Category: youth culture

Punk dancing

Keynote Paper – Punk Scholars Network Indonesia Conference 2020

So last fall I was invited to give a talk about punk in Indonesia for Punk Scholars Network Indonesian branch. It’s part of the Network’s annual international conference and symposium.

I was excited but also nervous to give a talk at this conference. It’s been a long while since I wrote anything about punk (14 years to be exact). And I also felt humbled since the other keynote speakers were punk scholars whose work about Indonesian punk/underground communities I really admire. I almost said no actually, but after some thought I agreed to be one of the speakers since I wanted to start writing about punk again.

So below is the text of my talk. It’s sort of an update to my last writing about Indonesian punk. It’s far from a smart take, but it did make me want to write about Indonesian punk again. And I also want to give a shout out to Muhammad Fakhran al Ramadhan for giving me the opportunity to give this talk.

Dancing Pogo with the Culture Industry Revisited: A Distant Reading of Indonesian Punk Cultures

Let me start with this statement: Although I grew up with punk during the new order regime and wrote a couple of papers about punk in Indonesia that I presented more than a decade ago, I have not been in direct contact with the Indonesian punk scene for more than 10 years ever since I left Indonesia to study and now teach here in the States. So today I am going to update my thoughts about contemporary Indonesian punk cultures as a distant reader. I am going to do it through revisiting the last paper I wrote and presented about Indonesian punk, titled, “Dancing Pogo with the Culture Industry”; hence the addition of the word “revisited” in my presentation title for today. I hope it makes sense in the context of the theme of today’s conference, “doing local, doing global” and is worthy of discussion. I truly appreciate any kind of feedback from the audience here.

In the old version of this paper, I used the framework of the culture industry formulated by Frankfurt School theorists, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, to examine the emergence of punk in Indonesia as a counterculture movement and I am going to do that again. For those not familiar with Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s formulation of the culture industry, for them it is a concept that refers to the commercialization of culture and how it perpetuates the dominant ideology. Back then, I argued that the emergence of punk as a counterculture movement in Indonesia, in the words of Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s, was “made to pass through the filter of the culture industry.”[1]

Punk was initially exported to Indonesia in the 1990s as a commercial package of “anti-establishment” music via major label distribution of commercially hyped groups such as Green Day and the Offspring. At the time, the Indonesian youth (I was one of them) were classified, organized, and labeled as the target market by the culture industry in their global expansion. Although as my fellow keynote speaker, Jeremy Wallach, points out, “the Indonesian punks’ tastes quickly turned to less hyped but indisputably seminal bands from the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly the Ramones, the Exploited, and the Sex Pistols.”[2] This kind of incorporation, I argued then and now, significantly marks the development of the Indonesian punk movement up to the present.

In the old version of this paper, I described how initially, the culture industry presented the Indonesian youth with naturalized forms of punk. In this case, punk had already been predesigned as, to quote Horkheimer and Adorno again, “feeble resistance which that very industry has inculcated in it.”[3] The culture industry had already understood that one of the characteristics of the global youth culture is its spirit for resistance. As Dylan Clark states in his chapter, “[t]he image of rebellion has become one of the most dominant narratives of the corporate capitalist landscape: the ‘bad boy’ has been reconfigured as prototypical consumer [original italics].”[4] Therefore, when the culture industry brought punk to Indonesia, it promoted punk’s rebellious ideology in order to capture the youth as consumer. Through such apparatuses as commercial magazines and radio stations, the culture industry encourages Indonesian youth to buy its cultural package. To quote Leslie Haynsworth, “by promoting [the] artists’ countercultural stances, the corporate music industry and the mainstream music press are disseminating—and more importantly, endorsing—subcultural values, practices, and iconographies [original italics].”[5] One such instance in my memory was when Hai magazine published a special “HaiKlip” issue on punk in 1996, featuring Green Day, the Offspring, and Rancid.

In my previous examination, I also connected my framework of the culture industry in the development of punk in Indonesia in the 1990s with the context of Soeharto’s new order regime. The new order state, with its repressive and ideological apparatuses, tried to control the lives of the people including the youth. One of the state’s tools to control the youth is through family institution.

In his study of Indonesian “street kids” (anak jalanan) as a form of subculture, Kirik Ertanto argues that according to the new order’s State Law “family decision-making is used as a tool to achieve national development…. The youth is perceived as valuable national asset. Therefore, efforts to produce improved human capital should be executed as early as possible.”[6] This condition prompted the repression of youth by their parents as the extension of the state’s apparatuses. This is one of the reasons why some Indonesian youth were absorbed by punk as a cultural product. They were more than eager to accept punk’s ideas of anarchism in order to resist the parent/state repressive culture.

Then, I also made a note about the class dynamic in the introduction of punk to Indonesia. I argued that the Indonesian upper middle class youth had a mediatory role in bringing punk and its anti-establishment, anti-consumerism, and anti-authoritarian ideologies to Indonesia, since for a non-English-speaking country like Indonesia it was almost impossible for the working class youth to be able to directly access punk products from countries such as the US and the UK.[7] Through the mediation of the middle class youth as both “the prestige seeker and the connoisseur,”[8] punk products were disseminated to other youth who do not have direct access to them via bootlegged records and xeroxed copies of zines, such as Profane Existence, Maximum RockNRoll, and EqualizingxDistort. I argued here that this “illegitimate” chain of distribution had in many ways disrupted the position of the culture industry as a hegemonic commercial practice. Reflecting on this, the mediation of the Indonesian middle class youth perhaps also explains why certain punk groups got popular among Indonesian punks compared to their contemporaneous compatriots, something that mystified Wallach at the time of his study of Jakarta punks.[9]

Hardcore fans explode into a mosh pit in a community center in Malang

This was also where I pointed out how through the “unwilling” incorporation with the culture industry, which I frame as a kind of pogo dancing, Indonesian punk developed their utopian goals as a counterculture movement. In this case, I questioned Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s argument that the culture industry “not for a moment … [allows its consumers] any suspicion that resistance is possible.”[10] At the time, I argued that it was through their “dance” with the culture industry, that punk in Indonesia was able to posit themselves as, in Stacy Thompson’s words, “the placeholder for the possibility of a cultural form that resists its own commodification.”[11]

In order to support my argument at the time, I described several phases in Indonesian punk’s dance with the culture industry. First, I looked at the mimicry phase of Indonesian punk where they started to imitate “conventional” punk fashion (studded leather jackets, doc martens boots, mohawk hairstyle), form their own bands—first performing covers of seminal punk bands and then writing their own songs—and also produced domestic version of punk zines. I argued that although this phase might confirm Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s assertion that “[i]n the culture industry…imitation finally becomes absolute,”[12] it was not a simple and immediate reaction.

To prove my point, I chronicled how the imitation of punk fashion by Indonesian youth at this mimicry phase was at first, following Dick Hebdige’s formulation, a semiotically rootless and perhaps a costly one. I asserted that studded leather jacket and doc marten boots do not semiotically signify “working-classness” in Indonesia.[13] Yet, I also pointed out that the shock value of that kind of punk fashion can still be regarded as “a symbolic violation of the social order,”[14] at least initially. I also pointed out the nuance in the local punk bands’ preference for using English lyrics despite their lacking language skills. The use of English lyrics, I argued then, could also be perceived as a subcultural reaction against Indonesian major label companies who generally restricted its use.

            Then I moved to discuss the next phase when the figure of punks gradually became widely recognized in the Indonesian popular culture landscape. Here I focused on how the culture industry started to see local punk groups as a marketable product, which happened around the same time when pop punk bands such as Blink 182 and Sum 41 dominated international rock charts in the early 21st century, and when MTV broadcast its programs in Indonesia through syndication with a national private station. I mentioned how, similar to what has happened in the US or the UK, major record labels started to seek potential local punk bands to market them to the public, such was the case with Superman is Dead (SID) from Bali and Burgerkill from Bandung.

            Yet, I also argued then that in this post-mimicry phase many Indonesian punks have now become familiar with the philosophy of DIY, anarcho-punk, and anti-fascism. I asserted that just like some of the Indonesian punk bands went “mainstream,” some others grew more political and took a harder stance towards the culture industry. Here, I mentioned the emergence of countercultural collectives such as Forum Anti Fasis, Kontra Kultura, Utopian, and Akar Jelata in Indonesia as examples of the progressive movement within Indonesian punks.

            I ended my argument back then with kind of a naïve assertion that despite their inability to break away from the culture industry’s master discourse, Indonesian punks were realizing their utopian goals as a counterculture movement in the post-Soeharto era with their progressive, anti-hierarchical, and self-reflexive mindset. Here, I cited a portion of song “Suatu saat nanti” (Someday) from the seminal anarcho-punk band from Jakarta, Bunga Hitam to prove my point.

            Now looking back on my argument, I actually find it somewhat too optimistic and lacking depth. Not only did I trap myself into the monolithic thinking of the culture industry, I neglected to attend to the richness and diversity of Indonesian punks themselves. For one, I did not necessarily consider the role of built environment and social contours of major cities and regions such as Jakarta, Bandung, Denpasar, and Kuta in shaping Indonesian punk scenes and cultures and how these places and spaces are simultaneously shaped by the existence and development of their local punk scenes. At the time, I was not yet aware of the work by another of my fellow keynote speakers for today, Emma Baulch, who has examined the complexity of localization or hybridization of global media forms, such as punk, within the local cultural logics of “Balinese-ness” in Bali underground scene.[15] I was also not yet aware of Sean Martin-Iverson’s work that looks into the dialectic of “territorialization” and “deterritorialization” in the development of the Bandung hardcore punk scene and their orientation as part of global hardcore punk scene.[16] To put it simply, I failed to consider the messiness in Indonesia punks’ pogo dancing with the culture industry as I treated it more like line dancing.

A crowd goes crazy for Straight Answer in Jakarta

In addition, things have drastically changed in Indonesia and in Indonesian punk scenes themselves since the last time I wrote my essay. For example, now Indonesia has a self-described “metalhead” as president (for better or worse), social media platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram have also become so popular in the country, and there is also a worrying phenomenon of socio-political polarization in the country, mostly based on religious identity and populist nationalism. All of which I believe have affected local and global expressions of Indonesian punks.

So today I would like to attend to some of the messy entanglements that I have recently observed in the pogo dance between Indonesian punks and the culture industry, or more accurately culture industries, since the singular term assumes a monolithic domination while the plural forms better reflect the complexity and contradictions within its operations. I am going to start with the phenomenon of the “religious turn” of Indonesian punks, something that my fellow keynote speakers Hikmawan Saefullah, or “Papap,” examines in his article, “Nevermind the jahiliyyah, here’s the hijrahs,”[17] and will also most likely be discussed in detail by him today. Examining the emergence of religious underground collectives and hijrah groups that undertake Islamic proselytization in the scene, such as the One Finger Movement, the Ghuraba Militant Tauhid, and The Hijrah Youth Movement, Saefullah suggests that this religious turn within the Indonesian underground scene is “a result of the absence of a coherent political Left within the subculture and the high financial and social cost of maintaining underground culture and ideology.”[18]

I could not agree more with his analysis. However, I would also like to add that this religious conservative turn can also be understood through a larger picture in the landscapes of the cultural industries in Indonesia. Just as punk productions got commodified by the force of the cultural industries, which demoralized some of the participants in the Indonesian punk scene according to Saefullah, the country has also witnessed the marketing and commodification of piety in Islamic teachings in the post-Soeharto era. As discussed by scholars such as James B. Hoesterey and Marshall Clark, in the post-new order era there is a boom in the so-called “pop Islam,” which incorporates genres such as sastra Islami (Islamic literature), film Islami (Islamic film), and sinetron Islami (Islamic soap operas), along with other products that “breathe Islam” and the popularity of pop preachers like AA Gym or the late Jefri Al Buchori.[19]

The introduction and rapid popularity of social media platforms have also contributed to this growth of popular branding of Islam, especially among the middle class, in the form of microcelebrities and influencers. Emma and Alila Pramiyanti, for instance, discuss about one phenomenon related to this: the hijabers of Instagram.[20] I believe the phenomenon of the religious turn in Indonesian punk scenes cannot be wholly detached from this broad context. Perhaps, the Indonesian punk scene has become the latest pop culture victim of this “brand Islam.”

Another thing that I have also observed from afar is the incorporation of nationalistic themes in punk productions, especially in the so-called “mainstream” punk groups. Consider for instance this lyrics from Superman is Dead (SID)’s song, “Jadilah legenda” (Be a legend):

Listening to the lyrics, I cannot help but wonder if this song were released during the new order era, perhaps the Soeharto regime would be pleased with Indonesian punk’s patriotism, even if there is an interpretation that this song is dedicated to the working class.  SID is not the only group which incorporates nationalistic theme into their songs, I have also observed similar adoption in the songs from such groups as pop punk Pee Wee Gaskins’ “Dari mata sang garuda” (From the eye of garuda)[22], the seminal alternative punk band Netral’s “Garuda Di Dadaku” (Garuda on my chest),[23] and many other bands as well.

Perhaps this “nationalistic turn” is one of the impacts of the shift in using the Indonesian language as the preferred lyrical language among Indonesian punk groups, something that Wallach argues as enabling punk bands to more successfully position themselves as the voice of local youth and develops a sense of the underground as a national scene.[24] Perhaps this is also another consequence of the absence of the coherent political left in the subculture that Saefullah mentioned in the case of the “religious turn” in punk. But again, I would like to look at this nationalistic punk phenomenon as a part of a larger trend in the Indonesian cultural landscape in post-Reformasi era. Indonesian punks’ incorporation of nationalism develops around the same time when nationalism, or expressions of “banal nationalism” to borrow Michael Billig’s formulation, re-emerges as a marketable product for the youth.[25] I am somewhat familiar with this because I have done research on the phenomenon of digital nationalism in post-Soeharto era. From nationalistic-themed movies such as Merah Putih (Yadi Sugandi, 2009), to nationalistic video games like Nusantara Online (Sangkuriang/Telegraph, 2010-2013), to patriotic social media events like “upacara bendera digital” (digital flag-hoisting ceremony), the concept of banal nationalism has been re-branded into an appealing and marketable product for the Indonesian youth. And Indonesian punks have experienced this as well.

Of course there are oppositional voices against this nationalistic turn in Indonesian punk scenes as can be seen in the song from Bandung’s legendary hardcore punk band Turtles Jr., “Bakar bendera” (“Burn your flag”),[26] or a more blatant one from Bandung’s anarchopunk band, Milisi Kecoa, “Ganyang nasionalisme” (“Down with nationalism”).[27]

Yet, things get complicated when you also have punk groups that adopt a nationalistic attitude while simultaneously embracing the spirit of anarchism. I find this tendency in groups such as Rebellion Rose from Yogyakarta that claims “nasionalisme adalah harga mati” (“nationalism is non-negotiable”) to emphasize its absoluteness, while also promoting anarchist values.[28] Even the public face of anarcho-punk in Indonesia, Marjinal, recently released a single titled, “Indonesia Memanggil” (“Indonesia Calling”), which has lyrics like this:

Perhaps the marriage between nationalism and anarchism in Indonesian punk has not necessarily turned into the adoption of national-anarchism as a rebranding of totalitarian fascism yet, but it does not mean that it will not turn into a dangerous territory given the global history of fascist cooptation of punk as seen in the skinhead/bonehead phenomenon, and the recent embrace of populist nationalism in Indonesia.

There is also a phenomenon of folk culture revival in the Indonesian punk scene, which I think of it as a kind of offshoot of this nationalistic turn. One example of this is Punklung, who combines underground style with traditional Sundanese bamboo percussion instrument such as calung and angklung. I believe one of the presenters in this conference is going to discuss this in detail and I am looking forward to it.

The last thing that I would like to discuss in regard to the complexity of the Indonesian punk’s pogo dance with the culture industries is something that I am myself also complicit in, which is the adoption of popular social media and streaming platforms such as Youtube and Spotify in the local and global circulation of Indonesian punk’ productions. This is of course not unique to Indonesia only since these platforms are popular globally. However, it adds another layer of messiness in the adoption of principles like DIY, or anarcho-punk by the Indonesian punks.

Let’s use Youtube for example. This digital platform has grown from amateur video-sharing platform to become one of the world’s most powerful digital platforms covering not only music but also things like make-up tutorials, how-to videos, and other stuff. It is also my go-to platform to get my fix of Indonesian underground scene. On Youtube, I can watch music videos from some of my favorite bands like Turtles Jr., Jeruji, Sendal Jepit, and many more. The platform also enables me to discover newer bands like Joey the Gangster and Saturday Night Karaoke. In a way, Youtube has become one of the principal media for many Indonesian punk groups to participate in the global underground marketplace.  

However, Youtube is also a for-profit platform. In fact, Youtube and other popular digital platforms have been categorized by several media scholars as the representative of “platform imperialism,” or “platform capitalism.”[29] Youtube is also not neutral in its technological design. With its algorithmic architecture that creates a particular participation framework that calculates how many times a video is watched/clicked, how many people like/dislike it, how many people share it on another platform, etc., Youtube has encouraged a certain mode of usage over another.[30] And this can create interesting circumstances for Indonesian punk groups, especially those who espouse DIY ethics.

For example, Marjinal’s music video “Luka Kita” (Our Pain) from their official Youtube channel has garnered more than nine hundred thousand views on Youtube, liked by 9.6k people, and disliked by 224, and have 609 comments. What does this mean for the anarcho-punk band? Do they care about this transparent data of those who like and dislike their video? Do they monetize from the views? Do they read the comments? Perhaps they do, perhaps they don’t. Yet, these algorithmic metrics are the principal logic of Youtube platform, and it is hard not to notice them, or not care about them when we use the platform.

Yet, I also believe that this is a much more complex situation than the discourse of “sell-out,” or simple commercialization. Because there are some Indonesian punk groups who have visible presence on Youtube, but still circulate their music independently.[31]

In addition, those who resist participating on Youtube can still have a “phantom” presence on the platform. For instance, Jakarta anarcho-punk band Bunga Hitam is well-known for their stance against any type of non-DIY media. Yet, you can still feel their presence on Youtube in the form of videos posted by their “fans,” who sometimes also request their audience to like and subscribe to their videos.

This entangled situation happens because digital platforms like Youtube operate within a dual logic of commercialism and community that relies on the existence of network(s). To paraphrase Ulises A. Mejias, while networked platforms are responsible for privatizing and commodifying social relations, they also have made sociality more vibrant and interconnected, making it easier (not harder) to express oneself, exercise one’s rights, organize against injustice, give voice to minorities, democratize knowledge and cultural production, and so on.[32] Thus, in the case of the Indonesian punk’s adoption of digital networked platforms, perhaps it is because their benefits outweigh the costs.

So, to end my presentation, I would like to offer a kind of reflection about this updated pogo dance between the Indonesian punk and the culture industries. First, it surely creates a much messier and entangled landscape of Indonesian punks and their politics. But if you think about it, pogo dancing or moshing is always messy and can be chaotic. There can be antagonism. Even fights sometimes break during pogo dancing. So perhaps this messiness is always expected from punk. Second, while it seems that the Indonesian punk may lose their oppositional and progressive valence considering the religious and nationalistic turn within their scene, as well as their adoption of various digital platforms that privatize and commodify social relations, I am still cautiously optimistic with their persistent potential as resistant alternative community that can disrupt and challenge the contemporary forces of the culture industries. Lastly, perhaps with its ambivalent characteristics as “both resistant and [commodified][33]” the Indonesian punk scene is not striving to accomplish a utopia as I initially suggested. But it is more for developing a heterotopia, a counter-site “in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.”[34] Thank you.


[1] Horkheimer, Marx and Theodor W. Adorno. “From Dialectic of Enlightenment,” in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 1st Edition. Vincent B. Leitch, et al. (Eds.), New York: W W Norton & Company, 2001: 1226

[2] Wallach, Jeremy, “Living the Punk Lifestyle in Jakarta,” Ethnomusicology 52.1, 2008: 99.

[3] Horkheimer and Adorno, 1223.

[4] Clark, Dylan, “The Death and Life of Punk, the Last Subculture,” in The Post-Subcultures Reader, David Muggleton and Rupert Weinzierl (Eds.), New York: Berg, 2003: 223.

[5] Haynsworth, Leslie, “‘Alternative’ Music and the Oppositional Potential of Generation X Culture,” in GenXegesis: Essays on “Alternative” Youth (Sub)Culture, John M. Ulrich and Andrea L. Harris, Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003: 55.

[6] Ertanto, Kirik, “Anak Jalanan dan Subkultur: Sebuah Pemikiran Awal,” KUNCI Cultural Studies Center, Esai dan Teori, 2000, http://kunci.or.id/esai/misc/kirik_anak.htm, accessed November 27, 2006

[7] My use of the word “products” here follows Stacy Thompson’s materialist theory of punk economics that situates punk’s material productions and social relations within the broader fields of music industry, the commodity form, and contemporary capitalism. See, Thompson, Stacy, Punk Productions: Unfinished Business, New York: SUNY Press, 2004.

[8] Horkheimer and Adorno, 1239.

[9] Wallach, 99-100.

[10] Horkheimer and Adorno. 1232.

[11] Thompson, 134.

[12] Horkheimer and Adorno, 1228.

[13] Hebdige, Dick, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, New York: Routledge, 1988: 63.

[14] Hebdige, 19.

[15] Baulch, Emma, Making Scenes: Reggae, Punk, and Death Metal in 1990s Bali, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007.

[16] Martin-Iverson, “Bandung Lautan Hardcore: Territorialisation and deterritorialisation in an Indonesian hardcore punk scene,” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 15: 4, 2014: 532-52.

[17] Saefullah, Hikmawan, “Nevermind the jahiliyyahs, here’s the hijrahs: Punk and the religious turn in the contemporary Indonesian underground scene,” Punk & Post-Punk, V. 6:2, 2017: 263-289.

[18] Saefullah, 264.

[19] Hoesterey, James B. and Marshall Clark, “Film Islami: Gender, Piety, and Pop Culture in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia,” Asian Studies Review, V. 36, 2012: 207-26.

[20] Baulch, Emma, and Alila Pramiyanti, “Hijabers on Instagram: Using Visual Social Media to Construct the Ideal Muslim Woman,” Social Media + Society, October-December 2018: 1-15.

[21] Superman is Dead, “Jadilah Legenda,” Sunset di Tanah Anarki, 2013, Sony Music Indonesia.

[22] Pee Wee Gaskins, Ad Astra Per Aspera, 2010, Alfa Records.

[23] Netral, The Story Of, 2009, Kancut Records.

[24] In Martin-Iverson, 540.

[25] Billig, Michael, Banal Nationalism, London: Sage Publication, 1995.

[26] Turtles Jr., Bintang Mati, Kuyangora Records, 2008

[27] Milisi Kecoa, Kalian Memang Menyedihkan!, Self-released, 2010.

[28] Rebellion Rose, “Artist Bio,” Reverbnation, https://www.reverbnation.com/rebellionroseyk.

[29] See, Jin, Dal Yong, Digital Platforms, Imperialism, and Political Culture, NY and London: Routledge, 2015; and Srnicek, Nick, Platform Capitalism, London: Polity, 2016.

[30] Although this does not necessarily mean that this mode of usage is absolute.

[31] I can categorize Turtles Jr. in this category for instance.

[32] Mejias, Ulises A., Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World, Minneapolis: U. Minnesota Press, 2013.

[33] Thompson, 135.

[34] Foucault, Michel, “Of Other Spaces,” 1967, https://foucault.info/documents/heterotopia/foucault.heteroTopia.en/.  

PUBG cosplay

A short commentary on “fatwa haram” for PUBG in Indonesia

PUBG cosplay

“PUBG – PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds”by timz2011 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In the midst of returning to the States, I wrote a short commentary for The Conversation about a religious edict (fatwa) stating a popular game, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), haram in Indonesia. This edict has been issued by the Ulema Consultative Council (MPU) in Aceh. My commentary frames this edict as a case of moral panic surrounding video games circulation in the country. It is also a call for a deeper study of Indonesian video game cultures and their history. If you can read Indonesian, here is the link to the article!

Traces of Play Pt. 2: Game Prime 2019

This post is about contemporary game culture and industry in Indonesia rather than its early history.

Last weekend, I went to Game Prime 2019. It’s the biggest annual game exhibition in Indonesia which gathers both major and indie game studios in the country. The event is mainly sponsored by the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf), government-funded agency that supports the development of creative economy in the country. This is actually my first time attending Game Prime even though the event itself has been held for three years now.

In general, it was a good experience. I learned how rapidly the game industry in Indonesia has evolved in the last ten years. I still remember when I was first researching Nusantara Online game back in 2011, the industry was still sporadic. Now, not only are there many game studios flourishing all over the country, some of them have actually marketed their game internationally, such as Agate Studio with its premium game, Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story, or Digital Happiness’s DreadOut.

I also observed that a significant number of game studios in Indonesia have developed games in B2B (Business to Business) model, meaning they do not publish their games to the public, only for exhibition or their client’s events/programs. For instance, Agate Studio, perhaps the biggest studio that participates in the event given the number of their booths (they had 4 separate booths), made two games (Smart Bike and City Defender) for AXA Indonesia and one for Telkom (Sky Cage). I believe this strategy is pretty common among Indonesian developers since they need to keep their business sustainable.

Agate’s Smart Bike game for AXA

On the other hand, I also saw (and played) several games made as side projects or prototypes by a small collective of developers or a single individual. I actually find some of these projects much more interesting than games made with B2B model. Because, instead of operating as gimmicky spectacle with little inventiveness in gameplay or narrative development, some of these alpha or beta versions displayed more creative excitement. For instance, I was interested in the game Kirana, an action RPG game developed by Kawarna Studio as a side project. The game uses the history of Singosari during the Mongol invasion as its background narrative and has a female protagonist. There is also Loveless–developed by only one person under the name of Teamless–which is a study of player agency in the form hybrid and non-linear dating sims/adventure game. The game’s visual actually reminded me of Undertale.

Teamless’s Loveless demo

Of course there’s a sobering realization in me that many of these alpha or beta version games perhaps will never see the light of day given the developers’ limited resources and market demand. But, it’s still stimulating to see how these studios exhibited their passion project.

Another thing that I observed from the event is how Indonesian mainstream video game industry has started to think forward about platform and game ecosystem. In this case, Telkom Indonesia—the nation’s largest telecommunication service provider—is perhaps the main support engine for this development. The company has supported Gameqoo, a Stadia-like cloud gaming service, offering subscription-based gaming option for Indonesians. According to one of Gameqoo’s staff that I talked to, the company is also planning to bundle its service with Telkom’s Indihome cable and internet services in the near future. In addition to this, Telkom has also partnered with Agate Studio to create an ecosystem for local games called Oolean, which eventually will also be connected to Gameqoo. It looks like the semi state-owned company is now really serious in supporting domestic game industry, which is a good thing considering its half-hearted backing in the past.

At the indie level, a small game developer, Ginvo Studio, is also hoping to create a sustainable ecosystem for their games, which mainly consist of tabloid newsgames about all things viral in Indonesian internetscape. They actually have quite an ambitious plan to develop and sustain their platform by planning to release one newsgame every week, and I am actually interested in this studio and their games for my research. I will probably contact them in the near future.

Ginvo Studio’s promotional material for their tabloid newsgames’ ecosystem, Gemvi

I also noticed that some companies also utilize real digital currency reward system to attract gamers to use their platform, such as India-based Mobile Premiere League and Amcore’s game Jump,Bunn. I think this is related to the aggressive strategy of Indonesia’s digital wallet services that I wrote in my previous post and the rapid popularity of competitive gaming/e-sports.

In terms of genre, survival horror game seems to be on the rise besides RPG. I believe this happens because of international achievement of DreadOut. Many studios aspire to achieve the same level of success, if not more, with their games. For instance, Storytale Studios has Pamali and Ozysoft has Pulang: Insanity. Personally, I am interested in the development of 4Happy Studio’s game WhoIsHe: Let Me Out. It has the vibe of What Remains of Edith Finch, which I really like, and a touch of Indonesian culture. It’s also developed by a studio not from the island of Java (4Happy Studio is from Batam island), which is refreshing. I hope the studio will complete the game in the near future.

4Happy’s WhoIsHe: Let Me Out demo

Game Prime also had a section for old arcade games, which brought back nostalgic memories in me (especially of Galaga and Street Fighter!).

It also has a separate section for tabletop/board games. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to visit each booth and talk with the game developers/creators, but I bought two board games, Circus Politicus and Bluffing Billionaires, that I plan on using in my Global Video Game Cultures seminar this fall.

Bluffing Billionaires and Circus Politicus

All in all, I am glad that I went to the event and I hope I will get a chance to go to the next one.

Tracing Indonesian Videogames History pt. 1

This is the first post related to my current research project on Indonesian videogames history (Disclaimer: thoughts are still scattered and disjointed):

As Inaya Rakhmani and Hikmat Darmawan (2015: 250) assert in their chapter about videogames culture in Indonesia, the exact history of videogames in the country is difficult to trace due to a variety of reasons. Archival awareness was not, and perhaps still not, high among Indonesians, especially for things considered trivial such as videogames. There aren’t really any exact record of what videogame titles first introduced to the country, or when. Statistical data on gaming is almost nonexistent, particularly during the early years. So, most narratives about Indonesian videogames history depend on the memories of people who participated or are still participating in the culture, i.e. gamers. Based on this collective memory, Rakhmani and Darmawan suggest that the development of videogames in Indonesia can be traced as far back as the mid-1980s.

While I cherish Rakhmani and Darmawan’s oral history/interview approach, I am interested in examining the scarcity of record about Indonesian videogames history, specially by means of popular distribution. My goal is not to provide the ultimate history of Indonesian videogames (that would be a rather foolish and impossible task), but to offer glimpses of what videogames discourse looked like (if there was such a thing) back in the early days. I think by doing this type of research, it will enrich our understanding of contemporary videogames culture in the country.

So, the first thing I did is to look for popular periodicals that were around during the estimated period that Rakhmani and Darmawan suggest. In this case, I examined two periodicals, Intisari and Variasi Putra Indonesia, from late 70s to late 80s. These two periodicals are by no means the representation of Indonesian popular culture back then. They are just ones among many, and they are, in this case, accessible to me.

Perusing these two periodicals, the first thing that I stumbled upon is this Graffiti jeans ad:

Graffiti Jeans Ad, Variasi Putra Indonesia, No. 397 (24-30 July 1981)

 

Graffiti Jeans Ad, Intisari, No. 217 (August 1981)

The ads show three hip-looking youths (by 80s fashion standard), posing next to what looks like a coin-op pinball machine. I am intrigued by the fashion and the machine. Well, mostly the machine.

The machine maybe just a prop for the ad. Yet, associating the aura of “hipness” that the ad promotes, the pinball machine may also suggest that it was part of a trendy youth culture back then. This may not be surprising if we connect it to the history of videogames in the US, especially coin-operated arcade. Coin-operated machines were already part of popular culture dating back to the Victorian-era amusements like the Kinetoscope.

However, 1981 was the heyday of videogame arcades in the US. As Carly A. Kocurek (2015) points out, “[b]y the early 1980s, mainstream media outlets from Life magazine to the New York Times were reporting on the youth trend, and arcades had become mainstays in shopping malls, strip malls, and small-town storefronts across the Unites States” (2). If we were to align the youth trend in the US with that in Indonesia, then the more appropriate background prop for the Graffiti ad would be a Space Invaders (Taito, 1978) arcade machine, or perhaps Sea Wolf (Midway, 1976). But what we see here is a much older coin-op machine (by the US standard).

Then perhaps videogame arcades were not yet popular in Indonesia back then (I rather doubt it). Perhaps arcades were still a novelty for upper-middle class youth as Rakhmani and Darmawan suggest. Yet, if they were a novelty, where did they play them? At home? (I also doubt it)

It is also interesting to note that this ad was the only non-game ad that used game-related background (at least in the two periodicals). And the appearance of this ad is very rare. From 1979 to 1990, it only showed up twice in Variasi Putra and once in Intisari (there are of course other Graffiti Jeans ads, but they did not use the pinball machine as a background prop anymore).

 

Works Cited:

Kocurek, Carly A. Coin-Operated Americans (Univ. Minnesota Press, 2015)

Rakhmani, Inaya and Hikmat Darmawan. “Indonesia.” In Mark J. P. Wolf (Ed.). Video Games Around the World (The MIT Press, 2015)

It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (danah boyd) – Collaborative Book Engagement

Around five or six months ago I volunteered to co-direct a collaborative book review project as a HASTAC scholar. It’s a kind of “crowdsourced” book reviews where you invite people to review sections of a book instead of the whole thing. This is actually the second project of its kind launched by HASTAC (I also participated in the first one). This time we choose It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens by danah boyd. It’s a really good book if you want to learn about youth engagement with social media from the perspectives of the youth themselves, and it’s highly readable. I’d have still recommended it even if I didn’t get involved in this project.

In this project, I partner up with another HASTAC scholar Megan Farnel and we work together with the HASTAC Scholars Director, Fiona Barnett. And couple days ago we finally launched the finished version of this project. We’ve gotten twenty-two people writing nineteen reviews and one pedagogical resources (excluding Megan who also wrote the review for the book’s intro). They all come from various academic backgrounds and have taken diverse approaches in writing their reviews.

For me, to be involved in this project is a really rewarding experience, both personally and professionally. And I’m really happy with how it turns out.

You can check the project here!

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