Abstract for Andreas Jahn-Sudmann’s talk at “Cultural Distinctions Remediated: Beyond the High, the Low, and the Middle” (Leibniz University of Hannover, 15-17 December 2011):
Desperately Seeking the Mainstream. Independent Games and the Cultural Logic of Distinction
Andreas Jahn-Sudmann (Media Studies, Göttingen)
For decades, the label “independent” has been associated with a form and practice of film that evidently seeks to distance itself from Hollywood as the epitome of the cultural mainstream. At the same time, a closer look at the history of American cinema reveals that independent films never just represented a radical alternative to Hollywood cinema; au contraire. In fact, one can argue that especially the success of many contemporary American indie films results from their ability to combine and balance the logic of the popular (accessibility, intelligibility, coherency) with the logic of radical distinction and anti-conventionality, thus shaping the values and forms of “edginess” and “hipness” that have become so central for our postmodern culture.
In my contribution, I would like to show how, since the 1990s, designers and producers of digital games have taken note of American independent film’s popularity, presence, and cultural capital, and how indie films serve as a cultural model and reflective agency for the evolving independent games movement. Comparing these two cultural spheres, their similarities are as interesting as their differences. While in the world of digital games the independent label is also closely connected to the ideas and rhetorics of (autonomous) creativity and innovation, I would argue that, distinguished from film culture, contemporary independent games still lack a formal logic of opposition that could be understood as challenging the forms and practices of mainstream games.