If You Love Something, Set It Free

May 24, 2007

This post is a reflection on my comments in this thread and Judd and Fred’s responses. Hopefully, Judd and I will get a chance to talk about this on the phone soon.

Right now, “indie roleplaying” is still largely synonymous with The Forge, the diaspora that has emerged from it, and various people that have joined the pan-Forge community through diaspora hubs (Story Games, IPR). This means, as much as we talk about creator-owned games or small press games, “indie games” generally refers to games produced by members of the larger Forge community, made available through a specific range of publishing models (PDFs or small print runs or POD or Lulu, IPR or Key20).

Though we all, I think, want the indie movement to continue to grow and diversify, there is a significant amount of status quo that has developed as a byproduct of developing effective ways of doing things. The Forge model of indie publishing has been proven to work great. Many great games have been produced and it has, I think, become the default way for individual game designers to independently publish their games. But I worry about “indie game publishing” becoming synonymous with this type of production model or this community of people.

If the indie roleplaying movement is really a movement and not a a specific fan community, “indie games” needs to mean more than “games produced by people influenced by the Forge.” I really hope the Forge community continues to be a vanguard and exert leadership in indie roleplaying, but I think the Forge community needs to divest itself from its unintentional monopoly of “indie games.”

There are many independently produced roleplaying games out there that have no direct relationship with the Forge community. One school of thought is that they should be welcomed and incorperated into the larger Forge community, so that we can all work together to support indie games. I’ve heard Luke talk on this point in the past, saying that individual indie game publishers are just too miniscule to compete in this industry without uniting together, that we really are all in this together. That is true, but I think it’s dangerous to assume — as I think happens — that all indie publishers have similar goals or desires for their products.

Personally, I’m more of a fan of a diversity of overlapping communities, all of which support the indie games movement independently and in very different ways. This is not so people can posture and say, “Yeah, we’re indie, but we’re not The Forge.” It’s because I suspect pluralism, diversity, and multiple independent organizations will make for a more vibrant, healthy environment for indie games overall. I am a HUGE fan of both the diasporization of the Forge community and the disaporization of the Forge GenCon booth.

Adam Yuet Chau, taking about a different cultural context, argues that dispersal can cause “the disaggregation of coherant traditions that prepare the ground for the recombination of different elements and a freer space for innovation.” That’s what I hope for the indie movement. That we will break into a thousand different pieces and seed ourselves all over the place, causing a whole forest to grow. If the Forge continues to be the central truck of this movement, I worry that will never happen. The apples will continue to fall within arm’s reach of the tree.

So when Fred talked about his idea for the Indie Games Passport, the first thought that came to my mind is: “Are we going to contact the other small-press games publishers that are not part of the larger Forge community (I still remember the story about Ron randomly meeting the creator of Code of Unaris) and ask them if they want to participate?” If not, I think we should carefully consider what that means. We should be careful about projecting the message that booths not present in the Indie Games Passport are not “indie enough” for us.

I worry that Judd and Fred are reading me as saying “indie roleplaying doesn’t owe anything to the Forge.” That’s clearly untrue. Indie roleplaying owes a great deal to the Forge. The point I want to make is that indie roleplaying should be bigger than the Forge. We’re getting there, I think. But we’re not there yet.

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