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Well, I guess now that we’re done debating with Ebert over whether video games are art or not, we’ve found another exercise in mental masturbation for the community to get into.

What qualifies as “indie”?

This has been a question floating around the indie game scene lately. I’m not sure if it’s because of these recent guidelines set out by the new IndieCity game portal service, where games are allowed entrance based on a crowd-sourced process that includes an evaluation of how indie you are, or as they put it, “indieness”. Or it could be because of the attention it’s getting from the hardcore indie game crowd, like Michael Rose of IndieGames.com (amongst many other indie game news sites. p.s. we love you Michael!). Or it could simply because indies are finally reaching the kind of saturation where, as one of our Facebook followers put it, “the Hipster Police are starting to show up on the scene.”

My immediate inclination would be to agree with the latter observation, but since I’d like to hash this out into a complete blog post, let’s not stop there: I think the entire idea of “indieness” is garbage. I’ll even go a step further and say I don’t think any self-respecting indie game development house out there is losing any sleep over how indie they are, or if they’re more indie than someone else; to me, this is an issue for non-developers to debate.

Let’s take a look at a quote from Indie City’s recent blog post where, I’m told, some of the debate is coming from:

In order for a game to be released on IndieCity, it will need to be submitted (along with various assets like screengrabs, descriptions and more) to the Community Approval Process. This will place it into a queue, whereby privileged members of the community can choose to assess the game and rate its content, test it for bugs, and give it an ‘indieness’ score. Completed approval forms are made visible to the game developer, and the quality of these is marked by a tier of the most experienced community members.

Huh. Schwa?

Or at least that was my reaction when I read that. So I threw the question up on Twitter (paraphrasing): “What the heck is up with this indieness debate?” Or, to quote Seinfeld, what’s the deal with that? Allow me to share my (definitive) opinion on this whole thing:

Everyone likes to think they’re unique and special; the things they consume (media, for example) are just an extension of that. This is only magnified in the indie crowd. So when someone (or, in this case, potential groups of someones) comes along and starts raining down decrees of what is indie, or what is not, naturally some people get offended. It’s an attack on identity. Nobody wants some “privileged member” to tell them whether or not what they’re playing is indie.

So that’s why I think so many people have differing opinions on this. But why are we asking the question in the first place?

Really, this issue was floating around long before Indie City came along. The indie game scene has been gaining a little mainstream traction lately, and I think some people who’ve been around and playing indie titles for a while feel threatened by that. Yes, it’s that old chestnut. “I’ve been listening to that band long before they became popular.” Poplicola’s Law: the rising popularity of a scene correlates directly with the number people who complain about its success.

People who wouldn’t have played an indie game before are now firing up games like Super Meat Boy and World of Goo, surfing to the XBLIG channel, or buying these Steam “5 Indie Games for $5″ packs. We’re gaining some legitimacy. But some people don’t like that (whether they’ll admit it or not), and so here we are working to exclude games based on how indie they are, or debating about what constitutes “indie”.

Seriously guys? Do we really need to become the arbiters of indie? It just feels weird.

(Oh, and IndieCity, I’ll be submitting our game to your portal at the first opportunity I get.)