Games Are For Everyone: Cara Ellison on Indie Gaming

12231119_1217978471552115_1721785510_nIndie gaming, games created by individuals or groups without the financial support of mainstream publishers, has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years thanks to games like Five Nights At Freddies, a horror game that became popular with YouTube players, and crowd funding websites like Kickstarter getting larger scale projects off the ground. And really, it’s no surprise that Scotland has such a considerable indie gaming community, after all it’s the birthplace of Rockstar Games, the creators of the infamous Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt series.

Next Wednesday sees the return of Games Are For Everyone, a night showcasing indie developer talent from Scotland, the UK and further afield at the Mash House. Featuring playable demos and installations from developers like Voxelstorm, Catbell Games and Powerhoof, this is the third instalment of the event hosted by The Hit Point. Games to be featured include projects by Kirsty Keatch, a Scottish sound design researcher who created Hedra, a mobile game that involves rotating hovering shapes to land face down on a sloping path, and Winnie Song, a Brooklyn based illustrator, animator and games maker whose latest project Badblood is a deadly game of cat and mouse where two players must find each other on a split screen using the environment to hide.

The event will also feature the book launch of Scottish games critic and game narrative designer Cara Ellison. Embed with Games is a travelogue documenting her time spent with games developers around the world and how they express the cultures around them. I got in touch with Ellison and asked her about being a female gamer.

JM: Do you think indie gaming offers women more opportunities than the mainstream world of game publishing?

CE: I think indie games offer women the chance to develop their own stories and interests, yes. The tools that you can pick up free on the internet to develop games, such as Unity or Twine, or any interactive fiction engine like Inkle, mean that women who want a low investment experimentation with the medium can find it easily without paying much and publish it to the web easily.

There are also support groups for women who would like to make games available, such as Make Play Code my friend Kerry Turner runs in Brighton and London and further help and networks on the web. Particular communities on the web also cater exclusively to people who are traditionally not centred as the main consumer of videogames (the young male demographic that IGN in particular caters to).

JM: If you’ve ever been involved with any conversations about the representation of women in video games you might have heard the old chestnut ‘if women want more games about their stories they should make them themselves’ so are women making these female-centric games and are they being overlooked in the conversations about diversity because they’re indie developers?

CE: In recent years developers have become much more interested in courting women in particular as a consumer as the demographic they traditionally target reaches saturation, yet large publishers such as Nintendo have always had quite a large player base of women due to the kinds of games and stories they like to make. In Japan too, women have always been much more catered to and games are not traditionally the preserve of masculine values – for example, many games in Japan revolve around dating sims, visual novels, and stories of romance. This is not to say that women don’t play ‘masculine’ coded games (I for one definitely do) but there has been more of an effort to advertise, market to, and court women in Japan than has been true in the west of late. Japan has also been better at employing women to make these games for women, too. Recently there has been more of a move to bring these Japanese dating games to mobile platforms in the west.

There’s a snobbery present, certainly, about indie games, but on the whole as I see it this isn’t held by people who make games for a living like I do now. Game designers who work in large studios play many types of games and are excited to see what indie developers are making because they can take more risks in their designs when the design is ‘proven’ by the market. The games that indie developers make that become popular are taken notice of by large publishers, and it influences the way they choose to design and market their next games. In the same way, many indie game developers come from working on large blockbuster games (such as the developers at The Fullbright Company) and go on to make smaller, riskier games using techniques they have learned from larger processes, or they have become frustrated with the studio system and want to make something smaller and more personal. The movement between ‘AAA’ games and ‘indie’ games is largely very fluid and therefore I don’t particularly regard them as ‘against’ each other – it’s just a different process of design and development on different scales.

JM: And finally, what do you think of the indie gaming industry in Scotland?

CE: There’s a burgeoning indie games industry in Scotland and it’s evidenced by the successes of Games Are For Everyone and the hard work of people like Brian Baglow at the Scottish Games Network. Blazing Griffin is doing good work, and I’d like to see further games, particularly PC indie games, come out of the excellent Abertay programme too. Of course Rockstar Games will always be here, I think, and I’m glad they are.

Joanna McCulloch

Games Are For Everyone takes place on the 18th of November from 7pm till late at The Mash House, tickets available through Eventbrite.