High-tech Low-tech Authenticity: The Creation of Independent Style at the Independent Games Festival

In game culture, in academic and popular commentary, independent games have been declared a major new development in video games in the last few years. At the same time, most academic and industry discussions state that it is impossible to describe independent games in a meaningful way. Counter to this, this paper examines the history of winning entries in the Independent Games Festival from 2000-2014 and identifies the rise of a specific visual Independent Style shared by many independent games, a style that is a representation of a representation, using contemporary technology to emulate visual styles from earlier times, including pixel style graphics, crayons and other analog materials. This visual style is meant to invoke a type of authenticity and “honesty in materials” that marks it as distinct from the alleged realism of bigger-budget titles. This type of strategy is associated with the contemporary maker movement, as well with 19th century ideas about arts, crafts, and architecture. It is a style that is not simply a natural expression of a particular method of game development, but an example of “authenticity work”: a careful construction to appear as a counter to large-budget game productions, and to give the appearance of a direct connection between players and game developers.