Why You Should Play Indie Games

Why You Should Play Indie Games

Why You Should Play Indie Games

Posted by CJ Wilson

26 Jan, 2021


Since 2016, each set of nominees for the prestigious and uncreatively titled “Game Award for Game of the Year” (presented by the equally uncreative and somewhat confusingly titled event, “The Game Awards”) has included at least one “indie” game. 2016 saw the nomination of Inside, 2017 gave us PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, 2018 presented Celeste, 2019 featured Control and 2020 brought Supergiant Games’s magnum opus—and among the best games to grace this list yet—Hades

Indie gaming is becoming increasingly popular, but for some people it’s still a subset of gaming into which they’re reluctant to dive. This is partly because of the lack of marketing and publicity given to indie games. In other cases, people seem to dislike the smaller scale of indie gaming and the often more idiosyncratic gameplay and storytelling. Still others reject indie games as an exercise in pretentiousness.

In all cases, neglecting the absolute masterpieces and the deliciously fun games coming out of the indie market is a bad move for anyone interested in gaming. In fact, for those inexperienced in gaming, their small scale and heart make them a perfect point of entry. Meanwhile, veteran gamers can find a break from the cookie-cutter nature of the triple-A world. 

Here, we hope to teach you a bit about what indie gaming is (and what it isn’t), why you should play indie games, and then wrap things up by throwing a few recommendations your way. 

What are Indie Games?

Indie gaming is a lot like indie music. As defined by Wikipedia:

“An independent video game or indie game is a video game typically created by individuals or smaller development teams without the financial and technical support of a large game publisher, in contrast to most “AAA” (triple-A) games.”

The lack of financial and technical support from a large game developer results in two things for indie studios: a lack of resources, and freedom from the all-too-common pressure put upon developers to make a game “widely appealing” in order to recoup a large financial investment. Between the need to be innovative spurred by their lack of resources, and the freedom to be creative brought about by their independence from micromanaging financiers, games created by indie developers are marked by innovation, experimental gameplay and storytelling, intriguing risk-taking and a general tendency to be smaller and more focused than their triple-A siblings.

In general, indie gaming is where you’ll find the cutting edge of creative art and game design, along with unique experiences you won’t find anywhere else. It’s the haven of “artsy” games, passion projects and niche-carving acts of gratuitous fan service for lovers of a particular genre or gameplay style. Indie games also often feature simpler graphics or more retro vibes.

What’s so Good about Indie Games?

For starters, there’s the ethical considerations of supporting indie game developers. Gaming isn’t a niche form of entertainment anymore. Triple-A developers are financial powerhouses with immense weight to throw around, and they have a bad rep for shady business practices, mistreatment of workers and the environment and a recent resistance to creativity. The indie space, by comparison, is often filled with folks who are passionate about the form, who need every bit of support they can get, who want to push the boundaries and who want to create more ethical work environments.

But the considerations aren’t solely moral.

As we’ve mentioned before, indie games are characterized by their creativity. Indie gaming is where you’ll find some of the most inventive storytelling and gameplay, bringing you heart-rending or joyous tales that’ll make you sit back and think, “Wow. I didn’t know anyone could do that in a game!” 

When they aren’t shooting for cutting-edge storytelling, they can be more “fun-focused.” Games like Stardew Valley, Dead Cells, Terraria and Minecraft are all well-known for being absolute blasts, combining innovation and a genuine love for the genre in which they’re placed to make a game that hits exactly the notes fans want instead of the qualities investors think a game needs. 

Another benefit of indie games is that they usually require a smaller investment of time and money. Triple-A games will run you at least $60, while an indie title will be closer to $20. And without investors breathing down their necks and screaming about how their surveys have shown that games that require hours to play generate more sales, indie games also have a tendency not to overstay their welcome. They’re short, sweet, and to the point. The greatest storytelling masterpieces among them can be a quick five hours, compared to the, say, 30-hour campaigns of most triple-A titles. 

That Sounds Awesome! But, uh . . . Where Should I Start?

That’s the hard part. The variety of indie games and the lack of publicity for the form can sometimes make it hard to find the right game for you. Below, I’ve listed a few good jumping-off points for anyone interested in indie games. 

Stardew Valley: The world is a stressful place. Sometimes, it makes you want to say, “screw it!”, and go off to a relaxing farm with interesting people. Stardew Valley is perfect for that, with gameplay that’s more managerial, relaxing and social than anything else.

Hades: Want to combine exceptional storytelling, grand characters, incredible music and exciting gameplay together with some Greek mythology? Well, there’s a reason Hades nearly nailed that Game of the Year award.

Dead Cells: High-octane, funny, with endless variety and nuanced combat, Dead Cells is a great example of the roguelike genre that throws you into the action in the very first seconds of the game. The studio is constantly updating it too, so you won’t run out of new content anytime soon!

Abzu: Telling a wordless story in a beautiful underwater world by an indie studio with a great pedigree, Abzu is perfect for connecting with nature and discovering the immersive qualities unique to video game storytelling.

Outlast 1 & 2: Different from the other entries on this list, Outlast took the “you can’t fight the enemy” approach to horror pioneered by Amnesia and perfected it in a series that will scare the actual crap out of you. Warning: this game is about as kid-unfriendly as it gets.

These games should give you a good stretch of options for getting into indie games, but by no means should you view this list as exhaustive. Gaming is an incredibly expansive and varied art form, and indie developers have a gift for dialing that up to eleven. Try the games here, ask your friends, and search the sales. I guarantee you will find an indie game that’s perfect for you!


About Author

CJ Wilson

CJ Wilson is a freelance writer and novelist specializing in game writing, journalism, and non-profit work. His writing expertise includes gaming, law, nature/environmental writing, literature, and travel. As a novelist, he specializes in character-focused fantasy and sci-fi.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments