Thursday, April 12, 2007

Indie? Pah!

I was chatting to my friend from school at the weekend and he commented how, even back then, I have never really been part of any 'group'. At school I was neither a trendy townie nor one of the introvert theatre group nor a sporty type or a (shudder) Venutre Scout. I sort of existed, by myself, shuttling between them all. I've always hated the concept of tribalisation and in my adult life it's been something that has annoyed me about all manner of things .... indie.

Oh how I hate the term. In every incarnation I have encountered it, it - and it's attendent antithesis - has created up the same elitist, isolationist, tribal divisions.

In the late 80s it was 'Indie Music' - the logic went like this: all chart music is crap and therefore not proper music. Therefore the only proper music was stuff that was not in the charts. The so-called 'indie music'. The more popular this music became, the less 'indie' it was until eventually the band would disappear or /shock/ they would chart - therefore instantly moving from 'indie' to 'commerical sellouts'. Oh the fun I had watching people at Uni trying to out-obscure each other. Nowadays it's like something from a surreal sketch show but it was very real then. And the looking down the nose at anyone who liked yesterdays sweetheart group or, God help them, the more serious crime of .... bandwagon jumping! Oh yes folks, worse than being a trendy chart zombie was being an indie kid who didn't know about the obscure band and then started to like them as they were getting noticed! Find your own niche group to obsess over... this one is mine. I mean, honestly, what was going on there?

After Indie Music came 'Indie Comics'. Once again, the same riff applied. If it was made by Marvel or DC, it was pretty much dead in the water, derivative, mass produced rubbish churned out for the braindead masses. What you need to be reading are 'indie comics'! Obscure, badly drawn pieces of tatt which come out less regularly than a decent Boyzone single mustering a storyline that you can barely follow. Oh but they are so good, oh but they are written by writer such-and-such and he's great and ... GAH! Thankfully, I had my mate Stephen to guide me towards 'decent' indie stuff (although I suspect he still couldn't fathom my X-Men habit) but from other fans I got the same old litany. What made it worse was that the indie snobbery was coming from the comic shop owners themselves. I distinctly remember being virutally laughed out of Nostalgia and Comics in Birmingham once because of my rather mainstream comic selections.

Of course, nothing generates quite the indie tribalism as 'Indie Wrestling'. Yes folks, none of the shine and showbiz of the WWE for the Indie Wrestling fanatic! If it isn't done in grainy film, shown in an old bingo hall or sports centre and features two or more men you have never heard of before then it simply must be bad. Now, I will admit that the difference between the punch-kick-finisher style of the WWE and the more technical/high risk style I have seen at many indie feds makes the two things almost different products, but essentially they have the same basis, require the same suspension of disbelief and aim to entertain within the same medium.

Indie Music, Indie Comics and Indie Wrestling - three things where the ability for people to create false divisions has plagued me. I simply cannot understand the reasoning behind the split? Is it because these people are seeking individualism in the arms of the obscure? Well, that would have accounted for the music at the time, but the others? Is it because of a deep seated hatred of the monolithic structures behind the big players - the EMI's, Marvels and WWEs of this world? Maybe it's because there is a degree of fairness that has been breached with regard to these properties. They are seen as equally as valid, equally as good as the more mainstream offering but the latter has far more promotion and exposure than the former and therefore is seen as superior by the un-exposed masses? That could well be it but I don't think I have ever seen the tribalism portrayed with that degree of analysis before. Snobbishness powered through a sense of social justice and anti-capitalistic zeal. Hmmmm....unlikely!

I love my (formerly) 80s (formerly) indie music and I still listen to it now. I'm also going to see Girls Aloud next month with my daughter and quite looking forward to it. I picked up my first ever Dark Horse comic last month - the company that was once the epitome of indie comics is now publishing the Season Eight comic of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I bought it alongside my Justice League and Avengers comics. I still mark out like a little girl when I watch the WWE and yet find it possible to catch Ring of Honour sometimes on the Wrestling Channel and enjoy it. Just like at school, never in one group or another. Just floating.

Which brings me to the phenomenon of 'indie roleplaying games'. Naturally my nerves are jangled by the continued use of that phrase. Coming from a city with one games shop which is very well stocked by still rather mainstream, these things come slowly into my world and I have come slowly into theirs. What I see are games made by people who clearly love their hobby, have some interesting innovative ideas and the know-how to self-publish and promote them. Hey, thats great and indeed it has inspired me to do similar things. However, what I also see are the same smoldering embers of internal division and tribalisation. Those that 'get' indie or story games and those that are happy to stay with 'traditional' games. Theres even an air of intellectual snobbery that runs through some of the conversations.

What I find comical about these things is that they seem to be the failings of all hobbies, large or small. I regularly hear football fans talking about Division Two football as 'proper football' as if they Champions League matches we have seen over the last couple of weeks were somehow all the more fake because of the lights and big-name players and lack of half-cooked pies on terraces at half-time. It also seems the smaller the hobby the more ludicrous the nature of the tribalisation. Take reading comics, for example? Hardly the biggest hobby in the world is it? A good selling comic might clear 70k copies WORLDWIDE. A comic on the brink of doom from Marvel/DC might get 20k copies. An out-of-this-world indie comic might clear 10k. Those aren't massive numbers. For RPGS, I guess you can knock a zero off those numbers!

