underground games: connecting factors

Merely a rough draft, but apt to illustrate the general idea: There are already communities that are at least partly or fully concerned with underground gaming. Image license: CC-BY-SA 4.0.

In the last post I wrote about the entanglement of the indie game market with capitalist logic, and about games that try to escape this logic, which I suggest to call „Underground Games“. Before I go on by trying to create a positive & fitting definition I would like to point out some connecting factors to existing scenes and communities. What infrastructure already exists, and what its needs and resources might be. How can they possibly help us, and how can „we“, the Underground Scene to come, help them?

The Indie Scene:

In the last post I mainly talked about the problems of the indie scene to illustrate the need of Underground Games to emancipate from the term. At the same time, the indie game scene is heterogeneous, and most of the people who likely care about Underground Games are gathered or linked with indie games (while being almost invisible). Easy-to-use engines such as Unity, Unreal, or Godot attracted many who try to realize their dream of making a game. These people might be interested in joining the Underground Game scene. The indie scene also includes some lost hobbyist movements: Some of the roots go back to the 90s Finnish Suomipelit-scene, and many who worked with flash, the Game- or RPG-maker tools, or that were active in the various modding/mapping scenes are likely to have gone there. They might notice that there is a space for DIY and hobbyist developers in the Underground Games scene.

The indie-scene offers an extensive infrastructure. Despite the problems of indie communities described in the last post especially Itch.io is a noteworthy platform: Its possibility to host games for free is great for hobbyists without their own infrastructure. Also, there are countless tutorials, tools and assets available.

Underground gaming should stay present within the indie scene but at the same time attempt to distinguish itself as a special semi-autonomous sub-category. A first step to do so is by using the tag „UndergroundGame“ within the indie infrastructure. If you are an Underground Game developer, you should be aware that there isn’t much in to win for you when participating in the indie-community: The pie there is already divided between the big shots.


For a long time, Linux was treated stepmotherly by the big producers – creating compatibility for Linux was a thankful way of increasing your audience – even more so if the game was FLOSS, as these could be included into the distributions repository systems and thus made available easily to all users.

This changed a bit as Valve pushed more and more onto Linux. Parts of the community were just waiting to get access to AAA-Productions, others were new users that came in because they felt that the drawbacks of Linux-gaming were now sufficiently reduced. Most of the sites that write about Linux gaming do not differ much from common video gaming pages nowadays, but there are still echoes left of the systems once intense connection to non-commercial gaming. Showcasing your games in Linux boards will usually produce more positive feedback then elsewhere, and a few Linux gaming pages and streamers still have a soft spot for Underground Games. Also, there are at least some Linux users (especially those who are close to the free software/open source movement) who see Valves involvement or DRM in general very critical. This part of the Linux community might be interested to play (or develop) Underground Games.


The free/libre-open source gaming scene is naturally close to Underground Gaming; their practical rejection of intellectual property when it comes to source codes makes the FLOSS-Gaming-Scence inherently unattractive for capitalist operations, as the waiving of patent utilization is in itself an act of revolution against the logic of the market (at least if there is no point of return in sight for doing so, and – other than with software that might require your service as a developer – this isn’t usually the case for games).

The main difference to Underground Gaming is the view on what makes a good game. The FLOSS community often concentrates on technical questions, while art and authenticity aren’t that much of a focus for many of its members. Many of the most successful FLOSS games are pure engine rewrites (projects that try to replace the original source code of a game, but still need the original assets to run and usually do change nothing or little when it comes to gameplay) or close remakes of commercial titles. Original titles do exist, but are mainly a niche within the scene.

The FLOSS gaming scene lost a part of its traction as a good part of the audience was a direct result of the situation of Linux-gaming in general; the scene never cared overly for marketing, advertising, or other things to make their games known on a broader basis. When talking with FLOSS devs, I noticed that most of them have nearly no experience in this field. Only few projects reached wider popularity, but FLOSS-devs have a wide variety of tools, engines, resources and even complete games that are fully playable but largely unknown. The scene is fragmented. There are several smaller communities, and also lone wolfs. For the most part, it is a welcoming and very supportive place for developers who create FLOSS games; the people there are also usually ambitious about what they do.

I see many points that might enable cooperation. The mindset of Underground Gaming and FLOSS-Gaming are related, and „hobbyist indie devs“ often see their strength rather in designing gameplay than in the technical aspects of development, while many FLOSS-Engines suffer from a lack of content. Indie devs are also seemingly more firm when it comes to presentation or the use of social media. „Hobbyist“ Indie devs could be more independent from the big tech companies by adapting FLOSS techniques or could benefit from the supply of free license assets. Underground Gaming could also be a entry point for those who don’t know or are skeptical about adapting FLOSS models for their software. If you are a hobbyist dev: Consider it. The doubts you might have will usually be unfounded.

