in the world and I could hardly contain myself. The end of February came and having packed a new suit and my computer I was ready to go. Who I would meet and what I saw would change my life and bring me into the subculture of the Hipster Indie Game Developer.
It should be mentioned that I have never traveled without my parents before this and never to a big city so when we arrived in San Francisco there was a major culture shock to me. I have never been around so many people in such a small area before and I never have seen poverty on the streets as much as it was prevalent there. It was a city of wonder and opportunity to me so I couldn’t wait to meet fellow game developers. The first few days of the Game Developers Conference are devoted to tutorials and summits which you need a special pass for and since I didn’t have the appropriate pass I would go around talking to whomever I could. I met some of the most amazing people during that time, a girl who not only does 3D art but is also a model, the person who was the lead director on a game that I loved, and many fellow students who had the same aspirations as I did. Although these days were amazing, it wasn’t until the third day of the conference that I would meet the people who made up the subculture of the Hipster Indie Game Developer.
On the Game Developers Conference Expo floor off in one of the corners is the Indie Games Festival where individuals showcase their games that they have slaved over with little money and little help. This is where their hard work is given the recognition deserves because to even have a spot to show your game here is an honor in itself. It is here where you will find the Hipster Indie Game Developer subculture most prevalent. This is where I first met the subculture.
What differentiates Hipster Indie Game Developers from other the other primary subcultures it derives itself from, gamers and hipsters, is the way they view the medium of video games. The differences even show up between a normal Indie Game Developer vs the Hipster Indie Game Developer(HIGD) where the former generally create games within the set ideas of what games are and should be (games such as Halo, Super Mario Bros. etc.) whereas the HIGD will generally be avant garde and abstract within their chosen design. HIGD’s also tend to design games with a “Retro” aesthetic calling back to the art style of 1980’s video games where they were heavily pixilated due to technical limitations. One could say they do this to coincide with their average Hipster brethren of reviving styles that fell out of fashion. Now at first glance it may be hard to be able to tell who a HIGD is since they can easily be mistaken for either a run of the mill hipster or a plain old gamer. This can be better realized when communicating with one about topics such as game design, art history, typography, or Shigeru Miyamoto. Clothing and general appearance does not have to typically be of any standard since the HIGD is a very obscure and small group that the only time a major amount of people part of the subculture are together is at the Game Developers Conference. A HIGD are generally in their late teens to early to thirties since the medium they work in is relatively new and is only now becoming somewhat more accessible due to the technology of our time. One would still need knowledge in areas of programming and/or art to be somewhat acceptable within the medium due to its extreme technical nature. Educational background varies from HIGD to HIGD, many are college drop outs but some do go on to get a degree typically within computer science or arts.
Shigeru is so obscure (I think...)
Team Meat is so trendy
Social issues with HIGD are that many of them are financially poor due to the fact that
they may not have a main source of income. This is due to the fact that many strike out on their own to risk the journey of Indie Game Fame and Glory. Notable people within the subculture are the likes of Jonathan Blow who created the game Braid, and Team Meat, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes of Super Meat Boy fame. Both Blow and Team Meat were in financial trouble during the development of their games since neither of them had a main source of income due to the fact all of their time was devoted to their respective projects. One must realize the amount of work it takes to make even a small game, Team Meat were working 12 hours a day 7 days a week for 18 months to release their game on Xbox Live Arcade. Because of this the social stigma of the geek who makes games in their parent’s basement comes about since many individuals need help from family members to stay afloat. Although in some cases it pays off like in the two examples above where each have made multimillion dollar games as they push the medium of video games forward.
Ethical issues within the subculture generally revolve around the use of stolen copyrighted material. Many times a HIGD will create games based on established franchises or use content created by other individuals without their consent. This has been mostly fueled by the ease of use of the internet and the ideologies of hackers, a subculture of computer enthusiasts who value freedom of knowledge and will try to find and exploit flaws within hardware and software. Because of this some HIGD can be called a HomeBrewer, one who uses exploits within video game consoles to develop on them without a license from the manufacturer. This has led to a case where one HIGD was being prosecuted by Sony and eventually led to hacker attacks on the company that compromised hundreds of thousands of user’s data. Although many hacker ideologies are found with HIGD not all take practice within the actual act of hacking, many work instead on creating original ideas and designs. In cases though where a HIGD is still working on an original idea they may need the technology of a licensed product they will go ahead to work on it without permission. A great example of this is the non-video game Johann Sebastian Joust which uses the Sony Playstation Move Controllers in which players move about trying to move their controllers too much or else they get tagged out. So the only rule for this game is to tag the other players out in any way possible. This game would not be able to exist without going into the ethical issues of software licensing and piracy.
"What are they doing?" "Oh you wouldn't know it's too cool for you."
The Hipster Indie Game Developer is a very obscure subculture reflecting the values of holding games in high esteem for their obscurity and originality. Because it is such a small subculture it generally doesn’t have an immediate impact upon the world with the exceptions of those who have found indie game fame. This also impacts how the HIGD are able to interact with one another having to use various internet websites for communicating and finding like minded individuals.
Having been a part of the Hipster Indie Game Developer subculture for about 3 years now I have been able to see almost every aspect of it. From the subcultures values to how they approach their work and their lives is much like the artisans of past eras being progressive with technology and blending it with art. One could even say that the Hipster Indie Game Developers subculture is the natural step within the cultural evolution of said artisans. As this subculture grows and changes over time there will be a different idea of what a game developer is, instead of the image of the fat kid basement dweller without friends it will start to be seen closer to the cultural status of film directors and become less socially obscure.