Most people who follow the video game industry are familiar with its kaleidoscope of cons, expos and shows meant to show off the biggest and brightest concepts.
There’s the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the Game Developers Conference (GDC), Tokyo Game Show (TGS), Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) and a host of other gatherings where industry leaders and enthusiasts alike find (or invent) ways to set the gaming Internet ablaze with speculation about the future of the industry.
But the gathering that could be closer to the industry’s cutting edge is the nearly 10-year-old IndieCade, which is coming to Los Angeles for the first time this week, starting Friday.
What separates IndieCade from other large industry events is that’s not really the typical “con” or a show: It’s a festival that focuses on the essence of play, said IndieCade CEO and co-founder Stephanie Barish.
While most big trade gatherings focus on tech and unveilings of production-heavy games most enthusiasts already know about, IndieCade focuses on the unannounced, the unhyped and the atypical. Barish said it’s best described as the industry’s equivalent of the Sundance Film Festival.
"We are very much a celebration of independent work, independent games of all kinds. We’re very platform-agnostic,” she told KPCC. "We show standard, traditional video games, virtual reality, installations, table games, physical games where you run around, and games that are defining new genres."
Some of the new frontiers being explored at IndieCade aren’t even games, at least not in the typical sense.
Take Lauren Ludwig’s “Hamlet-Mobile,” a mobile theater immersion experience modeled after the kinetic nature of food trucks, where a traveling group of actors in a cargo van put on bite-sized, site-specific performances of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet" for one to two people in and around the van.
Ludwig's inspiration for the small-audience Hamlet-Mobile came from seeing the production of “Sleep No More” in New York City. She liked the show, but also called her experience frustrating and "impersonal" as she was just one in a crowd of hundreds and didn't get to connect to the performance as she wanted.
A theatrical artist herself, Ludwig told KPCC she had always wanted to do different takes of “Hamlet” – and she also knew a friend who had just bought a van and retrofitted it for epic travel. Thus, Hamlet-Mobile was born.
“It’s so different every show. It really make’s the audience’s personality and energy really come through and shape the piece and the experience,” she said. "Every audience member who comes out says, in particular, that it’s intimate.”
The project sums up the experience many have had at IndieCade for years, and it’s that uniqueness that attracted IndieCade and Ludwig to each other.
"I think the independent gaming world has a lot of interesting overlap with the immersive theater world,” Ludwig said. "I was really drawn toward the experimental spirit of the festival and that open-minded philosophy about what counts as ‘game’ or alternative storytelling.”
Despite the name and theme, IndieCade has had its share of mainstream hits. One piece of technology that was showcased there a few years ago is now making waves in popular culture. You may have heard of it: Oculus.
“We have the opportunity for people to see things first hand really early, try things out and things that have gone on to become really big,” said Barish, IndieCade's CEO. "So we have that combination of things that have gone on to be really big, things that are never meant to become big, things that go into art museums … it really runs the gamut in terms of that.”
When the first IndieCade’s planning was in its infancy, Barish was told that “no one was ready for indie games.” But since the gaming landscape has shifted to include different platforms, there’s more room for indie concepts to be seen. The sense of inclusion extends to the creators themselves, as IndieCade’s lineup features people from different ethnicities and walks of life.
“When this idea first came up a lot of the reason was a lot of really important, interesting work had no place to be seen, and had no vehicle in the industry at all,” she said. "It’s super important to us, that inclusivity — it’s why we started IndieCade.”
Indiecade starts Friday and lasts until Sunday. To learn more, you can visit the IndieCade website. If you wanted to learn more about the Hamlet-Mobile, you can check it out online here.