Itching For Thoughts: #1: Transformation

29 — Humble Grove

Every Wednesday, I usually write about an alt game, something usually sourced from itch.io. In an attempt to spice things up a bit, I’m going to write some of my thoughts down. Enjoy x

If there is anything I have enjoyed over the past year of covering alt games, it is the sheer lack of genre definitions I have encountered. Instead of being met with a bunch of art games where they are a ‘[game genre]…but’, I have found an incredibly diverse set of games that push and defy convention.

Mainstream games in themselves are inherently not bad — there are some extremely successful, expensive games that push and push and provide incredible, touching experiences. However, a lot of the more traditional, stagnant and shallow experiences are decremental to the positive push provided by these outliers.

Conor Sherlock’s Walking Simulators (Pictured here: Grave Apologies & Marginalia Prelude)

This is where alt games have turned my traditional perception of games upside down. Whilst my initial enlightenment was caused by my first playthrough of Dear Esther, my continued experiences with alt games have not only pushed past that early shock, but continued to reinforce it, every week.

Games are not just forms of entertainment. The concept of a game has expanded so much further than the words initial purpose. Instead of being a product of pure entertainment, more and more people are embracing the medium as one of artistic expression. No longer do games have to be muddy and grey to be successful. The market has expanded enough to allow personality to be a selling point.

Awkward Dimensions Redux — Steve Harmon

And perhaps this is what defines alt games. Not their budget or looks or their indie credentials. Perhaps simply the amount of personality that shines through provides enough variety, thought and depth to allow for a new subset of games to burst forth. Every one of the 105 games I’ve played so far for Itching For More (53 of which I have covered), even if unenjoyable, possessed a sense of being made by someone.

It feels like a callback to earlier times in the industry when personalities drove game sales — point and click adventures in particular found a great way to sell themselves by putting their designer’s name on the front of the box, immediately giving a more personal touch to the game. Instead of creations by a group of mysterious beings, these games became real, touchable and relatable.

Alt games, in term seem to have embraced this. Whilst perhaps the need for a “personality” to sell the game is no longer needed, the game does need to have a personality. Take for instance, last week’s game I covered — Dystropicana. If you play Dystropicana, it is so obviously not made by a faceless corporation. Instead, there is a clear message shining through, rough art pieces with a sheer unpolished beauty push themselves at you, each not drab and boring, but sharp and clever, full of life.

A Garden Under A Red Sun — Zach Gage & Orchids to Dusk — Pol Clarissou

Suddenly, there is meaning behind environments, messages in objects, words through actions, sounds and atmosphere. Games transform from static worlds full of violence to vibrant poetry, compact, dense and focused scenes, aimed directly at portraying an emotion or a feeling to its audience, its creator(s) purposeful with each placement of piece.

Whilst the wider industry has slowly been taking on board these new ideas, it is happening too slow. The bigger companies need to take a look at these small, unique experiences and embrace them and the lessons learnt from them into their wider family, allowing for more interesting games, ones with points and feelings and power. Alt Games have given life to an often stagnating industry.

Sacramento — Dziff
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