There are plenty of hidden indie gems out there, but my personal favorite indie games are those that have some sort of deeper meaning to them. Many of the games on this list have concrete meanings while some of them do not. For the ones that don’t, there are obviously deeper meanings to them but the creators aren’t telling. So it comes down to the interpretation of the community, which is arguably just as important as the intent behind their creation. Whether the deeper meaning of these games comes from the creators or the observers, here are my top 5 indie games.
Little Nightmares is an odd, dark tale of a child known as Six who is trying to escape the Maw, a vast vessel inhabited by monstrous figures that are only concerned with consuming their next meal. The game’s puzzles are easy and whimsical, and, although the game begins with a relatively benign tone, the story shifts to darker and darker subjects as the game progresses.
The meaning behind this game isn’t clear cut, but many have come to accept it as an allegory for child abuse. Six wakes up in a suitcase at the beginning of the game, perhaps insinuating unsettled family foundations. This is only supported by Six seeing the feet of a hanging man at the beginning of the game, perhaps representing death in the family. The Maw itself would then represent an orphanage and Six’s fear may be an indication of abuse. Living in this orphanage, Six’s hope for a better life is devoured just like the monstrous people of the Maw devour any food that’s put in front of them. Six’s loss of innocence and evolution from being abused to becoming the abuser is portrayed in her ever-growing hunger that begins to hurt the other innocent children in the orphanage.
RiME is first and foremost an absolutely beautiful game. The graphics are simplistic but beautiful in their vivid colors along with the stylistic choices in the multiple stages you explore. But, although this game seems whimsical and light-hearted, it has a deeper meaning behind it.
As you go from stage to stage, you’ll notice a change in tones along with the scenery. This change may seem confusing, but it all has an objective in mind. It isn’t until you save the game and come back to load your last save that you can view the various stages you’ve gone through. This is when it all comes together: each stage represents one of the five stages of grief. Each area you puzzle through represents each stage of grief so beautifully. The creators find a way to be extremely impactful by constructing novel puzzles that emulate the struggles a person would face in each stage of grief. The game also keeps you in the dark about just who is grieving until the very end.
Gris is another absolutely gorgeous game, emulating splashes of watercolor on canvas as you play as a young girl, Gris, stuck in her own world. Beyond its stunning visages, Gris is a game that is free of frustration, danger, and creates an overall serene experience. But it has a darker background to it. Gris is a girl who is grieving, dealing with a painful experience in life that leaves her facing her own sorrow in this painted world. Similar to RiME, Gris goes through the various stages of grief, but Gris, and the player, learn to emotionally grow in the face of this grief, causing them to see the world in a different way. Gris is about grief and loss and about overcoming these and finding peace again. But, what this game does wonderfully, is that the player never knows why Gris is grieving: is Gris grieving for someone they’ve lost or for their own inevitable demise? Leaving this open-ended allows a bit of personal interpretation which is a lovely addition to an already wonderful game and is why it lands in my top 5 indie games.
Limbo is a side-scrolling puzzler whose beauty is found in its simplicity. Painted in shades of gray, this is another game that has no concrete meaning. Obviously, the name of the game references the Christian metaphysical idea of Limbo, representing the souls of people who aren’t damned but are also not absolved of sin. Therefore, the main character is most likely dead. But how he died is a mystery and the subject of many fan theories.
Primarily, some fans believe that the obstacles the boy encountered are indicative of a past abusive life. As the player progresses through the various areas in-game, the boy relives the traumas of life and his mortal fears: from enormous spiders to intemperate bullies. There’s also a shift midway in the game where the levels move from a more organic structure to mechanical and urban. Many believe this indicates a tumultuous move from a rural lifestyle to urban sprawl. The fact that the player encounters fewer people in this new mechanical landscape perhaps indicates the fact that the boy feels alone and isolated because of this move.
Journey is, at this point, a well-known game but definitely an important one in my top 5 indie games. Originally released in 2012, it doesn’t fail to astound even to this day. And, to this day, no one knows just what Journey is about. There are a plethora of theories out there, but, in its simplicity, Journey is most likely about the journey we take through life. It’s a story about the rise and fall of a civilization. It’s about reincarnation and emulates various other religious overtones. It’s about growing up and learning from your failures. It’s about how language can be created from the simplest of means. The game is about life and the smallest of intricacies found in the game can lead to plenty of self-interpretation and meaning which is where this game excels.
Games that steal us away from reality are great, but games that somehow manage to bring us back to everyday life and allow us to reflect on the intricacies of existence are that much more meaningful. Therefore, all of these games landed in my top 5 indie game because of their deeper meanings about life. Given that these are my personal favorites, what are your favorite indie games? Let us know on Twitter!