If the video game medium is to reach higher levels of cultural relevance and reach, the mainstream industry must not abdicate responsibility to the indies, warns Chris Hecker, himself an independent developer.
Responding to a question following his Montreal International Game Summit keynote address, which largely mirrored his keynote delivered last week
at the IGDA Leadership Forum in San Francisco, Hecker acknowledged that some of today's most interesting and meaningful game work is being done in the indie sphere.
But he noted that the notion of indie gaming inherently limits the broader impact such games can have. Rather, if games are to become a medium that is more widely accepted as capable of artistry and meaning, progress must come across the entire spectrum of games, from large-scale projects down to one-man endeavors.
Of course, the larger the team, the more risk-averse those funding the team are likely to be, which makes the job for those developers all the harder.
"I don't think it can all come from indies," he said. "It has to happen in the mainstream game industry as well. It's harder there, and it'll be smaller incremental baby steps."
But the rewards for such projects in games that sell millions upon millions of units could be monumental: "A couple different decisions in [developing] the No Russian level could have had more impact on humanity than Braid
will ever have in its lifetime," Hecker said, referring to a much-discussed (and oft-spoiled) mission from Infinity Ward's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Hecker was sure to clarify that he's not denigrating the achievement of Jonathan Blow, Braid
's designer. Its success bodes well for the medium: "The fact that it's a financially viable indie market now is great. ...[Braid
] is incredibly risky, and it paid off for him, and that's awesome," he said. But the game's roughly 300,000 sales mean it won't have the same broad penetration a much larger-scale project could.
Evolution in the potential of games can come from any number of particular mechanics or design goals, Hecker said. There's no need for one model of meaning to dominate. Designers who consider why they make games, a topic he first discussed in the previous talk
, can come up with any number of ways to convey meaning across a broad scale. "We need more pretension, we need more lowbrow, we need more of everything. We'll find ways that it will work," he added. "I don't think we're going to do it by analyzing what games mean from a semiotics standpoint."
In the end, despite the concern that permeates his arguments that one potential future for games will lead them into a permanent cultural ghetto, Hecker's view is actually more optimistic than not. The onus is on the game development community at large to seize the opportunities presented by the present fork in the road and the medium's relative youth.
"How often do you get to be there for a new art form? It's less than once every hundred years," he observed. "It's ours to fuck it up, and it would just be such an incredible shame for humanity if we did."