I think thats my point as a whole. There is no one-true-musical-taste, no one-perfect-comic, no one-true-wrestling-style, no one-best-football-team and no one-godlike-roleplaying-game. They don't exist. What does exist is a wide variety of music that makes people happy, comics that allow a wide variety of people to thrill, numerous federations that scratch the wrestling itch for many and football experiences that match what the watcher wants. And a large and bountiful array of roleplaying games that we can enjoy - whether they are the product of a division of Hasbro or the maniacal brainchild of some teenagers computer in Wisconsin. If they entertain, theres really no problem.

So I say 'pah!' to 'indie' and tribalisation and 'hurrah' to fun and inclusiveness!



Anonymous said...

I think the point can be pretty well proven by Bobs gaming collection.

Bob "gets" indie games. Bob owns indie games. Bob plays Indie games. Bob also has a collection of 3.5 DnD that comes to near enough a grand in value, and when stood in a pile is almost as tall as him. He is also creaming at the spoilers for the new version of Star Wars D20 to come out. Say you like D20 on RPGnet or somewhere are your likely to get laughed out of the building. Point out to some people I know that not only am I getting, but am thoroughly enjoying (which I have to admit came as a shock) nearly all of the mainstream Marvel at the moment, and I would get looks like I had just stepped on someones puppy.

There you go though.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I think the online rpg community has matured to a big degree. And in part, the berthing pains of the indie community was a neccessary part of that I think. Not the defining part, not the only part, but it was part of an on-going process.

I think the comments about are actually slightly mis-guided, or maybe I just have a different view of things since I've been part of the site for 10+ years, and remember the v days, and the people who left gaming outpost to form indie-rpgs and so on. now is relatively accepting, with, by and large, the default attitude being that all games offer a rich menu of potential choices, and varied game styles.

I'm not saying it's perfect, but things have matured. Look at it this way, 10 or so years ago people still used the terms roll-play versus role-play? You rarely here it now because most people in the online rpg community now know it's not one or the other, it's a varied menu, with games and styles for all.

Anonymous said...

Grrr, the above was me.

And, yes, the changes they are making to D20 Star Wars are indeed very positive.

The guys behind it ran the swrpgnetwork website for years, still do I believe.


Anonymous said...

I actually do agree with you on but you have to admit, you do get them sometimes.

Amusingly however, I still get the whole Roll-Play versus Roleplay argument. I personally think its absolutely stupid, but there you go, thats me.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I never seriously here the role-play v roll-play argument, but go back 6+ years and it was popular.

The scene has changed a lot I think, I mean you don't have to go back too many years and anything even smelling of OOC decisions was the equivalent to killing your first born. Now, while it's true some OOC actions are still dodgy - at least not people recognise that making decisions based on info/desires outside of your character's head space can enhance the game.

A lot of that gained penetration and eventual acceptance due to the burning fires of the early indie scene.

Anyway, as Neil says, a varied menu, but what might be missing is that varied and open menu has been gained due to people differentiating themselves. Now they probably don't need to, true, but you only have to involve yourself in communities that have missed out on this growth period to realise it was necessary.

As an example, the NWN community is made up of D&D 1st and 2nd edition people who moved from that to computer games or still play that and their terms of reference are old games like Traveller (you can quote games a decade old and they call them new). They still speak like role-players spoke ten years ago in a lot of cases.

Vodkashok said...

I always saw the demise of 'rollplay vs roleplay' and the rise of 'roleplaying theories' like GNS as a simple progression. Once people stopped the kneejerk reaction to someone who enjoyed a roleplaying GAME as opposed to a ROLEPLAYing game, and started to think why that could be, things moved on.

In some ways Ian, you are spot on. In all of the areas (well, maybe except football) that I have mentioned, progress tends to come through the 'indie' scene. If it was not for the indie music of the 80s, the guitar sound that birthed Britpop would not have come around and that would not have lead to the turn of the millenium rock revival. If comics like 2000AD had not gone a little gah-gah in the ealry 90s then the UK invasion of Marvel and DC would have been heavily diluted of the talent that was nutured in those pages. Many a wrestling star has come up through the indies and many of the ideas that are beginning to permeate RPGs now have been developed, pioneered and advocated amongst the 'indie games community'.

I just wish everyone could be a bit nicer about it! /grin


Anonymous said...

Actually, the indie snobbishness you describe is soooo 20th century. The modern superior snob professes a love for both the alternative and the mainstream. Showing us that, yes, they do still have better taste than us but at the same time they have an air of cool post-modernism and they aren't so pretentious the rest of us think they're dickheads.

Off to read an obscure, xeroxed indie comic whilst listening to Hannah Montana.

Anonymous said...

Can't believe that you seem to have got away with "no one-best-football-team" completely unscathed!!! and i can't imagine why you would be looking forward to seeing girls aloud :)

Bob (Snell)