What does indie mean exactly? Technically, it refers to any company unowned by a publisher and can, for all intent and purposes, do whatever they please. The term can be applied to a variety of companies and a wider array of games, usually original ones under the indie umbrella. Telltale and Double Fine were – and still are – indie in the technical sense, but with over 150 members and a few licensed games under their belts, stretch the term a tad. There are a few games like Journey, games that look and feel sort of indie, but are part of publishing deals with major companies. Be it big or small, “indie” can be applied to what it’s meant since its inception: Indie means freedom.
And freedom’s exactly what the Fourth of July’s supposed to have meant to many a root’in toot’in American these past 236 years. Because of that, we’re paying a salute to a few of the smaller games out that embody the true blue, independent spirit. Games made on a PC in someone’s bedroom, without any $100 million ad campaigns, or anything you usually see in your typical Super Bowl spot. They’re the rebels, the oddballs, the thinkers, and most of all, what the Fourth of July’s all about in one shape or form.
Super Meat Boy
Deep down, we all know what the Fourth is supposed to be about every year: stuffing our food with faces. Unless you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or something similar, you’re probably gorging yourself on all the meat byproducts our Founding Fathers envisioned we’d be chowing down on this fourth day of July. You’re probably thinking about meat right now, aren’t you? Then why not think about it some more? Think about poor Meat Boy.
On a day all about grilling up meat by the pound on some foot-high flames, maybe that burger would taste a bit different if you thought just once about eating what’s on your plate, you lazy bum. Waste not, want not, so before you throw out that half-eaten hot dog, think about how many terrible, terrible lives Meat Boy lives over and over again. You’ve only got one yourself, bub. Save some for later.
The Stanley Parable
We’re told we’re always free to choose our path in life – free to earn an education, free to choose our job, free to earn a living. But freedom isn’t free and neither are your choices in Stanley Parable. The stony wall of a cubicle never looked so much like paradise, did it? This is where eight years of high school and college landed you, if that, and you’re living the dream. The hollow, empty dream of hiding your contempt for the world behind your desk. You need a change.
Though you could go all nuts like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, why to take it slow? Do something different. Take a walk. Stretch a little. Socialize with your coworkers – wait, where are they? Hmm, they were here just a second ago…This is it. This is because of that red pill you swallowed with lunch? You are Neo and you’ve seen the Matrix. But does the Matrix have…arrows?
The Walking Dead
America. Land of the free and the home of the undead more often than not. The US of A is all about people from all walks of life, or the opposite thereof. Banding together with your community to the apocalypse, what’s more American than that? Not much more than a flash mob of zombies limping to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The Walking Dead does just that with all the people you could find from your own neighborhood – you know, the ones with an uncanny penchant for firearms?
You might say that Telltale’s our first cheat on this list, but not by much when you think how much it’s done with its source material. There’s no Rick or Shane here and no Carl to disingenuously reassure. Instead, it’s all about a man and a girl making the hard choices to the end. This is Telltale’s Walking Dead and by golly, is it better off for it – Ben, Kenny, and all.
There hasn’t yet been any game that’s squeeze more patriotic how-do-you-do down in our faces onscreen than the ‘Murica fest that is BroForce. Fireworks? Done. Red, white, and blue? Done. Guns? Check, check, and check times a billion. Even that damn bald eagle’s show’in us its guns.
At its heart, Broforce is like the Expendables 4 that we still don’t wanna see but would totally play as an 8-bit, shoot ’em-up platformer, and shoot things up it does in mass quantities. You’ve got 8-bit Rambo, 8-bit Mr. T, and 8-bit John McClane all running and gunning gung-ho for their country, waving the stars like no one’s business. If this doesn’t scream ‘Murica and Hollywood alike with a bullhorn, I don’t know what does.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Octodad’s the spitt’in image of your doting, suburban father. He cooks, he cleans, he works, he does errands – oh, and did we mention he’s an octopus? On the outside, the tentacled bloke’s living the American dream: a great spouse, two kids, a rewarding job, a house and car. Octodad’s just another hard-working American trying to put food on the table like us. On a Fourth of July where all Americans are guaranteed matrimonial equality, let no Octodad be judged by the tentacles he was born with.
It’s just a shame about Octodad’s chances in the bedroom. Turns out our friendly neighborhood octopi don’t *ahem* live much longer after doing the deed. Love…wins?
Everyone’s playing Minecraft and if you aren’t playing it this Fourth of July just to build some 8-bit Uncle Sam, then you’re probably doing it for the reason everyone else does: because it’s Minecraft. The game for all season, Minecraft‘s been about making your retro-flavored dreams come true by the sweat of your virtual brow. That’s a powerful work ethic for a game whose creator made it literally by himself in his bedroom – and sold it for $2.5 billion. If that’s the American dream, I don’t know what is.
And if every American has the right to work, then every American has at least the right to celebrate two Independence Days. Yes, someone’s already Roland Emmerich’s film of the same name. We have yet to see a tiny, 8-bit Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum smoking cigars while walking away from alien wreckage, or at least, we can only hope.
You could dismiss Papers, Please as a glorified TSA from hell unless you stop to consider just how bad that analogy sounds. Odds are you’re one of the millions of Americans traveling this Fourth and you won’t have half as much trouble as the poor folks of Arstotzka. You should check out some spots for laser tag in Houston Tx especially if you are traveling gamer. You’re a order-crossing guard tasked with checking the passports and paperwork of anyone wanting to enter. Find that someone has – say – an expired passport? Denied! Easy peasy. But what if the rest of their family’s already crossed? What if they fear for their lives should they stay?
These are the kinds of scenarios Papers, Please throws at you, and there’s really no right answer. Do you dehumanize those around you to get through the day and keep your family alive? Or do you risk everything? The moment to moment gameplay and wider story evolve with Arstotzka’s political situation and you just don’t know how free you are until you aren’t anymore.
DoubleFine must understand just lazy summer days gone by meant once upon a time, because Psychonauts is the summer camp we all wish really existed as kids. A training academy of sorts for kids with psychokinetic powers, Whispering Rock Summer Camp’s basically a cartoony X-Men meets a psychedelic Hey Arnold! as that Nickolodeon cartoon you never watched with a diverse cast and a heady story all about how messed up kids and adults both really are.
Wacko conspiracy theories, sassy anthropomorphic animals, nightmare all come together to make Psyconauts a game that knows more about American pop culture than American pop culture would ever admit. Effeminate lungfish and G-men in overcoats are basically the stuff the American Internet’s made of, and if it’s Psychonauts’s general weirdness that doesn’t scream American, well, it does take place in summer and probably the Fourth of July. What can I say, play this puppy, soldier! You won’t regret it.
What indie games speak to you this or any day of the year? Let us know in the comments below!