Gameloading: Rise of the Indies – Review
Gameloading: Rise of the Indies is the latest in a string of crowd-funded documentaries that investigate the phenomenon of independent game development. While it has a number of technical issues that won’t go unmentioned, for anybody with even the slightest stake in independent gaming, it’s worth a viewing.
First, I’d like to get the elephant out of the room. I can’t help but think that Gameloading will cop a lot of backlash from the GameGate community if any of them bother to watch it. The film is teeming with pink haired males and females who may or may not fit into heteronormative stereotypes discussing their thoughts on the game industry, producing titles which challenge preconceptions on what the definition of a game is. This will no doubt reinforce GG’ers flawed preconceptions about indie development/developers. Naturally, frequent appearances by Zoe Quinn – possibly the groups’ favourite metaphorical punching bag – is going to make them at best slightly miffed. To be fair, this doco is also going to be an affirmative experience for anybody positively invested in the indie dev community.
Ostensibly, the film is about Davey Wreden & Will Pugh developing and releasing The Stanley Parable in late 2013 before going on to win the IGF Audience Award in 2014. However, the film does a subpar job of having the audience invest in this outcome due to the structure of the film, which bounces around as many developers and countries as it can in the opening half before settling in on Wreden late in the piece. Narratively, the film is unfocused – it flits from individual to individual, country to country with a few subplots trying to hold it together – the Train Jam (A Game Jam on a train) from Chicago to San Francisco feels undercooked, and its use as a metaphor for Wreden and Pugh’s journey to the GDC and the IGF awards feels slightly ham-fisted to say the least.
However, this disparate narrative thread makes sense on a symbolic level as even though the indie dev community is united by their occupation/hobby, there still seems to be a sense of isolation that pervades the lives of many of the people focused on in the film – whether it be that they are separated geographically from others in the community, or feel misunderstood due to the perception of their chosen medium by society at large and others around them who don’t see what they do as a legitimate expression of creativity and art – worse, an outlet that may never be financially rewarding and is therefore unworthy of further pursuit. Connection is a theme that bubbles to the surface in interviews again and again – developers connecting with gaming as a medium, wishing to connect with gamers through their art and hoping to connect with non-gamers by showing them that there is more to gaming that what the mainstream provides.
In terms of the titles covered by Gameloading there is definitely a slant towards those that most closely adhere to the notion of ‘games as art’. That is to say, there are many more narrative-laden ‘interactive experiences’ like The Stanley Parable and Analogue: A Hate Story shown than there are more ‘gamey games’ (it’s a thing) like Super Meat Boy. This is understandable given the films agenda, which promotes a number of positive messages – that gaming is for everyone and, as a medium, is starting to finally mature in terms of the themes and issues it tackles, or is perceived to be able to tackle. For film as a medium, there have been so many times the ‘unfilmable’ has been filmed – due to its relatively young status as an art form, there have and will continue to be many of these moments in game production.
A subject the film touched on that resonated with me personally was the need to turn children and adults from consumers back into creators, a perception that I feel arose around the MTV generation up until the creation of Minecraft – that the need to create and imagine was no longer as great as before given the glut of consumable entertainment material available readily, an issue that only compounded with the prevalence of the internet. As a teacher, I spend a lot of time convincing children and young adults that creation is a worthwhile endeavour, even if the majority of the time it will end in failure, but they will be richer for it. This is hammered home time and again as even the stars of the show Davey Wreden and Rami Ismail discuss some of their failures and insecurities.
With such a wide range of subjects touched upon, it’s disappointing that so many of them get lost in the shuffle of the film. Developer Adorkable and their marketing woes, the prevalence of unethical game design and the cloning of Vlambeer’s Ridiculous Fishing prototype are all great fodder for interesting stories that feel shoehorned in and glossed over, a cursory glance as the film rushes forward in a bid to decide what it should really be focusing on. I would honestly love to see shorter documentaries tackle some of these subjects.
Please don’t go away from this review feeling that Gameloading isn’t worth your time. In fact, I think it’s important that films like this be made – that show some of the hard work that is necessary to get a passion project off the ground. Too much time seems to be spent on getting the audience to buy into this false notion that creativity is somehow ‘magic’, a process that happens very quickly or perfectly on the first attempt – not something that has caused stress, anger, depression, fear, joy and happiness on the long road to completion. I believe this is one of the most important issues that potential creators face – because it didn’t happen right away, they mustn’t be good enough, or smart enough, or creative enough, and they give up. Simply seeing others echo these thoughts and feelings could be enough to encourage someone to see their work through. Gameloading may be flawed in some areas, but its heart is in the right place, which seems as nice a way as any to sum up the film and its subject matter.
Stephen del Prado