It’s appropriate that a movie about independent game developers should be made by a pair of independent feature filmmakers.
Indie Game: The Movie , which has almost wrapped shooting and is currently in the process of being cobbled together, is the product of 33-year-old St. Andrews, Manitoba native James Swirsky and 28-year-old Winnipegger Lisanne Pajot.
Inspired by what they saw attending the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco during the winter of 2009, the duo, who met six years ago working on a project that went on to win Best Short Film at the National Screen Institute Film Festival, decided to abandon their successful film production business in Winnipeg for a year to produce a crowd-funded film about the world of independent games.
They've spent this year following and interviewing many of North America's most successful and influential independent game designers, including Jonathon Blow ( Braid ), Ron Carmel ( World of Goo ), Jason Rohrer ( Passage ), and Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes ( Super Meat Boy ).
Some of the work they’ve completed for the film is already available on the project’s official website, and it is both polished and poignant. Interviewees tell frank, heartfelt stories about their lives, inspirations, and creative processes, affirming in a way that no essay or article ever could that their creations are labours of love and works of art.
Mr. Swirsky and Ms. Pajot took the time to respond to a few questions sent via email. I’ve posted our electronic conversation in its entirety below, only lightly edited.
The Globe and Mail: What was your inspiration? What made you choose video games—and, specifically, independent games—as a documentary subject?
James: This film was born of our trip to the 2009 Game Developer’s Conference. We were there to cover it for a local industry organization, New Media Manitoba. Though we had the assignment of covering the conference at large, we kept being drawn to the speakers and events surrounding independent game developers.
A combination of a few things about these developers fascinated us. It seems silly to say it after filming the majority of this doc, but we were honestly surprised by the high quality of these games, which were being made by one, two, and three person teams. And not only did the games look good, but they were finding an audience, leading to some really amazing success stories. But, above all, it became clear after talking to these indie developers and hearing them speak that these were people creating highly personal, highly expressive, and highly innovative games that were intrinsically tied to themselves, their experiences, beliefs, and thoughts. These games were extensions of the people who made them. They feel personal when you play them. That is what makes indie games an extremely interesting documentary subject.
Often, to hear the story of the game and its design is to hear the story of the developer. And vice versa. It tends to cast games, as a medium, in a whole new light. A game doesn’t have to be a mode of entertainment, or a product designed to make you want to part with your sixty dollars. It can be more.
That is one part of our inspiration. The other was the simple fact that we, as film-watchers, wanted to see a documentary that discussed and took an intelligent look at game design. If you look at the majority of television or film produced dealing with the games industry you’ll either come up with tales of obsessed game players who have lost their lives to World of Warcraft, Farmville and the like, or you’ll find amped-up, over-the-top coverage about the newest, coolest games with the newest, coolest graphics—basically reading the back of the game’s box in the loudest voice possible.
Nowhere is there discussion about the skill, thought, and emotion that is poured into these games. Video games are one of—if not the most—dominant mediums in the world today, and no one is seriously talking about the creators and designers. At least not in film and television. We wanted to make the first film that took these guys seriously.
TGAM: Do either of you play games?
James: Long before this film, I was a hardcore gamer. I have since turned into a casual player with a strong appreciation for the field. In preparation for the film, we've been playing a ton of games. But since starting production, it’s grinded down to short little bursts of gameplay in cars and airplanes. Except for the iPhone title Game Dev Story. That friggin' game had my number for about six days straight!