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Global Game Jam: Step Up and Make a Game

In Game Design, Making Things on 1 • 3 • 12 at 8:00 am

On paper, I’m absolutely not the person you’d find at something called a “48-hour Global Game Jam.” It’s an event in which the goal is to create a brand new game, from scratch (starting with an idea before you show up is considered a no-no), with a brand new team of people you’ve never worked with all in 48 hours.

First off, there’s the hours. I left the ability to happily pull all-nighters behind at art school. Sure, I’ve stayed up into the wee hours working on a project now and again if the situation demands it, but it’s not exactly the kind of thing that I sign up for just for kicks.

Character design at Global Game Jam 2011

Then there’s the social awkwardness. Normally, I steer well clear of situations with structured social mingling with people I’ve never met. Some people find that kind of thing fun. I am absolutely not one of them.

And the workspace. Game Jam workspaces run the gamut, but you’re basically at the mercy of the folks doing the hosting. This means you cede control over things like: the comfort of the chair you’re sitting in for 48 hours, the lighting conditions, and the robustness of the wireless connection. All things that I’m generally willing to compromise on for a greater goal (for instance, while I’m traveling – or even for a project to which I’m deeply committed) but wouldn’t voluntarily seek out under normal circumstances.

So why in the world, you might be wondering, would I be marking down the date (January 27-29th) on my calendar and encouraging you to do the same? I participated for the first time last year, and, despite all of the reasons I just listed still holding true (and actually causing me some amount of dread), I’m planning to go back for another round. Let me tell you why.

The folks behind Global Game Jam do their level best to approach the social awkwardness problem head-on.

Shockingly, many people who are attracted to making games also aren’t the kind of people who relish challenging new social situations. So, the Global Game Jam Folks keep it well structured and very tied to the goal: make a new game. To that end they offer avenues to broadcast your particular skills and structures for brainstorming ideas and developing ideas with a variety of people. The reward of coming up with brave ideas with a new group of people outweighs the pain of being an introvert in an extrovert’s world.

Meet New Collaborators
Very few games are made by a single person.

Game Jams are no exception. And while you might not actively be looking for new collaborators now, Game Jams are an excellent way to meet potential collaborators for future projects you haven’t even thought up yet. Unlike conferences, they give you a intimate opportunity to get to know your fellow jammers’ skills and (perhaps more importantly) what they’re like to work with on a creative level. We so rarely get such a thorough introduction to potential coworkers – making most first-time collaborations something of a leap of faith. This also applies equally to contractor/contractee and employer/employee relationships. The Game Jam structure lets you ‘try before you buy’ offering both sides a low-stakes way to decide whether a long-term relationship is worth pursuing. I know plenty of people (myself included) who have walked away from Game Jams with new gigs or job offers.

Make Something
Game Jams are all about making a new game quickly.

Working on something with such a short deadline and low expectations is incredibly liberating if you’ve been spending your time making games (or game-like things) professionally. There’s a freedom in saying: “I’m only going to work on this for the next two days.” It’s also an opportunity to discover new skills, ideas, or make something outside of your comfort zone. Game Jams are the ultimate in the ‘fail quickly’ mentality.  And, when Sunday rolls around, you’ve got the satisfaction of having made something new.

Last year I worked with Rob Jagnow, Robin Yang, and Jonathan Le Plastrier (all of whom wrote great posts that give more insight into the game and development experience). Together we made ‘About Our Dreams,’ a two player chat-based game that’s a sort of aspirational version of ‘Taboo.’ (Because it’s a two player game, you might need to visit the site with a friend in tow if you actually want to play a round.) After the weekend was over we didn’t do a whole lot more work on the game– a liberating feeling as mentioned above. We left with a great sense of accomplishment, the ‘Social Chocolate’ award, and newfound collaborators. But even greater than that, I left with new avenues to explore in terms of game making and experience design. And I’ve never been more excited for an early Sunday bedtime.

So consider attending a Global Game Jam event in your neck of the woods. You don’t need any special skills (one team at the San Francisco site last year made a lovely board game), just an interest in making a new game.


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