Family is a game that celebrates indie music in the 80’s and 90s. Players are tasked with piecing together the details of the music scene by listening to as many songs and radio interviews, and by piecing together several pieces of text. Playable through web browser (via itch.io), Family is a short, but sweet experience that offers something a little different.
Music takes the centre stage in Family and for good reason. Although the game is undoubtedly a celebration of indie music from before the turn of the millennia, all of the songs are original creations by developer Tim Sheinman and have been inspired by the sounds of the scene. Each song is also accompanied by gorgeous cover art that really brings them to life. There’s a tangible feel to the music in this game, something that is further enhanced by the variety of the songs. What makes this all so impressive is that Family has been created by just one person.
While listening to each of the songs, it’s your task to piece together each band and figure out who is who. A sort of family tree like chart sits at the bottom of the screen, showing how each of the bands are connected. Should you figure out who the guitarist is in one band, you might pick up a clue that they moved somewhere else. Family is filled with these subtle hints and figuring them out on your own like an investigator or journalist is absolutely sublime.
As someone who has been in and out of the same band numerous times over the past few years, I can attest to just how unpredictable band life can be. Family captures that atmosphere perfectly, telling the story of how impassioned the act of being in a band is and how it is, just as the title of the game suggests, like a family. The finer intricacies of how each band started, grew, developed and eventually split up are exceptionally well written, so much so that it would be easy to believe that every band featured in Family is real.
It isn’t all arguments and break ups, though. Family is a celebration of a very real scene of indie music in the late 80s and early 90s. Many of the bands of the time faded into obscurity after tasting short lived success with a few singles, but the love for that scene and those bands lives on to this day. For the past two years I’ve attended the At The Edge of the Sea festival hosted by one of the best indie bands of that time period, The Wedding Present. For two days in the middle of August, the scene that Family so compellingly recreates shows that it’s alive and well, as other bands of the era reform in front of a crowd of forty somethings all looking to relive their teenage years.
What I’m trying to day is, Family is a heartfelt celebration of an imaginary indie music scene which is inspired by a real one. This is what makes Family so fascinating, endearing and believable. What could have been a very simple browser-based puzzle game is instead a piece of fiction which captures your passion for music and reminds you of a time before digital downloads or Spotify, a time when bands grafted and built passionate, dedicated fans within a small community.