Indie Game: The Movie is evocative, inspiring and genuinely touching.
At one point during the documentary, Phil Fish explains how overwhelmingly stressful the process of working on the same video game for the past four years has been. When he’s asked: “What would happen to you personally if you couldn’t finish the game?” without hesitating and with the determination in his eyes, he says “I would kill myself.” Is this a hyperbolic statement or does this truly reflect how he feels? Indie Game: The Movie documents the lives of various independent developers, including Edmund McMillen and Tommy Revenes (creators of Super Meat Boy,) Phil Fish (the man behind Fez,) and Jonathan Blow (a developer who has struggled with the success of Braid and is currently working on a new project called The Witness.) The movie is plagued with heartrending moments like the aforementioned, but it’s also filled with an insightful look into the hearts and souls of some of the most creative developers in the medium.
Although the four developers are part of the same industry, each offers a different perspective. Edmund and Tommy have been working on Super Meat Boy for the past eleven months and it hasn’t been particularly easy. At one point, Edmund compares the creation of the game to a “concentration camp.” He constantly sits in front of the computer desperately trying to finish Super Meat Boy before the deal they have arranged with Microsoft expires, which would force them to wait months to resubmit the game again. During the process, he doesn’t even have time to talk to his wife who is literally sitting ten meters from him. For Tommy, being a part of the Team Meat hasn’t been a cakewalk either. He works an insane amount of hours on the project, doesn’t have time to go out, socialize or go on dates. He has sacrificed a significant part of his life in order to finish the game and fulfill his longtime dream.
Then we have Phil Fish, who has been working on Fez for four years, an ambitious project that has been delayed multiple times. We see how he obsessively builds these overly elaborate constructions to add meticulous details to the game, we hear him talk about personal aspects of life and we see him in the middle of a panic attack because his former partner, who has left a couple of years ago, is either unwilling or stubbornly refusing to sign a legal document that would allow Fish to show the game at one of the biggest video game conventions.
Finally, we are introduced to Jonathan Blow a developer who has worked on big companies and then decided to focus on more independent projects such as Braid. Blow had already finished and published Braid when the documentary was shot and due to this, you may think that he feels relieved. In reality though, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Although he has created a critically acclaimed and extremely profitable title, he believes that most people liked it for the wrong reasons and that the message he was trying to convey was utterly misinterpreted.
Maybe these descriptions give the impression that the documentary is really grim and dreadfully hopeless. On the contrary, Indie Game: The Movie is also filled with heartwarming moments. Seeing Super Meat Boy succeed only a few hours after its release and not only seeing the reaction of the people who made it, but also their families and close friends, is definitely an emotionally rewarding moment.
In one particular scene, Fish is at the PAX East convention dealing with his game crashing every single time someone plays it. To him, this is devastating and soul-crushing, but this is also a realistic depiction of what was happening at the time. Later on, he refers to that revelatory moment in which he realized that he wanted to make games for the rest of his life. A plastic box and a bunch of rudimentary circuits helped him envision that and it was a glorious moment for him. The point is: there is a delicate balance between the emotionally poignant and uplifting moments, mainly because the documentary is trying to vividly depict the lives of these developers in the most realistic and sincere ways possible.
There are inspirational moments as well. This is a fascinating look into the minds of the people who had the courage to sacrifice a lot to do what they like the most and it’s almost impossible not to sympathize with them. Here you have all these passionate developers, talking about their biggest fears, their most intimate issues and their immense efforts to achieve something that has taken them a lot of time and effort.
Although on the surface it may look like the only people who can appreciate this documentary are those intimately related to video games, Indie Game: The Movie effortlessly manages to tell one of the most universally stories ever. It would be unfair to mistake this for a documentary about games or people who make them. Indie Game: The Movie deals with doing something you’re extremely passionate about. As Jonathan Blow said “(…) It’s about taking your deepest flaws and vulnerabilities and put them in the game.” Replace the word game for anything you’re extremely passionate about and this has become your personal story as well.
Seldom have a couple of directors been able to portray heart wrenching and stirring moments about people in the video game industry in such a sincere way. Nevertheless, Indie Game: The Movie is much more than just that. It’s evocative, inspiring and genuinely touching. Undoubtedly, this documentary will resonate with people long after its release. And that makes it truly special.