What is a game jam?

In my new life as professor of Interactive Media at Harrisburg University, I am part of a team hosting a game jam for our students. Many students ask, “Hey, what is a game jam?” I remember wondering that myself… Here is my answer:

A game jam is a group of people making a game in a short amount of time. People also do film jams, or play jams where they write, build sets and film or perform a play all in a weekend. Basically, it is a fun and often ridiculous way to meet new people who might be professional developers/artists/musicians or who might just do gamedev/music/design as a hobby.

The games that get made (or that get nearly made) are small and really innovative.

There are several jams that happen world wide that people (grown up people who appreciate the chance to get away from their day jobs and meet new people and work on a project together) do. Because you are a student, you work on new projects with different people all the time! But once you get out here with the rest of us, you will appreciate the chance to do coding just for fun….

Anyway, we announce a theme, everyone thinks of ideas, anyone who wants to will say their idea out loud, everyone joins a team based on whether they like the idea, and then teams decide what kind of game they want to make… For instance, maybe it’ll be in Unity because they have a Unity developer on their team and maybe it’ll be in Twine because they don’t have a coder and story matters…. The game can even be a card game if say, the strategy/number balancing is really important and the team wants to work those things out instead of wasting precious time coding something.

It is a good time to practice coding if you aren’t really good at it yet. Game jams (and I expect film and stage jams) are times when no one will review your code, and you can use whatever method gets the job done. If you use 10 nails when one screw would have done the job, it’s OK as long as the prop doesnt fall down!

And it is a competition. So at the end, at 4:30 on Saturday, in our case, we will present our games to each other and “vote,” …possibly in a very informal manner. I suspect the winning game will be barely functional and possibly based on a silly idea that people like because of its silliness, not necessarily its well balanced levels. Or, possibly, a game will win because of its serious, thoughtful theme. Sometimes a well balanced playable game will win, even it if it isn’t that innovative but it is amazingly playable for the short development time.
So, it’s a competition, but not a typical sort of competition. It’s a game jam.

The Global Game Jam will be January 25-27 and we will be hosting a site here at the University. We will invite developers/designs/musicians from all around Harrisburg. The GGJ goes from Fri-Sun and people can sleep on our second floor… It’s pretty crazy and fun.

I guess I will post this somewhere, because “game jam” is a kind of unknown thing for most college students!! (Hey, look at that, you are reading this on my blog! Welcome, gentle reader!)

Posted in Game Design and Development

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