Ode to Indie Games
For better or worse, gaming has been my primary hobby for the last several years. Playing games helps me cope with depression and anxiety by giving me a temporary escape from an increasingly alienating and frightening world.
Computer gaming is hardly new to me. As a high school student in the mid-80s, I played cartridge-based games like “Cosmic Cruncher” (a Pac-Man variant) on the family VIC-20, which we soon upgraded to the far more capable Commodore 64. I also painstakingly typed in BASIC games printed in computer magazines, one line at a time. When I had fixed enough of my own typos to make these playable, I was rewarded with primitive, blocky graphics.
Games have come a long way since then, to say the least. But despite having more than adequate hardware (Mac Studio, Nintendo Switch, and iPad Mini) to play graphics-rich games, my current favorites feature simple 2D visual styles. I prefer these indie titles not for reasons of nostalgia, but because of the rich gameplay possibilities. Not to mention the prices; the games I play most often retail for $10-$25 (for the desktop computer versions), and are frequently on sale.
So it was no surprise that the top three of my most-played Steam games of 2023 are all indie titles: Terraria, Stardew Valley, and Oxygen Not Included. I’ll go through what I like about each of these in turn.
Dig, fight, explore, build! Nothing is impossible in this action-packed adventure game. The world is your canvas and…
Terraria by Re-Logic is a sandbox game with endless possibilities. Worlds are procedurally generated, and contain thousands of unique objects and creatures to discover, craft, and encounter. The game also features multiplayer support, though I’ve only played it in single-player mode myself.
Game progression in Terraria requires going through a series of boss fights, but there is no time pressure to do so. It might seem strange that an avowed pacifist like myself would love a game that requires a lot of killing, and I have felt guilty about this.¹ But exploration, not combat, is the most…