[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]any wonder what constitutes a video game. The discussion is complicated, wrestling with such issues as planned and emergent narrative, reward and punishment, complexity and simplicity, etc. Here on Cliqist, however, I’d like to focus on experimental games and their place in the crowdfunding market.
First, we have to acknowledge that crowdfunding is a highly democratic resource. People literally vote with their money to fund game projects they feel are worth giving a shot. In this way, indie developers can cut out the middle man and pitch their game to a potentially receptive audience. Some game ideas are just too out there, too strange, too experimental for publishers and larger studios to want to take a risk on. Indie devs, who usually consist of small teams functioning under little overhead, have mostly just their reputations on the line. Therefor, they are more willing to take risks on experimental game concepts. When just such developers can convince supporters to fund them is when games like Elegy for a Dead World, Knock Knock, Codemancer, and Spate get made.
But what are the risks involved with that? Well, if you’ve read my review for Elegy, you can get an idea of one way things can go wrong. The game was, in my opinion, less a “game” and more a “writing program”, and even then, a writing program that needed serious improvements on its features. Sometimes, a game concept toes the line, and this can be great for the gaming world when it sets new limits and creates new possibilities. But for those people who support the flops that fail to actualize their potential, it can be a frustrating (maybe even costly) mistake.
Crowdfunded games are hit and miss. That’s just the nature of the business. Yet does this mean that we, as consumers, should be leery of any project that seems too out there? I don’t think so. While I was disappointed with Elegy for a Dead World, I still respected the things it was trying to achieve.
I’m not necessarily saying that all experimental games ought to enjoy impunity. The market will, and always will, decide what succeeds and what fails. But we should celebrate new ideas and encourage the gaming market to grow and evolve. It is clear that video games are here to stay, so it is good to play around with the limits of what a “game” even is. Codemancer shows us it’s possible to have a union between fun gameplay and education for adult games. Other titles that blend the way we enjoy entertainment through narrative delivery and sensory inputs, like Knock Knock, are imperative in breaking down barriers. Games that strive for narrative poeticism and visual transcendence, like Spate, are the sorts of projects that can help games be taken more seriously in a world that still views them as a crude form of expression.
So the next time you see an experimental game on a crowdfunding site, don’t write it off. Sometimes, the risk is in of itself the reward.