Independent Video Games and the Quest for Authenticity
328 pp., 7 x 9 in, 238 color illus.
- Published: October 8, 2019
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: September 13, 2019
- Publisher: The MIT Press
An investigation of independent video games—creative, personal, strange, and experimental—and their claims to handcrafted authenticity in a purely digital medium.
Video games are often dismissed as mere entertainment products created by faceless corporations. The last twenty years, however, have seen the rise of independent, or “indie,” video games: a wave of small, cheaply developed, experimental, and personal video games that react against mainstream video game development and culture. In Handmade Pixels, Jesper Juul examine the paradoxical claims of developers, players, and festivals that portray independent games as unique and hand-crafted objects in a globally distributed digital medium.
Juul explains that independent video games are presented not as mass market products, but as cultural works created by people, and are promoted as authentic alternatives to mainstream games. Writing as a game player, scholar, developer, and educator, Juul tells the story of how independent games—creative, personal, strange, and experimental—became a historical movement that borrowed the term “independent” from film and music while finding its own kind of independence.
Juul describes how the visual style of independent games signals their authenticity—often by referring to older video games or analog visual styles. He shows how developers use strategies for creating games with financial, aesthetic, and cultural independence; discusses the aesthetic innovations of “walking simulator” games; and explains the controversies over what is and what isn't a game. Juul offers examples from independent games ranging from Dys4ia to Firewatch; the text is richly illustrated with many color images.
“Juul's fascinating and provocative argument about the recent history and culture of independent games is grounded in his deep knowledge and personal experience of the indie game world. With a nuanced view of the network of cultural factors around independent games, this book is an essential addition to the library of everyone interested in the history and aesthetics of digital games.”
Richard Lemarchand, Richard Lemarchand, Associate Professor, USC Games; former lead game designer for Uncharted
“Handmade Pixels traces the history and cultural topography of independent games. By framing the medium as a cultural crusade for authenticity, it achieves the near-impossible: a single theory to unify myriad contested histories written by a diverse and competing array of artist and entrepreneurs. It is a fascinating read.”
Bennett Foddy, Associate Arts Professor at the NYU Game Center; designer of QWOP and Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy
“Jesper Juul provides us a thoughtful discussion of all of 'our' games, and a fresh portrait of the context in which they have come to exist and thrive. Juul's thoughtful interviews and focus on a broad range of independent festival winners creates a specific narrative understanding of an independent game movement that breaks the rules, follows the path, builds new precedents, hearkens back to its roots, and forms the most important and creative elements of the industry. Handmade Pixels is a unique look at the independent games that represent important cultural markers and provide the creative firepower that moves the industry forward.”
Stephanie Barish, IndieCade Founder & CEO