By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Art Institute of California’s Game Jam contest for video game developers is a 48-hour affair
To the uninitiated, “game jam” is an odd paring of words with ambiguous meaning. It could be anything from parlor games for scouts to an unctuous breakfast toast spread made from wild animals.
But to video game makers and aficionados, a game jam is an intense and exhilarating opportunity to strut their game-creation stuff. And just such an opportunity is coming up this month in Mission Valley.
The Art Institute of California – San Diego is hosting the fourth annual San Diego Game Jam, from Friday, Aug. 25, at 6 p.m. through Sunday, Aug. 27, at 9 p.m. The college is located at 7650 Mission Valley Road.
San Diego Game Jam is organized by the local chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and is open to the public, regardless of skill level.
As experienced gamers know, participants are holed up at the jams for 48 hours, given a theme to interpret, and set lose in teams to create a new video game — or board game — from scratch. Established teams — and those organically created at the jams — comprise game developers, programmers and artists.
Artist Peter Oh, a recent graduate of the Art Institute, which offers a program in game art and design, hopes to work in game development. He finds the jams both competitive and collaborative — and a bit mindboggling.
“As gamers, we have this competitive spirit — but not in a bad way — it’s almost camaraderie,” he explained. “We work hard to put out our best effort, put out our best stuff. It’s great because there’s a lot of energy, and the people there are super passionate about what they want to do. … By the first morning, that’s when you should be able to tell if you’re going to be able to finish your game or not. A lot of it has to do with planning — if you’re able to plan it well with the people you have and the skills you’re working with. After that second day, it gets a little delirious. But it’s great because you find likeminded people, and you can extend that relationship outside of the game jam.”
Kojo Kumah, a past game jam participant and an organizer of this year’s event, has some advice for first-timers.
“It can be very exciting,” he said, “but at the same time very surprising — how quickly you need to execute an idea. A lot of people come up with an idea that’s too large for the time they have. The biggest challenge is learning to work within the constraints. … You should recognize and understand what your skill set is and think of a way you can contribute to the game. Having ideas is great, but you have to make something. Most important is to have modest ambition — people go into these thinking they’re going to create something really grand, and they won’t have time to do that. Start with something small and focus on finishing.”
But what starts small can turn big. Robert Dunlap did game jams for many years, and he found that they provide a venue for testing both game concepts and teamwork. The end result for him was a new San Diego company, Extrokold Games.
“We started our company in 2015,” he said, “and we released our first product in six months — from a game jam back in 2011.”
The game that grew from the 2011 jam, and was released in 2015, is called “Schmadow.” It has sold 30,000 copies, a strong number for a start-up.
However exciting and productive game jams might be, though, they are not for every one into gaming. As Kumah said, “I think all game developers were once people who just liked playing games. But not all gamers develop games.” There is a special connection between developers and their work process and product.
“It’s pride, I think,” Oh said. “Not a selfish pride but a pride for your own craft, a pride of producing the best possible work in the given timeframe. As creators, we feed off that creation process and the actual production of stuff. That’s where we get our joy.”
And there’s bound to be joy for those who attend the San Diego Game Jam.
The entry fee, which includes meals, is $25, with a $10 discount for students. IGDA San Diego members participate for free. Participants can head home to sleep, but the Art Institute has spaces available for those who bring sleeping bags.
For more information about the event and to purchase tickets, visit this link: bit.ly/2rHga4b.
—Kit-Bacon Gressitt writes narrative nonfiction and commentary, published at ExcuseMeImWriting.com and is a founding editor of WritersResist.com. She formerly wrote for the North County Times. She also hosts Fallbrook’s monthly Writers Read authors series and open mic, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.