The Rise of Indies, the Cosmopolitanism in Games' Arts

Author: GraceWay
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Nowadays, the concept of cosmopolitanism has raised great concerns from media scholars. According to Nikos Papastergiadis, this concept is the product of an idea of the world and an ideal form of global citizenship (2012). This paper will examine how this trend of cosmopolitanism is reflected in games industry, especially independent-designed games by analysing three new tendencies; first, game designers' changes of self-identification; second, the changing methods and characters of designers' interactions; third, game designers' emerging intentions on bringing social issues to global.

The Rise of Independent Game Designers

I argue that the re-emergence of independent game designers in games industry represents that a trend of cosmopolitanism is happening within the industry. To explain this argument, it is necessary to examine the history of independent games' production first. In 1980s, when games firstly caused attention from talented game programmers, they can be produced by small teams even individuals for the reason that the essential requirements of making games at that time is simple- basic technical skills of programming and a computer. So from early 1980s to mid 1980s, "great people can just work on their own" (Brady & Francois, 2015). However, things have changed with the development of economy and technology in late 1980s.

As Hsu once postulated that because contemporary arts' practices rely heavily on economy and technology, so there existed a paradigm of western centralization, which actually reflected a concentration of capital (Hsu, 2005). This paradigm could apply to games industry in the late 1980s as well. With the development of games industry, game companies were urged to making more complex and better games so that to be competitive in the market. This required adequate economical and technological support. As a result, in late 1980s, capital was centralized in large game companies and the cost of making and distributing games increased dramatically which made independent game designers difficult to survive. So at this time, indies started to dry up (Brady & Francois, 2015).

Thanks to the invention of Internet which according Lawrence Lessig, has changed our read and write culture so public can easily access to information and distribute information freely (2004). As a result, global culture becomes "a toolbox"(Hsu, 2005), which provided game designers 1) user-friendly tools to simplify the process of programming games; 2) various accessible resources they could use; 3) multiple downloadable platforms where they could distribute their games. All the above conditions cut down the cost of making and distributing games, therefore, independent game designers were able to play important roles in games industry again.

The New Tendencies Reflect Cosmopolitanism

Indies in the new century are different from what they used to be. The new tendencies and features of the re-rise of independent game designers, which shows the decentralization of capital in game industry, reveal that a trend of cosmopolitanism is happening. Cosmopolitanism when linked with aesthetics, can be regarded as a reconstruction of relationships among global issues, local experiences and artists' individual perspectives (Papasterigiadis, 2012). Three new tendencies of independent game designers' practices reflects this new trend.

Firstly, independent game designers have changed their methods of self-definition. Papasterigiadis once characterized aesthetics cosmopolitanism by one of its five new tendencies- de-nationalisation. He stressed that the exilic tendency was now complemented by artistic practice. Artists often spoke of "belonging nowhere" (Papasterigiadis, 2012). In the documentary Gameloading: Rise of the Indies, a game designer confessed that when he was asked where his home is, he did not know how to answer the question since he was travelling around the world all the time and never stayed in one place for long. So he stated that his home was where his laptop was (Brady & Francois, 2015). This revealed that independent game designers changed their way of self-identification, which was no longer determined by "tags" like nationality, race, gender, religions etc, instead, they raised their self-awareness and started to define themselves just from an artistic perspective as individual artists and embedded themselves within the world.
Secondly, independent game designers varied their interactions and build dialogues to influence global fields. It is noticeable that in contemporary aesthetics cosmopolitanism, individuals in any country are self-mobilized in participation of different art forms in the global fields (Regev, 2007). Game designers now can cooperate with any other peer in virtual world through Internet where they can overcome the geographical limitation and finish the same project. Also, the importance of using dialogue rather than monologue to response to global issues caused artists' attention in current artistic practices(Meskimmon,2011). Game designers' interactions with each other are becoming diverse and flexible. These interactions are different from the past when they simply work together as a group without any emphasis on individual's characters.

An event named The Train Jam gathered Indies from all over the world to work freely with anyone they want during a train journey(Brady & Francois, 2015).During this process, more than cooperate, they can question, critic, answer, argue; they can also learn, discuss, communicate - use any form of expressions to show their concerns and ideas about making games. These ways of communications are two-way; therefore, they are building dialogues to implement their artistic practices of games.

Finally, one of the most important reasons that I would call these independent game designers "artists" is that they are aware of raising concerns of social issues and make influences and changes of them. In Meskimmon's opinion, arts, although unlike laws and policies can directly obligate people to act, still have the strong power to change the society and world(Meskimmon, 2011).A increasingly number of artists nowadays bring local issues happening around them into a worldwide in order to cause people's attentions and change the situations. Like the website What Is Missingaims at raising people's concerns about climate changes around the world (Lin, Beinecke, & Pasternak, 2013). These artists addressed on the importance role arts are playing in solving some serious global issues and emphasized that indivuals' local experiences can serve as significant part during this practice (Lin et al., 2013).

As Meskimmon argued that contemporary global citizens, without travelling can still be active participants in the transnational and intercultural exchanges of globalization (2011). Game desingers are also implementing this practice- using games to influence the world, help people and share their feelings. And in the trend of consmopolitanism, their themes are rather discursive (Papasterigiadis, 2012). A game named That Dragon Cancer was created by a father who wanted to share his experience of fighting with cancer with people who are facing the same problems and help them (Brady & Francois, 2015). There are also games about femine issues (A Hated Story) and mental health issues like depression (The Depression Quests).

All of these above tendencies imply us that a trend of cosmopolitanism is developing in game industries. Although still facing challenges like western-centralization, inequality of allocating funding and technologies, it still show us that the power is flowing from the controlled centre to numerous dispersive spots which represent every individual. And the way individuals work either by themselves or with each others, are having an increasingly strong influence on the whole world.


  • Brady, A., & Francois, L. (Writers). (2015). Gameloading: rise of the Indies: StudioBento.
  • Hsu, M. (2005). Networked cosmopolitanism on cultural exchange and international exhibition. In N. Tsoutas (Ed.), Knowledge + Dialogue + Exchange (pp. 75-82). Sydney: Artspace.
  • Lessig, L. (2004). Free Culture. New York: Penguin.
  • Lin, M., Beinecke, F., & Pasternak, A. (2013). Rewinding the clock on climate change through culture. Creativetime Reports. from
  • Meskimmon, M. (2011). Contemporary art: at home in a global world Contemporary Art and the Cosmopolitan Imagination (pp. 1-10). London and New York: Routledge.
  • Papasterigiadis, N. (2012). Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism. In G. Delanty (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Cosmopolitanism Studies. London: Routledge.
  • Regev, M. (2007). Cultural Uniqueness and Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism. European Journal of Social Theory, 10(1), 123-138. doi: 10.1177/1368431006068765

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