The 20 Best Indie Videogames of 2013

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The word “indie” has lost much of its meaning in the videogame industry, since the term can refer to games made by experienced developers who’ve quit their day jobs at high-powered videogame companies to make their dream project … or less experienced developers who might use inexpensive tools like Twine or Game Maker in their free time, while juggling a non-videogame industry day job. This list includes a lot of disparity in terms of what some game aficionados might call “polish”—but even supposedly “unpolished” games have their charms, and their influence can be felt among the games of their more “polished” peers. Here are the 20 most compelling indie games of the past year.

20. Room of 1000 Snakes


Developer: Arcane Kids
Platform: Web Browser
Arcane Kids’ short-and-sweet game is exactly what it says on the tin. The game serves as a miniature subversion of the oft-used videogame trope of a “warning” for players, telling them not to play the game … but, of course, you will anyway. Play it (for free!) with the sound on, and do your best Indiana Jones impression while you’re in the thick of it.—Maddy Myers

19. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

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Developer: The Chinese Room
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Despite being almost as unsettling as its predecessor, A Machine for Pigs is quite different. Frictional Games, the developers of the first Amnesia, handed development of the sequel over to The Chinese Room, the developers of Dear Esther. Much like Dear Esther, the game is a story-driven first person experience. Reaching new areas triggers memories that tell us more about the machine. Players also uncover journal entries and recordings that shed light on the machine, Mandus’ past, and his sons’ future.—Drew Dixon

18. Impostor Syndrome


Developer: Squinky (Deirdra Kiai)
Platform: Web Browser
This short, text-based browser game, made by the developer of Dominique Pamplemousse, provides a play-by-play internal monologue from the perspective of someone who suffers from Impostor syndrome. The protagonist is in the midst of a nerve-wracking public speaking gig that does not go as planned, and the player decides how she will deal with the fall-out.—Maddy Myers

17. Proteus

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Developer: Ed Key and David Kanaga
Platform: PC, Mac, PlayStation 3, PS Vita
Proteus aims to make us consider our relationship with the world around us. It asks us to actually pay attention to our surroundings, even if nothing outwardly exciting or memorable is happening. It expects us to care and think about how we interact with nature. Proteus doesn’t attempt a realistic recreation of our world, but its chimerical approach makes us ponder the mysteries of nature. It recalls an earlier time, before science and technology made the world a less mystical and esoteric place (while also making computer gizmos like Proteus possible).—Garrett Martin

16. Rogue Legacy

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Developer: Cellar Door Games
Platform: PC
Through its emphasis on lineage and nostalgia, Rogue Legacy has a different relationship to failure and success than just about every videogame in recent memory. It’s a smart and surprisingly affecting use of permadeath, the unpredictable nature of progress in roguelikes, and the short, often-uneventful lives of roguelike protagonists. It’s indicative of how games can uniquely combine interactivity, time and systems to create an emotional effect that’s similar to the ones brought on by a traditional narrative.—Joe Bernardi

15. Towerfall

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Developer: Matt Thorson
Platform: Ouya
This multiplayer scrum (and Ouya exclusive) is a frantic four-way archery duel, like a single-screen Smash Bros. with a retro aesthetic and arrows instead of fists. Towerfall is intentionally limited to local-only play, which is a bummer if you don’t have friends over. Once you get a group together, though, it’s as tense and trash-talkingly fun as the Mario Kart and Goldeneye bouts of our collective memory.—Garrett Martin

14. Papers, Please

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Developer: Lucas Pope
Platform: PC and Mac
At the beginning of Papers, Please, the protagonist is selected via national lottery to be a border agent. He’s tasked with the daily routine of sitting in a little iron booth and ensuring that everyone passing into the country has their documents in order. True to socialist form, he’s paid for each correct decision he makes. If he makes too many mistakes, his pay is docked and he risks being unable to make rent or support his family. Papers, Please utterly nails the sinking feeling brought on by working a job where professional success means feeling terrible about yourself and digging yourself into a deeper, less escapable hole. It also excels as a study of low-wage institutional tedium, and how the possibility of relief from that tedium can cause people to act rashly, in ways that appear to defy self-interest or even logic in general.—Joe Bernardi

13. Sacrilege


Developer: Cara Ellison
Platform: Web Browser
Videogames have a lot to learn when it comes to depictions of sexual conquest; even the best examples are cringeworthy, awkward, and often unrealistic. Cara Ellison’s Twine game about clubbing, dating, and sex manages to tell a tale of sexual conquest that feels embarrassing because of its realness and rawness, not because of surreal unreality. The fact that the game is text-based, thus relying on the player’s imagination, helps as well.—Maddy Myers

12. A Dark Room


Developer: Doublespeak Games
Platform: Web Browser and iOS
A Dark Room is an idle game, which means it’s a game you keep running in the background while you’re “working” on your computer. It takes clear inspiration from similar 2013 titles Cookie Clicker and Candy Box, but unlike those two whimsical text-based browser titles, A Dark Room has a spooky story to tell. It can take anywhere from a few hours (if you cheat) to several days to unlock all of this game’s secrets; it’s worth playing all the way through to the story’s unusual end.—Maddy Myers

11. Surgeon Simulator


Developer: Bossa Studios
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Surgeon Simulator is a single-player game, but it’s best played co-operatively, by switching off the controls between friends. Watching someone else play this game is an exercise in patience, because performing surgeries in-game looks deceptively simple, but feels nigh-impossible in practice. The player controls each of the surgeon’s fingers individually, and the game’s wacky physics make it easy to knock over objects and destroy vital organs. Thank goodness these patients are virtual, because even in the case of “successful” surgeries, they’d never survive.—Maddy Myers