This past weekend, for the third year in a row, crowds flocked to the Museum of the Moving Image in far-flung Queens on one of the coldest weekends of the year for Indiecade East. Much like years past, games, talks, competitions, inclusivity, and forgetting you’re not allowed to bring coffee into the theaters were the orders of the day. Here are nine neat things I saw during my time there.
1. Titan Souls
The full-length version of the Ludum Dare breakout was the game I felt most inclined to play for hours instead of socializing with friends, allowing other people to play, or otherwise doing my job. Instead I lost on the first boss about ten times, got frustrated enough to give up, then watched as my friend Tim defeated the gel-encased brain on the first try.
During Seth Alter’s talk about Post-Colonial Games, he was asked about gentrification, and how his theory of strategy games that critique and subvert colonialist ideas (as opposed to pretty much every 4X-style game ever) might account for it. He mentioned that he’d had an idea for a game entitled Bloomberg!, which played exactly like SimCity, except the only actions were “firing all teachers” and “selling public buildings.” He offered the idea up to the crowd, and I can only hope someone acts on it.
3. Home Improvisation
I spent maybe ten minutes trying and failing to assemble a simple five-piece table in this “furniture assembly experience.” I felt palpable delight as a pressboard leg screwed properly into a tabletop. An everyday standing lamp proved too difficult for my teammates and I. To whatever extent the “it can be hard to do normal stuff in videogames” genre still has any gas in the tank, Home Improvisation stands tall next to its Octodads and incompetent surgeons.
4. Earth Night
I watched another attendee play a few minutes of this game as a respite from my Titan Souls frustrations, and while the game’s dreamlike, cartoonish visuals captivated me immediately, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I felt like how I imagine an out-of-touch sitcom parent feels whenever they see a kid use a piece of technology. I eventually played it, and it’s a solid mix of an endless runner, Shadow of the Colossus, and whatever genre Burrito Bison is, but there are still things I don’t understand about it.
5. An Enterprising Kid
Walking past the walled-in adults-only games, past the spectacular glove controls of Wizard’s Hand: Don’t Touch, past the enclave of VR headset projects, past classics like Wolfenstein 3D and newcomers like Framed, and ending up in a short hallway of educational computers that some kid had circumvented in order to look up baseball bats on eBay.
6. Vietnam Romance
The soundtrack to this game is a videogame-ified “House of the Rising Sun” instrumental. It had me navigate a byzantine fake ‘90’s computer interface in order to use a credit card to order morphine off of the internet. The entire ordeal looked and sounded strange enough that a stranger told me I “accomplished something” by successfully buying the morphine. Vietnam Romance is a game for me.
7. Starwhal: Just the Tip
The standout entry in this year’s “local multiplayer game that causes crowds to gather and go wild” category, Starwhal’s enjoyability manages to outpace its moronic subtitle. A neon color palette, whales with banana peels for hats, and gameplay competitive enough that one of my opponents yelled “You cannot beat me! I am the sun and the sea and the stars!” I beat him, though.
8. Dark Room Sex Game
Dark Room Sex Game has been out for years and won awards and even appeared at Indiecades past, but it’s still a little difficult and confusing: My friend Jason and I were awarded just its fifth recorded victory of the weekend. Finding myself surprisingly heartened by my apparent skill at an “erotic rhythm game” with no visuals seemed reflective of both the exhibit’s “Love & Rejection” theme and of the spirit of Indiecade in general.
9. Sarah Schoemann/Mariam Asad/tj thomas Talks
These talks (“In Mixed Company: Organizing for Inclusivity, Resisting Privilege, and Collaborating Through Power ” and ”’Alternative Art’—Or: The Answer to the Question, ‘Well, Just Go Make Your Own’ ”, respectively) were placed back-to-back on Sunday afternoon. Both dealt with the logistics behind the creation and cultivation of alternative spaces; the former saw Schoemann and Asad recounting their experiences creating the Different Games festival, while the latter involved thomas’ work on itch.io, and the ideological and practical necessities of making sure creators are compensated for their time. Both talks were careful to note that there’s still a lot of work to be done, but their existence suggested that the work is already paying dividends in the form of conferences like Different Games (and Indiecade), alternative and open distribution methods like itch.io, or even an artist not having to wonder where rent is coming from.
Joe Bernardi is on Twitter.