It’s an exciting feeling to get to observe the growth of a movement as exciting and new as the indie games revolution. Its’ leaders and advocates are opinionated, transparent, controversial, enigmatic, thoughtful, and passionate — and the games are equally so. But there is also something distinctly spiritual about the whole event.
Whether it’s just being around this incredibly tight-knit group of developers and industry leaders who have traveled from around the world to be in the same room as fellow believers or just playing these games that are so infused with meaning and purpose — the whole thing event is ripe with spiritual experiences to be uncovered. Here are five unexpected spiritual experiences that I had at IndieCade.
1. Playing pretty much anything on the Oculus Rift
Leading into IndieCade this year, Oculus — the company who is making the world’s first worthwhile virtual reality headset — sponsored a VR GameJam and presented seven of the best games at their booth. The out-of-body experience of strapping an Oculus Rift to your head feels like a spiritual experience in its own right. After playing a bunch of these experimental games, I felt like I had just experienced something between a lucid dream and prophetic vision.
2. Watching Couples Line Up To Play Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime
IndieCade’s Night Games are often some of the most successful events of the festival. People pour in to play some of the best in experimental competitive and cooperative multiplayer games. I was excited to play the two-player cooperative game Lovers In a Dangerous Spacetime, but hadn’t considered that coming alone would make that difficult. When I got there and saw the two-by-two line of couples, I smiled and watched as games played their role in bringing people together. As my own wedding gets closer by the day, the game’s depiction of a couple working together for the greater good (and blowing up aliens) stuck in my mind all weekend. Seeing how the couples interacted within the game itself made me realize it wouldn’t be such a bad tool for pre-marital counseling as well.
3. Hearing Brenda Romero Talk About Hard Work and Dedication
One of the most inspiring talks of the week happened on Day Two, when celebrated game designer and thinker Brenda Romero gave a presentation called “Jiro Dreams of Game Design”. Forget the Ashton Kutcher speech at the Teen Choice Awards — Brenda hit the audience hard with some real motivation to find a passion in life and pursue it with reckless abandon. The fact that her talk had me thinking about my own faith and my sometimes wavering daily commitment to the things I believe in was proof that you don’t have to be in a church to hear a sermon.
4. Watching people play and talk about That Dragon, Cancer
As I confessed in a conversation on the first night of IndieCade with creator Ryan Green, That Dragon, Cancer is the game that thoughtful Christian gamers have been waiting years for. Not only is it an incredible independent achievement in its own right, it also has an uncanny way of inserting people of non-Christian beliefs directly into Ryan’s life. It’s more than a testimony — it’s an opportunity to take a walk in Ryan’s shoes and experience the fear, doubt, hope, and faith for themselves.
It’s also the kind of game that the entire indie game community celebrates, and to see big-shots from the indie game community unapologetically support what creators Ryan Green and Josh Larson are doing was incredibly encouraging. The aura of spirituality that surrounds That Dragon, Cancer draws people in — and it touches every person it comes in contact with.
5. Watching the awards show have the worst technical difficulties and everyone laugh about it.
The IndieCade Award Show takes place on the first night of the festival and this year it took place in the sophisticated Museum of Contemporary Art. Although it’s become an incredibly prestigious and sought after award over the years, you might not know it from the show’s humble production and relatively small audience. It felt more like a family meeting than a red carpet affair. Actual descriptions of games and chances to honor their developers were lost in the tears that were shed, unprepared speeches, and technical difficulties.
Yes, in some ways, the independent games industry hasn’t yet grown up in the same way that independent movements have in other industries. But as of now, I wouldn’t want it any other way. After all, it’s that honesty, love, community, and willingness to be real that left room for a host of spiritual experiences to sneak through the cracks in the most unexpected of places. So thanks, IndieCade.