From Oct. 6-8, I was lucky to attend the 10th IndieCade International Festival of Independent Games in Los Angeles. The weather was beautiful and ramen was available in more varieties than I was able to consume (although I tried). I set out through Little Tokyo to play as many games as possible and chat with developers from various backgrounds.
Video games are the mainstay of IndieCade, but there were also tabletop games, role-playing games, and games that were a mix of digital interaction and guerrilla theater. The commonality was developers using games as a form of expression — rather than merely a dopamine-dispensing mechanism — something several developers told me was important to them. Developers, media representatives, and attendees were there to see what was new and have a meaningful experience through gameplay.
There were just over 100 games on display this year and the majority of those I got to try incorporated themes of social change, equality, and empathy for others. Here, I share the top IndieCade games I tried that left an impression on me. I would recommend these for players looking for a fun gameplay experience that’s also eye-opening and meaningful.

  1. A Normal Lost Phone (ages 18+, developed by Accidental Queens) asks players to explore the contents of a lost cell phone to find out what happened to its owner. It tackles themes of sexual identity and privacy. (Note: iThrive Games supplied the diversifier that helped inspire A Normal Lost Phone at the 2016 Global Game Jam! Accidental Queens dev Elizabeth Maler talks about that in the video clip below, starting at 3:22.)


  1. _transfer (not yet rated*, from developer Abyssal Uncreations) is an intriguing text-based game “about computers, memory, and identity.” The soundscape and DOS-era prompts make it a unique and ambiguous experience, and it’s supposed to be that way. A primary theme of the game is exploring gender and sexual identity.

Woman with short hair and rainbow gloves playing _transfer on a laptop at a table.

IndieCade attendee sampling _transfer. Photo Credit: Sean Weiland.

  1. Bury me, my Love (not yet rated**, developed by The Pixel Hunt, Figs, and ARTE France) is “a story of love, hope and migration.” It follows Nour and Majd, a Syrian couple who are separated as Nour immigrates to Germany to escape the Syrian conflict. The player plays as Majd and communicates with Nour via a WhatsApp-like cell phone interface. The game is informed by real events.

Hands holding a smartphone with images from Bury me, my Love. Art from the game is arranged on the table in the background.

Playing Bury me, my Love at IndieCade. Photo Credit: Sean Weiland.

  1. Four Horsemen (not yet rated***, developed by Nuclear Fishin’ Software), an IndieCade 2017 Finalist, is a visual novel that infuses authentic humanity into a portrayal of the immigrant experience. Players take the perspective of four teenagers that come from one of 12 fictional countries. The teens find an abandoned bunker to live in, and the player’s decisions determine what kind of community the teens build.

Woman playing Four Horseman on a laptop at an exhibit table.

IndieCade attendee sampling Four Horsemen. Photo Credit: Sean Weiland.

If you’re looking for more games to try, I highly recommend checking out all the IndieCade 2017 nominees and award winners (just make sure to check out the content of each title you’re recommending to teens). These games represent a wide range of perspectives and approaches to impactful design.
IndieCade has attracted a fantastic community. It speaks to the quality of the festival that developers from all over the world make the effort to come to this more intimate, non-AAA event. The devs I met were supportive, intelligent, kind, and open. No surprise that they make engaging and meaningful games! I am looking forward to exploring the games I didn’t have time to play and continuing the many great conversations I started there.
Did you attend IndieCade this year? If so, what games and developers impressed you? Please share with us in the comments!


NOTE: Parents and guardians should be informed of the content of games their teens are playing and decide together what is appropriate for them.
*According to the developers of _transfer, the game is appropriate for ages 15+. They caution that there are “a few scenes of intimacy and sexuality but nothing terribly explicit.”
**According to the developers of Bury me, my Love, the game likely will be rated by Pan European Game Information (PEGI) as appropriate for ages 12+, but standards may not translate exactly from PEGI to ESRB and “it might be better to be a little older than that to really get what’s going on.”
***According to the developers of Four Horsemen, the game is appropriate for ages 15+. They caution that the game contains “a LOT of profanity…(in multiple languages)” as well as “a small amount of blood and a few realistic (but not graphic) depictions of hate crimes some players may find traumatic.”