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Independent or indie? creative autonomy and cultural capital in independent video game production

Smith, Martin Graham (2016) Independent or indie? creative autonomy and cultural capital in independent video game production. Masters by Research thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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The use of the word ‘indie’ in relation to video games has shifted from referring to games made independently of a large publisher to being a more nebulous term that is harder to define but that is clearly used at times to refer to games other than those made without the financial assistance of publishers. This thesis seeks to contribute to the ongoing debate in academic writing on video games as to the meaning of the phrase ‘indie games’. The thesis combines textual and institutional analysis to contextualise the modern indie game by investigating the history of independent video game production in the UK and USA from the 1970s to the modern day, with reference to how changes in technology have shaped independent video game production over time. Alternative models of production that existed before the indie games of the mid-2000s onwards are an under researched area, and this thesis argues that a number of independent counter trends to dominant industry practices set precedents for many of the features of later indie games, in terms of content, style, distribution methods, and models of production. The thesis also contains a case study into the publisher-funded indie games of Jenova Chen and Thatgamecompany which investigates the conflicting definitions of indie in academic writing on video games and other forms of media, arguing that as with indie in cinema, indie in games functions as a form of cultural capital for the audience and developers. Finally, through an investigation into games made in the ‘independent space’ of the games industry, or games made independently of publishers, the thesis explores the notion of creative autonomy, arguing that there is not a straightforward correlation between ‘independent thought’ and ‘independent funding’, and that this independent space is a often a site of co-creation and audience participation that at once functions as a modern independent counter trend to dominant industry practices while also influencing and changing those same dominant practices.

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