Game Jams

ThatOwlGuy
Aug 8, 2018 · 4 min read
(Source: CriticalHit.net — “Want to Make a Game? Game Jam!”)

Some of you saw this title and were filled with glee as well as terror at the oncoming sleeplessness of a game well done.

For the rest of you… Here’s a brief explanation.

Game Jams are timed game making “competitions” where the goal is to make a game in the time allotted. Many popular jams have “winners” but the point isn't (usually) to compete but to create brand new video games and digital experiences.

So here I am talking about game jams. This isn’t really going to be a technical breakdown like my other articles or a “best practices” of game jams. I’m basically just going to gush about the concept and talk about my current jam predicament so if you’re into that, then let’s go!

I love game jams. Making and playing the games is great and I've been in a lot of jams. The only problem is that in the 5 jams I've participated in… I've only finished 2 (And only one of those games is something I would consider even remotely close to being “fun”).

There’s something particularly special about game jams. You don’t have to be a professional or an aspiring developer or designer to participate and you can make something that other people will enjoy. What gets me going about Game Jams though is that they are just about the perfect microcosm of the industry at large. For better and for worse (but mostly better).

You see in the midst of dreams of making it big in games there is always the threat of burnout. Development is often described as cut-throat, overly demanding and sometimes devastatingly soul-crushing (real positive, right?). If you’ve been a game developer for long enough, I’m sure that you have your own story or heard the stories of peers that make you feel less than peachy.

Game Jams, in light of this fact, is the perfect way to navigate the idea of this environment that’s incredibly rewarding and, at times, risky. Simply put. What makes games great is the fact that they are a part of a medium that has so much potential to affect us in very personal and agency-based ways. Creators can create systems to communicate ideas to large audiences in ways that are completely different and novel from film, paintings, music, or books. The biggest hurdle is that it takes a lot of time to make these and deadlines have to be met. A balance has to be made in order to make a product that ships on time and doesn't overwork you. This is possible but very clearly not easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it.

So what does this have to do with game jams? The “jams” are just the best personal example of the industry and this problem of overworking and development stress. Some people opt to prepare for the crash they’ll get and do the all-nighters to get a game done. Others schedule out their day so that they get enough sleep and work their best. Many people in that latter category fail and end up pulling an all-nighter anyway. This isn't to criticize anyone’s practice during a jam or assess how they would make it in the industry. It’s more like… a thought experiment of game development in action. A… small-scale simulation of the art of game development.

More personally I feel that my experience in jams are both a way to see how far I've come with my design sense. With 3 uncompleted jams and only one that I’m (sort of) proud of, I have a somewhat reliable way to see how much I’ve improved. This sort of self-assessment makes this month particularly exciting for me. You see, I graduated from college this year. Throughout my higher education I never really had the time to participate in game jams. I’m working on Chroma full time but my schedule is flexible as it is completely self-imposed. So imagine my pleasant surprise (and abject horror) when my favorite game jams all crop up within a week of each other.

Ludum Dare 42 (Ludum Dare happens 4 times a year)

The Very First Extra Credits Game Design Jam! from Extra Credits

…and the 2nd annual GMTK Jam from Mark Brown

I… really do not think that it would be a good idea for me to participate in all three weekend jams. That being said… I am definitely going to be participating in all three jams anyway.

Please wish me luck and I hope you’ll enjoy my games.

Now excuse me while I break up with my bed in order to get patch things up with sleep deprivation. I think we can really make it work out this time. (OvO)

ThatOwlGuy

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A game designer that believes that empathy equals better design.