Relaxing Silence, Surging Inspiration | Day 11
In any case, today was uniquely contemplative in its character – we were all quietly going through the material on our own instead of having the usual clamour of group work. It was near the end of the day when a fellow student, Filip, showed me the documentary Indie Game: The Movie after we had discussed, on our Google Group, potential movies to watch on Friday. Someone suggested The Startup Kids, which I offered to provide, as I already own it; Filip passed by my desk as I was looking up his suggestion and he immediately offered me a viewing – I spent the evening enjoying it.
Indie Game was a moving presentation of an industry that I was never fully acquainted with. It tracked the quotidian trials and tribulations of celebrated indie game developers – a journey that bled with the entrepreneurial spirit. Jonathan Blow’s Braid is set up as the contextual benchmark of indie success; Edmund and Tommy’s Super Meat Boy is positioned as a conventional success story that begins as an underdog and rises to surpass their forefather; Phil Fish’s Fez is more or less a tragic tale of roadblocks that ends with a hope for a better tomorrow.
Jon is depicted here as the source of wisdom – he’s gone through the trials already and came out successful. To paraphrase his stronger nuggets of wisdom, Jon advocates that part and parcel of being in the indie industry is trying not to be professional. You can’t simply try to be a smaller version of, let’s say, EA or Ubisoft – they’re in the industry of making polished games. Rather, the indie game developer needs to infuse all of his personal flaws and vulnerabilities into his games. The games should be nothing less than a reflection of self – the naked child of one’s soul presented in allegory that all may relate to. The polished game is alienating, for it is only the flawed game of the indie developer that captures human imperfection in its raw essence. The visuals bleed with sincerity and the storylines flow from the centre of one’s being – a life and ethos made manifest.
Moving on to Edmund and Tommy, we witness some of the most genuinely expressed emotions throughout the documentary. In particular, Edmund is forthright in showing his personal growth, how his childhood directly influences his work. For the pair, video games are how they express themselves – they are storytellers of the modern era, blessed with an immersive and interactive medium for the conveyance of their messages. The story of Super Meat Boy is one of authentic bootstrapping – these two put their careers and relationships on the line to make this game happen. There was a deeply affecting scene with Tommy reflecting on how he no longer has a life at ~4AM in a diner – how the creation of this game has become his life. He simply did not have the time for anything else. The message that I got from his paradoxical state of restricted liberty was: “What are you willing to sacrifice for greatness? How much are you willing to endure to have a sense of independence?” I remain speechless at their willpower and fortitude of being. Their life and times during the production of Super Meat Boy is truly a study in the ontology of entrepreneurship. Thankfully, their tale ends on a high note with SMB being a financial powerhouse, allowing Tommy to pay off his parents’ debts and Edmund to buy a new house for him and his patient wife.
Finally, we have the tragic tale of Montreal-born Phil Fish. All he ever wanted was to be appreciated and liked – don’t we all? – but his journey is certainly a modern mimesis of Hamlet. Phil’s obstacles not only derived from perfectionism and over-identification of self with his magnum opus but also from partnership dilemmas. Divisions among the founding teams destroy a healthy number of startups and it was no different for Phil where a bitter feud with his original business partner left him psychologically tattered. If anything, Phil’s experiences show us that indie development is not all rainbows and butterflies as there are genuine obstacles that can and will crush you if you are not prepared. However, by the end of the documentary we see Phil resolve his partnership issues and make significant headway in the launching of Fez. The fallen warrior has his moment of redemption.
Overall, my key takeaway from this documentary came unexpectedly from Tommy when he lamented his bittersweet state, forcing me to ask myself: how much am I willing to sacrifice for greatness? It would appear that nothing is possible without sacrifice – the scales of life mandate it so. Nonetheless, the gravitas of his revelation is softened by my solemn acknowledgement that one receives in proportion to service rendered. I cannot rise myself without raising others and commerce, indeed, is a viable outlet for such collective amelioration.