Brief content warning for a mention of a game that deals with domestic violence.
I’ve long been a fan of itch.io, the indie game (and other creative works) marketplace that plays host to countless small games. It’s where a lot of the most creative, personal, exciting work is happening in gaming, and frankly, feels like a bright, welcoming spot in an otherwise dim world. I don’t say that lightly, and maybe it’s weird to associate what is essentially a marketplace with such warm feelings, but there are so many innovative, interesting, often marginalized folks releasing work here that it feels crucial and almost revolutionary in a field that is dominated (as so many fields are) by large commercial interests.
The folks at itch.io also do a good job at curating the work on the platform, with a regular digest of recommended games and an active community. There are jams, tons of tools and assets for creative types, a simple-but-powerful engine, and a general celebration of all things indie.
I’m far from the only fan of the platform—there’s an active thread on our forums celebrating itch.io and encouraging folks to share a favorite game or experience from it. You should totally jump in and sound off if you’re into smaller games.
My personal favorite experiences with the platform often involve my own little experiments in making games: participating in my very first game jams in 2014 (which, I think were the Cyberpunk jam and Space Cowboy jam, if I recall correctly) and getting a tiny thrill from having my own little page of creative junk for anyone to see. But I’ve also discovered some of my favorite developers on itch.io—like Kitty Horrorshow, who is possibly most famous for Anatomy, but her Chyrza and Dust City opened my eyes to new possibilities for weird-but-cohesive horror narratives in 3D space. They are unsettling, spare, and evocative as hell.
Curtain, by dreamfeel, is still one of my favorite games on the entire platform. It’s emotionally difficult, personal, and terrifying, a game about domestic abuse that played way, way too close for home for me. On the other end of the emotional spectrum (mostly!) is Butterfly Soup, which was in my top ten games list for 2017, and if you haven’t played it, well, I encourage you to fix that ASAP.
There are vignettes, like the very clever, existential Junk Shop Telescope, and games like Commute, which challenges you to stay awake on the subway, that speak to day-to-day experiences. There are sweet, silly explorations, like Super Pools N’ Ghosts, and games that feel weighty, like the cyberpunk adventure, Norco: Faraway Lights.
But most of all, there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of games from folks from all walks of life. Many of them are free, or pay-what-you-want, and all of them contribute to gaming, as a field. I’m very, very glad that itch.io exists, so, here’s to five more years (and beyond) of weird, wonderful indie games.