Everything is punk at some point, it seems. Looked at from a certain angle anything could be described as punk. Punk rock, cyberpunk, steampunk, salvagepunk. It’s endless. There’s probably progpunk somewhere. Military industrial complex punk…
So it’s a marketing word. But one that still has a sliver of meaning, an aftertaste that’s very… something. When used as a suffix it’s purely ornamental, but when used on its own it has vague connotations of being rough and ready, DIY, who-gives-a-fuck.
And there are punk videogames now, of course. Of course there are. No More Heroes director Suda51 describes his games as punk and refers to his videogame production company as a band. His videogames are unconventional, but they aren’t sloppy or abrasive. They aren’t telling the audience to fuck off.
Indie game designer Cactus, on the other hand, is telling his audience to fuck off. Sort of. He’s not spitting in their faces, but he is demanding that they work things out for themselves, challenging them to cope with confusing game mechanics and harsh graphics. He titled his GDC presentation ‘Abusing Your Players Just For Fun’ and used the word punk to describe what he and like-minded game designers do.
I’m not going to critique his games as most of them are unfinished and the best ones (like Minubeat) aren’t punk, but instead simple and straightforward. I do have problems with this word “punk”, however. Punk has had a long history and has been picked up by many different people for many different reasons. I understand why indie designers use it, as they are usually solo artists in opposition to the sprawling teams of the big, multimillion dollar devolopers, and it speaks to their individualism. But for me, it’s such a hollow husk of a word. Something that might have once seemed revolutionary makes me think of neoliberalism and marketing jargon. In short, it’s a 20th century word. A 20th century word used at a time when indie videogames would do best to cast aside the remnants of the 20th century and make something brutally new. I suppose that is a rather punk rock thing to do, but just take away the “punk” and the “rock” and I’ll be happy.