Decentralized Social Media / Fediverse

There are a few decentralized community efforts to break the power of corporate owned social media; prominent examples include mastodon, lemmy, diaspora, or peertube. While it could be criticized that most of these projects tend to imitate the problematic aspects of their models (especially the tendency to turn the users into content instead of supporting their communication), the general idea of decentralization is good. But these projects often suffer from a lack of content. Many content creators within the „Fediverse“ tend to copy the things that work on the big social media; but on the big social media pages, you’ll find the same content produced with much more budget, making the „Fediverse“-variants unattractive for the related audience. This is a problem that a part of the „Fediverse“-community seems to be aware of. They try to amend it by underlining the authenticity of non-commercial projects, resulting in projects like RadioFreeFedi.

There are some content creators active on the Fediverse who are dedicated to gaming. We can try to embrace them by building up contact, ask them to review our games (or Underground Productions in general), and by offering them information about us and our games, and support with our range as individual developers and as a scene. If this works, it is a win-win-situation: They get a interested, interacting audience while the Underground Gaming scene gains affirmation and visibility by establishing dedicated media channels. The same strategy could work for blogs and smaller gaming sites.


Years ago many games used to have great modding capabilities. It was possible to flip fundamental game mechanics, turning shooters into strategy games – or strategy games into shooters. Nowadays, modding is still a thing – but for many big productions, modding abilities were reduced or removed either directly or by (partly commercially induced) shifts within the communities. „Pro Gaming“ gained influence, increasing the relevance of standardization at the expense of custom content (i.e.: Matchmaking as „default mode“ at CS:GO works only with a pool of standard maps – while the options of map making and modding still exist, many players are not aware of the possibility or won’t use it). Another form of pressure for modders is that it is increasingly difficult to be attractive in the context of the high-value-productions that they are dependent of. Older games still have active and thriving modding communities, but these are bound to thin out and vanish as their playerbase grows older. Also, there are attempts to monetize modding: A prime example of this is Roblox, infamous not only for their strategy to rip off children that wish to create games.

Therefore, the engines and moddable games provided by the FLOSS-Community could be highly attractive for modders who want to become independent of the industry. Providing tutorials, asssets, and – especially a audience for this games – by accepting and interacting with them – would make the Underground scene attractive for them. However, reaching out to modders is difficult. They are – if at all – mostly organized within specific communities, sometimes controlled by the producers of their „host“-games.


Some people who make art in general experiment with video gaming as a medium. Some of them might make a living from cultural grants, but most of them are probably active in this field because they want to explore the possibilities and use it as a mean of expression; maybe it is possible to create connections?

Political left

As said elsewhere: Doing something for anything but its market value is – within a capitalist society – a revolutionary act. We don’t want to get swallowed by the logic of the market, and people who have an interest in non-capitalist interaction are logical allies. But there is more: Even if you wouldn’t agree that fascism is a consequence of capitalism, you don’t want to have fascists around in your scene – they have a tendency to undercut and erode digital communities, turning them into piles of shit that no sane being can stand to remain in. Keeping the scene open and welcoming for minorities is another important point – not only because this is the right thing to do, but also because the scene will benefit from the various experiences and views that will condensate into more diverse and interesting games; offering safe spaces for nazis, nationalists, chauvinists, sexists, racists, trans- and homophobes and their apologists will, on the other hand, damn every community to replicate the current structures of power.

That doesn’t mean that every Underground Game needs to have a clear political message. But connecting to anarchists, socialists, anti-authoritarians, and people who care for various human right- and environmental questions, collaborating with them, and granting them space within the community while shunning reactionist is the way to go. We keep out the scum, reduce the risk of becoming a Schrebergarten-colony, and help to get rid of a system that will destroy us all if we fail to overcome it.

Other underground scenes

Creating connections to underground poets, musicians, graphic artists and so on is another way to get fresh ideas, produce interesting art, and to increase our range and visibility. These people have the same struggles that we have, but – especially when it comes to music – are a bit further in realizing and reacting to it. We can learn from these scenes and help them to increase both their leeway to act (many of them might be interested in the possibilities of gaming as a medium) and their range.

Fading Communities

Some of the Underground Game developer communities from before the rise of the „indiegames“ are still there; often thinned out, mostly based on outdated or broken software, but some are partly active. Contacting them and trying to aggregate might be a possible start to form a stable and interesting community.

So what?

In my next text, I will attempt to create a definition of Underground Games that could serve as a common factor for the communities mentioned in this post. Most of them have a common interest, most of them have become weak in the last few years and would benefit from bundling up. If you think that I missed something, and especially if you are aware of non-commercial/hobbyist/Underground Game scenes not mentioned here: Contact me. You can reach me in the comments, at Mastodon, or via contact[dontspamme>thunderperfectwitchcraft.org (replace [dontspamme> with an @).


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