Paolo Ruffino (Goldsmiths, University of London)
‘Narratives of Independent Production in Video Game Culture’
In this presentation I will discuss some of the latest iterations of independent gaming. The notion of ‘independence’ has been introduced in video game culture in order to define a way of producing video games where developers are also responsible for the publication and distribution of their own work. This phenomenon has often been described in revolutionary terms by video game magazines and industry practitioners, as representing the democratisation of the production process of a video game which is allegedly no longer dependent onexternal figures to reach its public. A significant network of independent developers has been emerging in the last few years, assisted in reaching public visibility by a large number of events and institutions. The Independent Games Festival, started in 1998, is the most famous event. Other conferences include Indiecade and, in Scandinavian countries, the Nordic Game Jam, on top of many other events and industry exhibitions which now tend to display at least one independent session or track. In 2012, the documentary ‘Indie Game: The Movie’ has been awarded at Sundance Film Festival and has gathered further attention on this phenomenon.
The concept of independence seems to have emerged in video game culture as a discursive redefinition of some of the practices of production of a video game. As such, it is not only descriptive but also generative of further practices and interpretations. The argument I want to put forward is intended to contrast with the view of independent gaming as founded merely on shifts in technological, economic or managerial practices. I propose that independent gaming should also be understood in terms of the influences it receives and replicates, such as those coming from the creative industries and contemporary forms of immaterial labour. From this perspective I will discuss how ‘independence’ might work as a discursive justification for the introduction of individualised forms of work in the game industry. Also, this change appears to be framed on similar discourses currently emerging in video game culture, where forms of openness, user-generated content, hacking and players’ engagement are narrated as revolutionary and positive practices of production and consumption. Independent gaming can thus be seen as part of a broader phenomenon and as a form of re-interpretation of existing discourses which have been emerging in different contexts, such as Web2.0, software engineering and creative industries.
Paolo Ruffino is a Visiting Tutor and PhD student at the Media and Communications department at Goldsmiths, University of London, Lecturer at the Game Cultures programme at London South Bank University, and Research Fellow at Leuphana University. His research project is based on a cultural analysis of video game consumers and, particularly, of the emergence of the prosumer in the video game industry. It involves a study of the concepts of consumer and producer, the history of the medium of the video game and phenomena such as ‘modding’, independent gaming, gamification and game art. His interests include video game theory and culture, semiotics, cultural analysis, digital media and ‘new media’ art.