Featured image from “space for black hair zine” by starybri
A while ago I noticed that my itch following grew quite a bit (now over 5k followers!), but I don’t nearly follow enough people there.
I think it goes without saying that itch.io is a wonderful platform. The way they let you follow creators there, and handle notifying you, has been invaluable to me in terms of finding those hidden gems. I have an unsorted growing curation-monstrosity called “the good stuff” that I mention any chance I get.
So… I put out a call for people to share their projects with me… The results where amazing and inspired this post!
I’ll be sharing some of the work here, but please do check out the comments in that thread and follow them yourself! There’s so much beautiful stuff there:
? i have over 5k followers on https://t.co/TmYxU8FKEx but don’t follow nearly enough people.
please help & post links to your itch pages, projects, games, zines, tools… or anything you are working on so i can follow u and have cool things to share!
(??? thank u ?)
— Nathalie Lawhead (@alienmelon) March 14, 2022
There’s a strong correlation that emerges from most of this work, and (just in general) becomes obvious when you browse a lot of work from small creators. It’s all unique, often personal, often introspective, often deeply relatable, and the writing is moving.
Games on itch.io are a lot like zines. Each unequivocally unique to the person that created it. It’s hard not to find things that resonate with your own experiences.
A wonderful opening example of this is Man or Muppet by hotelbones…
Man or Muppet is a personal essay in the form of a Bitsy. It’s a heartfelt piece of interactive writing that draws a correlation between Muppets and being trans. It’s hard for me to do justice to this with my explanation. I think it’s a fairly complex piece that’s best left to your personal interpretation. Things like this remind you of how deep Bitsy games can get. Don’t let their pixelated unassumingness fool you!
Man or Muppet opens up with questioning the concept of “self”, inhabiting a body, and the brokenness that results from… how society views us.
It gets really personal when it starts talking about the Muppets movie where Jason Segel has to round up the Muppets again. The lines between human and Muppet are blurred, but the author draws a correlation to being trans using that example… all that is illustrated with clips from the movie. This Bitsy features video to drive the point across, which makes it all the more impactful when paired up with the writing and typical Bitsy interaction.
It eventually discusses how capitalism commodified the Muppets, and turned these cute little characters into the brunt of jokes. It’s a strong discussion on the loss of agency, self, and commodification. It says A LOT.
There’s a lot to Man or Muppet that makes it a deeply emotional experience. I can’t recommend it enough. Just as a Bitsy, the way video is worked into the writing to drive its points across, it stands out. The way it conveys its messages makes it deeply relatable. It’s a beautiful, touching, thoughtful experience.
At this point I’m amazed at how many game recommendations can end up being Bitsy games… each a unique meaningful bite sized piece of art.
For example, The Adamant Gambit is this interesting science fiction gamejam series. They are cute little random slices of life type things about being on a spaceship.
Or… I feel obligated to bring this one up because I never played a Bitsy murder mystery before: a Night at Manster Mansion… Which has you interviewing suspicious characters (scary mansters) in a mysterious mansion.
Then… on the other end of the Bitsy spectrum, is an experience like Mistakes. Something of an interactive poem, with beautiful abstract illustrations. I agree with one of the commenters who described this as stunning, poetic, and evocative.
I could keep going on and on recommending Bitsies. They are hard not to recommend. Please see all the replies to my Tweet for more wonderful Bities.
Bitsy has a unique strong creative community surrounding it. It’s a fascinating example of a tool, not just for technical reasons, but for the community that grew around it. The type of people that create in it are very different from those attracted to other tools.
When we talk about the work done in game writing, or “groundbreaking” game narrative things, I think we should start discussing Bitsy games too. There’s so much interesting work done in terms of “writing in a video game”.
It’s hard to overstate the positive impact Bitsy, and Bitsy creators, have had on the game space.
You will get work ranging from gifts for friends, interactive fiction, manifestos, personal essays… The writing being at the center. Which makes it a unique type of narrative tool.
When we talk about indie game tools that center writing Twine is the most common example, but I think Bitsy should be part of that conversation too.
It kind of goes without saying that Bitsy captures the DIY spirit in games, and strongly intersects with zines. I view them as a type of digital zine. Where tools like GBStudio or Pico-8 center around concepts of game design, or building a proper game, Bitsy seems to land on another aspect altogether. The community surrounding extending Bitsy is just as interesting as the community making Bitsy games. It’s a very self-invented culture.
It kind of reminds me of why tool making can be so rewarding. It’s about exploring something new. Filling a void you didn’t know needed to be filled… I can’t imagine the game space without Bitsy.
Even so, talking about why Bitsy is such a meaningful thing to people, why it attracts the type of people that it does… can become as esoteric and philosophical as “Why is Doom modding still a thing?”
Some things just exist on their own terms, and it’s wonderful.
Ok so… the conundrum: At this point, I didn’t think this post would turn into another Bitsy roundup, but it’s hard to ignore the relevance Bitsy games have had in recent years. There are so many. Everyone seems to be making them. They also deserve a lot more attention!
I’ll try really hard now to pry myself away from it and talk about other work that people shared…
Conversations surrounding identity along with games are an inspiring facet of tiny indie games.
