Indie Game: The Movie: The Downside to Freelancing for Microsoft

Seattle is home to legions of pallid, sleep-deprived programmers, and Microsoft’s Xbox gaming platform is central to this insightful new geek documentary. Well-directed by first-timers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, Indie Game ought then to be a perfect fit for this market, but it fails in one crucial respect. There is a bright line, likely determined by age, between those who game and those who don’t, and the film makes no concessions to the latter camp. The doc gains remarkable access to three groups of designers, one of whom hopes to recreate “that experience of playing games before the Internet existed.” Childhood nostalgia runs deep among the four main subjects, all white dudes in their late 20s/early 30s who crave “connection” with more young white dudes essentially just like them. They’re obsessed, incredibly overstressed as they try to meet the deadlines imposed by cruel Microsoft, and more than a little sad. The luckiest has an understanding wife. The unluckiest is stuck in his fourth year of development hell; bright and articulate, he worries that the zeitgeist may have passed since the first promising demo version of his game. Perfectionism can mean missing your precious slot in the market. As in Hollywood, which shares the same first-weekend-sales mentality, one can be washed up (or burned out) at a very young age in the gaming racket. The indie model here means a bit of start-up funding, then marathon hours for very small teams of developers—and forget about health insurance or vacation days. Though Indie Game doesn’t pretend all its subjects will prosper, it tells us nothing about the success/failure ratio of indie entrepreneurs, the broader vid-game market (worth more than $40 billion last year), or a youth culture that’s been profoundly changed by gaming. It’s like writing about McDonald’s without mentioning the obesity epidemic.