Tens of thousands descended upon the hyper-lit Boston Convention Center for one weekend in March. It was PAX East, one of the largest gaming events in North America, and we at The Metagame were there to play — and to take notes on the cultural moment.
Yes, we saw crowds of eager fans waiting for their turn at the Nintendo Switch, while caped and hooded cosplayers showed their tried and true devotion to ye olde Star Wars Franchise. Yet just as much, if not more, hype surrounded the hundreds of new indie games on display.
The indie movement in games has been a thing for years now — that is not news. But this year, it felt as if indie games of all kinds, from video games to tabletop games, were truly woven into the fabric of PAX. Thanks to the folks at the Indie Megabooth and the tabletop section sponsored by Cards Against Humanity, we were able to attend and join in the fun.
As designers of an indie social game that sparks debates about culture, we were pleased to see the arc of cultural change swinging heavily in the indie direction. In the PAX Indie Megabooth, Indie Minibooth, and Kickstarter Games Castle, we saw indie games with remarkable design, inventiveness, and social relevance. From politicized adventures for your VR headset, to visual novels for your iPhone, to zany card games for your next house party, here are 10 amazing indie games we saw at PAX.
- What Remains of Edith Finch — Find yourself face to face with the immensity and unknowability of history in this immersive landscape of family secrets. What Remains of Edith Finch is a PS4 game/short story collection hybrid where you explore 100 years of history through the eyes of generations. Start as Edith, then live life from the perspective of others in the Finch family, and gain a sense of the intricate detail and sweep of time.
Photo via playstation.com
- True Messiah — In the near future, a machine warps our minds to make us stop believing in facts, science, and skepticism. Without an objective reality, civilization collapses, and you must be its savior. This new board game stands out for its socially relevant concept (fake news anyone?) and beautiful gothic design.
- The American Dream — Made by an Australian indie game company, The American Dream is a first-person shooter VR experience that critiques American gun culture. Visit a 1950’s-era World’s Fair where the gun industry shows you how guns can revolutionize your future by solving all of your problems, from growing up to providing for your family.
- Emily is Away Too — The nostalgia factor is strong in this interactive narrative, where game play transpires through 90’s-era instant messenger chat. Choose your screenname (punk4eva anyone?), and message the mysterious Emily to change the course of your senior year 4ever.
- Someone Has Died — In this improvisational storytelling game, someone — you guessed it — has died. Now it’s your turn to explain why you deserve the inheritance. Use the identity, relationship, and backstory cards to create your character, and argue your side at the wackiest will arbitration you can imagine.
Photo via boardgamegeek.com
- Secret Hitler — Beautiful design and craftsmanship, social relevance, and offbeat humor define this new party game from a co-creator of Cards Against Humanity. In Secret Hitler, you and your fellow liberals band together to defeat the fascists. But before you can take down the evil overlord, you must learn how to trust one another. Yes, the game designers mailed this game to all U.S. senators.
- Elsinore — Imagine Hamlet told from Ophelia’s perspective. In this time-traveling adventure game, you’re the heroine who tries to stop the tragedy of Hamlet — before the cycle repeats again. Developed by a creative writer and game designer, this interactive visual novel deepens the female perspective in the classic play and adds a postmodern twist à la Run Lola Run.
Photo via elsinore-game.com
- Perception — In this visually and sonically stunning video game, you experience flashes of insight as a blind woman using echolocation to explore a haunted house. Perception expresses the relationship between blindness and different abilities and challenges stereotypes about ableism and gaming. The design process for the game involved interviews with Daniel Kish, who navigates the world through echolocation and runs a foundation that teaches the skill.
- A Normal Lost Phone — This visual novel for iPhone begins when you discover a lost phone and must explore its contents to determine the identity of the owner. As the mystery grows more complex, the game comments on LGBTQ identities, prejudice and discrimination, privacy, and our personal relationships to technology. What does ‘normal’ mean anyway?
- The Metagame — Shameless self-promotion, but, well, we had to mention it because we spent the conference playing our game with all kinds of folks, and we fell in love with it all over again. Feel free to check it out and download it for free. We’re currently making a new Card of the Week based on the current zeitgeist, or how angry we feel about what’s happening in the world. Check out Card of the Week on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.