Dir: James Swirky & Lisanne Pajot
Ross Hamilton delves in to the under-explored world of video-game creation with new documentary Indie Game: The Movie, an examination of the lives and work of some of the hidden faces of a massive cultural industry.
Over the past twenty years there have been a myriad of movies based on video-games, varying wildly in setting and style, but all sharing the common trait of being unquestionably terrible. Their shoddy transferring of narratives often already stilted in their native forms, not only miss the point of the games themselves (designed to be played), but also the most compelling stories to emerge from them: those of the people who play games, and of the people who create them. The former was the subject of by far the greatest video-game movie made yet, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, and it is the latter that concerns Canadian filmmakers James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot in their feature, Indie Game: The Movie.
Following four designers and their respective games, IG:TM focuses on the intimate end of a colossal industry, a space in which the intense pressure of impending deadlines, financial losses and public expectation is magnified many times over. Swirsky and Pajot skilfully edit landscapes, interviews and gameplay together, to create an absorbing and compelling narrative, while moments of tension, tenderness and despair are all complemented by the pervasive, ambient score from Jim Guthrie (of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP fame). The pacing never slackens, and though instances of real drama are few and far between, the candid confessions of the four protagonists serve as constant reminders of the immense amount they have invested in their games.
In addition to the trials and tribulations of game development, the film also seeks to explore the personal and creative motivations behind the three projects it showcases. The extremely likeable Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, the team behind Super Meat Boy, talk animatedly about their childhood influences, their aspirations should the game be a success, and their relationships with fans and critics. There are conflicting views within the film: Braid designer Jonathan Blow’s extremely negative reaction to the public’s ‘misreading’ of his game demonstrates a yearning to be understood; to be critically acclaimed, but on his terms only. Refenes’ sentiment on the other hand, strikes a more grounded, relatable note – ‘It’s not a game I made for people. I made it for myself.’
Ultimately, Indie Game: The Movie is as much about people as it is about games, and indeed for the four central characters, the two are inseparable. Refenes describes finishing Super Meat Boy as ‘like sending your child off to school’, and Phil Fish, the charismatic developer of the long-delayed Fez, admits that his game has become more than just his work; it has grown to become an extension of his own identity. It is this universality of the relationship between creators and their craft that imbues the film with undeniable charm and appeal, transcending its relatively niche subject matter.
Blow concludes by asserting that independent games contain their maker’s ‘deepest flaws and vulnerabilities’, and Indie Game: The Movie certainly captures these imperfections. More importantly however, it also succeeds in showing the talent, the passion, and the fierce brilliance of its protagonists, providing a captivating insight into an as-yet unexplored subject, and in the process giving us the finest film about games to date.
Indie Game: The Movie can be purchased and watched online, at indiegamethemovie.com.