I can’t keep track anymore of the amount of times that I had conversations with someone talking about how they discovered they were trans by playing things like Megaman. There are so many games that talk about the developer’s experience with a game that helped them understand who they are. For example, you really need to check out madotsuki’s closet.
A beautiful experience… Guacuco.
In Guacuco you are by the ocean. Trees and some homes are just above the seaside. Everything is calm. The atmosphere almost looks like you are underwater, even though you are above the waves. The setup looks surreal. The dreaminess of the space builds on the writing you are tasked with collecting. Guacuco is an example of introspective writing that I found deeply touching. The game is about the author’s experience of being nonbinary, and the journey behind that. It tasks you with collecting memories, depicted as seashells. Each shell offers you a piece of that memory, a glimpse into the past. It’s not pleasant. It’s about letting go.
The process of “letting go” in Guacuco involves casting these fragments into the ocean, after you are done interacting with them. The ending then asks you to do so for yourself too. It’s a beautifully moving piece that you can play in your browser.
Guacuco shares these relatable snapshots of the author’s life. Much like “Man or Muppet” I can’t recommend it enough.
“This amazing collaborative zine features 18 Black, Indigenous and Latine amazing artists and creators from around the world. It is a tangible exploration what it means to have Black hair and all the joy, struggle and discovery that comes with it.”
The intersection between games and zines is a space that’s slowly become more blurred over the years. I think the fact that creators share so much of themselves, their life experiences, who they are… has created this deeply impactful aspect of games that I wish more people knew about. I’ve shown so many people games like these and it’s amazing to see how they have this “aha” moment where they feel seen. Like games are suddenly for them too.
A handful of initiatives that embrace this DIY mentality, like indiepocalypse, which explore zines as a way to distribute games have cropped up over the years…
Indiepocalypse is a project that for the last 2 years has collected all kinds of games, from all kinds of people, from all over the world. And has paid them.
Being able to support these developers in any little way I can is deeply important to me. It's primarily why I do it.
— Andrew?BUY INDIEPOCALYPSE (@PIZZAPRANKS) March 22, 2022
Or artist’s like Sabrina making wonderful work like “the space for black hair zine”.
I look to these as examples of community coming together to make meaningful things, even if concerns like “funding” or “resources” don’t really exist to properly empower them (which they seriously should).
Essayist writing, interactive fiction, zines, Bitsy, all share this similar theme. They exist, defiantly. Growing… Even if the game industry, the monolith it is, seems bent on pretending these spaces don’t exist… most of the time.
It’s kind of like an aspect of games that most people didn’t know existed until they find it. Then it’s obvious that it’s everywhere. It is everyone ELSE.
I find it so weirdly dismissive when spaces like these, or work from people like in this post, gets labeled as “hobbyist”. It’s such a dead giveaway of where a person’s priorities lie. The only difference between “hobbyist” and “professional” is the capitalist purpose the work serves. If it makes lots of money, then it no longer is “a hobby”. It’s the one label I wish we would challenge because it’s a subtle way of writing off “everyone else”.
There’s this massive overwhelming space of inspired work that never gets old… hidden across random nooks and crannies on itch.io. For example, Booper Get Home! is a game being made with the developer’s kid’s artwork. I feel like a richer person after playing things like this…
When you engage with this space you realize how culturally relevant just the act of making games is. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much work is out there, and how good most of it is.
You come to a point where you cringe whenever people complain about games not being interesting or creative anymore. This space is BIG. I feel like the wrong things get too much attention sometimes.
“A Full Sonic Spectrum is a zine founded by audio professional Eliana Zebro. It was founded to celebrate marginalized genders in the audio world by featuring the lives & journeys of such people.”
If I covered all the things, projects, creators… in this post that I would like to share, this post would be unreadably long.
All are singular beautiful projects that only the person that made it could pull off. They are unique to the people that made them, as well as their own lived experiences. Just in that one basic sense, this is what sets work from individuals apart from larger studios. It’s personal in a way that a major production could never be.
— adam (@adamledoux) March 19, 2022
Adam of Bitsy recently posted about thoughts on bitsy game preservation. I think this underlines something critical that I wish we would be talking about more. Work like all this should be preserved now, while it is relevant, while it is alive… before a major technological extinction (like the death of Flash, or a platform changing its policies and outright banning work).
Small creators are part of video game history. The work we take for granted just because it is everywhere is often the first that gets lost because it’s not made by a larger studio or monopoly (see Nintendo). When the digital landscape changes, platforms become obsolete, restrictions or updates kill legacy software… This is the work that will be missed. Left out of conversations when we talk about preservation. We have seen this happen with Flash, or even the App Store.
Like any history, digital history is just as susceptible to being forgotten or its narrative re-directed to serve the monopolies able to drive it.
I think initiatives like mentioned in “some thoughts on bitsybox and game preservation” are commendable because there’s a chance that little glances of what we have now will end up being remembered.
I hope for a future where everyone’s work can be preserved, and given a place of respect.
“Scraps is the name I’m giving to works that, for whatever reason, were abandoned long before bringing them to completion. While broken and unfinished, I felt that they deserved a place to exist online.”
All work… unfinished projects, prototypes, gamejam submissions, personal essays, zines, to larger projects… create this wonderful thriving landscape that I hope we will not forget. At the very least we should appreciate it while it’s still here!
Here are some creators to follow: