In times of crisis, Itch.io remains a unique place of solidarity in videogames—it’s not just that Itch.io is committed to the indie community, but to the indie spirit, especially with its charity bundles for important social causes. Last year, the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality featured over 1,500 games and raised over $8 million for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Community Bail Fund.
This year, after Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza throughout May killed more than 250 people, according to UN and local health officials, indie developers have banded together again to create another Itch.io bundle. The indie bundle for Palestinian aid includes more than 1,000 games. There are some indie classics here you may recognize, like Celeste, Baba Is You, Anodyne, Minit, Can Androids Pray, Signs of the Sojourner, and Nuclear Throne.
That still leaves another thousand or so games you may not know—a daunting number I've sorted through to pick out a dozen you should play if you back the bundle, which starts at just $5.
All proceeds will go to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which gives food assistance, short-term employment, and emergency health services to Palestinians in Gaza. This herculean effort was organized by indie developer Alanna Linayre, and quickly garnered the support of the indie community on Twitter. With a modest $500,000 goal, the bundle has already raised over $440,000 with four days left to go.
Here's where to start with this immense collection, which also includes some truly excellent TTRPG projects, game zines, and solo journaling games.
The 10 games from the Palestinian aid bundle you should play first
Rasheed Abueideh’s award-winning platformer is the heart and soul of this bundle, a deeply personal game based on real events in Gaza in 2014. There’s no music, only ambient environmental noises, so explosions and gunfire are made that more jarring. It’s a harrowing psychological experience drenched in ominous quiet, peppered with the sound of footsteps crunching on rubble as you try to evade drones and missiles. It’s a game that somberly highlights the idea of being set up to lose, mirroring the grim reality of being Palestinian in Gaza.
Being is an experimental adventure by Palestinian artist and game designer Iasmin Omar Ata, who also created the critically-acclaimed graphic novel Mis(h)adra. Set in a speculative future, Being delves into memories and mystery while confronting both hope and horror in the Palestinian experience. There’s also a cool companion comic to the game, which was part of a 2017 Art Palestine International/Babycastles exhibition called Over the Rainbow (the comic is not part of the bundle).
One designer’s yearning to become a shepherd comes to life in this short isometric fantasy with a gorgeous score by Ludwig Hanisch (bonus: you can download the soundtrack as part of the bundle). Move between a series of rooms, collect a sweet shepherding outfit, and meet various office-types yearning to escape the 9-to-5 grind.
Stef Pinto’s filthy lo-fi horror game is a surreal tribute to old B-movies laced with absurdist black comedy. It’s truly an experience that lives in my head entirely rent-free. There are 10 possible endings, but if you’re a baby like me, just play it as a masochistic walking sim and vibe around the nightmarish Florida flophouse that you call home. It features the same glitchy fuzz you see on old VHS tapes, which can trigger photosensitive players, but you can crank this option down.
Part ASCII-style text, part-collage, Aleph is a prototype art project created by Mohamed Chamas in response to a poem by Egyptian writer Marwa Helal. It’s an intimate experience in a void filled with constellations of brackets and commas, steeped in visual references to Arabic cultural history. The steady thrum of a beating heart adds an intense auditory texture to the experience.
Who knew that a SUPERHOT and Baba is You crossover was possible? It’s awesome if you’ve played both the movement-triggered FPS and the award-winning word puzzler, and cognitive mayhem if you have no knowledge of either. I vote for the latter: Let chaos reign.
This isn’t exactly a game, but an interactive toy to unwind after a long day/night of working and studying from home (or alternatively, to help you focus). Set to the soothing beats of everyone’s favorite study genre (made extra-famous by YouTube streamer ChilledCow), walk around and explore, "people-watch," or pick a spot and chill. It’s a collaboration between students at USC and the Berklee College of Music, and they’ve honestly made something brilliant that I didn’t know I needed after over a year of pandemic life.
Lebanese-American designer Jenna Yow made this thoughtful sci-fi visual novel for their college senior thesis project and it’s truly formidable in both scope and style. Besides the sharp writing (and lovely score by Austin Miller), there’s a lot to unpack: displacement, the unshakeable trauma of war, and quite literally poring over the physical and psychological anatomy of a wrecked mech.
As much as I hate creepy dolls, I’ll always be a sucker for a ‘90s-style action-adventure with pseudo-FMV vibes. The faux-loli character with what sounds like a forced Japanese accent (please let me be wrong) was kind of cringe, and it was really unwieldy to move around without using a controller, but it’s still worth a try if you dig old school Resident Evil aesthetics with 7th Guest-style puzzles.
Explore a beautiful haunting wilderness with odd creatures at your own pace. There aren’t any hard objectives or tutorials, so there’s some guesswork on what you’re actually supposed to do in this strange forest, but the ASMR-like rustling and calm music make for a relaxing time (it’s also got an “unstuck” feature to reset your avatar).
A few more quick suggestions
Witchball - An atmospheric catch-and-release Pong-like with some backstory about communication in the future. Looks like you’ll need a partner (and ideally, Xbox controllers) -- it’s local multiplayer only.
Demon Doif - I’ll play anything that involves pixelated fast food and this is no exception. Slap stuff into Doif’s huge mouth to appease him -- it’s harder than it looks, unless you want him to eat you.
Riba - Chill vibes and contemplation as you patiently fish for your grandmother’s bones and an endless stream of actual fish (grandma will eventually take form next to you). A simple, moving experience with sublime music.
Technoccult - The old-school drum ‘n’ bass-flavored score really elevates this interactive fiction/visual novel and places the player squarely in a grainy, moody vision of the ‘90s.
More recommendations from writers and game devs
10 Beautiful Postcards - THE IMAGE IS HOTEL TO THE BRAINby the catamites, creator of Space Funeral and Goblet Grotto, comes another surreal adventure. travel worlds within worlds in something that feels like a pleasant trepanation https://t.co/tZdrPfvgyo pic.twitter.com/DeeFnFrdbGJune 4, 2021
Some games from the itch Palestine aid charity bundle I want to recommend in no particular order...https://t.co/KopCVMMaZ1HacknetCosmic ExpressA Good Snowman is Hard to BuildSokobondFramedGNOGChurch in the DarknessSun DogsChoice ChamberOrwellJune 4, 2021
The first game in the bundle to catch my eye is... Calico!https://t.co/Ur8Dun8pxOA super chill open-world sandbox game about witches running a cat cafe. Pet kitties. Give potions to kitties to make them huge. Ride kitties. Decorate cakes. Unwind.https://t.co/69xnkEoSCuJune 4, 2021
Looking for something awesome to play from the itchio Bundle for Palestinian Aid???👀👀STAY TUNED—we'll be posting *direct links* to ALL the gems we've already played & updating the list along the way with our favorite discoveries!💎⏬👇⏬👇⏬#indiegame #indiegames #indiedev https://t.co/RWkCnjxhRt pic.twitter.com/xjGry1WGVhJune 6, 2021