The Transfiguration

everything is sacred

Movement of the Day #2472

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Movement of the Day #2472

More and more over the past few years I’ve come to view creative works – books, movies, music, video games, comics – as the product of a fellow human, something personally crafted, driven by inspiration and flawed like every person is, rather than as something materialized from the void by deep magic. Even if I am not as much of a creator, I’m seeing artists as peers, and the things they make as part of the lives they live, and that’s letting me appreciate creative pieces in a different way.

Through the creator of the PICO-8 I learned about this game, Strawberry Cubes, in which the world is constructed of cellular automata, growing and shifting in an aesthetic that straddles the line between mechanical and organic. You need to see it in motion to appreciate it; for a game working with such a simple palette it’s very eerie.

Loren Schmidt kept using the hashtag #altgames, which I’d never heard of, so I did some exploring. It turns out to be something of a subset of Indie game development; there seems to be a community growing around the concept, but it’s so young that most of the explanations online are made of clouds of Twitter messages.

@erichermit says: to me it’s like, making the game you want to play or tells the story you want tot ell w/o compromising for wide appeal?

@lectronice says: #indiedev is for people who want to make games to live, #altgames is for people who want to live to make games.

@inurashii says: To me, #altgames are works with alternative audience goals. They may be for a niche, or everybody, or the author themselves… …but the goal of #altgames is, in my belief, to evoke an emotion or set of emotions in the audience(s). To make them feel something.

(These tweets found here)

In short, these are games made by individuals driven by creative expression rather than by what’s profitable in the gaming industry. Altgames are tiny worlds to explore, or encapsulated emotions, or just an aesthetic to submerge yourself in for a moment, and I think that’s wonderful.

A lot of altgame talk discussed the economic difficulties of it: creators who want to create something that pretty much by definition is not marketable, that will appeal to only a few people (but hopefully resonate deeply with some of them). The quandary is how we go about supporting creators like this, who are working so hard in such a niche field.

There is also a strange sort of moral question to it – should these people even be spending so much time on work that few others will appreciate? It would have been an absurd use of time long ago, when every hand was needed for communities to survive, but we are reaching a point where very little human labor will be necessary to support everyone, and on that path to a post-scarcity economy, artist exploration will be so important.

I want to create, too; but I have decided thus far to be practical about things, to make a decent living instead of dedicating all of my time to creating. This does free my from a lot of economic stress, and in my remaining free time I can still make things – albeit slowly. What’s more, I afford to help support these other creators. Strawberry Cubes comes out on Thursday, and I’m looking forward to seeing what strange worlds Loren Schmidt has crafted.


Written by Umbrella Man

June 30, 2015 at 12:23 am

Posted in games, pixels, ruminations

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2 Responses

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  1. I totally hear you on the post-scarcity artistic exploration. I’m more than ready to be a part of that, but, of course, it’s still on the horizon for now. I’m in the same boat as you: at an economically sound job so I can afford to pursue my interests on the side. It’s tough, though. I find my attention is sometimes spread too thin to really make any progress. That can be frustrating :/

    These types of projects have always captivated me with their charm. Lauren may have told you about the Pocket Operators that I recently bought – tiny circuit boards powered by AA batteries that can produce a pretty wide range of chirps and bleeps. I find the same sort of charm in the local indie music scene, full of talented musicians who may never achieve national fame but deserve to be acknowledged for their efforts.

    It makes me really happy to have the opportunity to support stuff like altgames 🙂

    Connor Freer

    June 30, 2015 at 5:25 am

    • Aye, so many projects to do, and so little time for any of them!

      Reading about altgames, I found them compared a lot to punk music, which was its own indie scene a while ago, I think.

      I’ll have to take a listen to what you make with those pocket operators~

      Umbrella Man

      June 30, 2015 at 10:35 pm

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