Why Don’t We Have More Art & Game Jams?
Commission for Creative Dundee. Click to read original blog post.
If you had the opportunity to peek into the brain of a student about to start their first game jam, you would witness a weird phenomenon. This blob of hormones, flopping around, craving some endorphins, and releasing an insane amount of cortisol (bear with me, I’m not a scientist, this is only a metaphor). Expectations are high; would this jam lead the world to acknowledge their skills, their genius, their one-of-a-kind eye for level design? Disappointment will undoubtedly follow. It will take many jams and many teams misunderstandings to get a game design student to replace their ego with confidence in their skills and an understanding and appreciation of everyone’s worth and talents.
During Split Screen, in a conversation with Laura McSorely – an artist as foreign to the game development world as I am to fine arts and its circles, I asked her, leaving aside any of the damaging aspects of creating a game in 48 hours, what the game jam equivalent for early-career artists was. I was pleasantly surprised by how much more enticing gallery openings and wine nights sounded compared to the types of networking opportunity that I witnessed so far for students in the game industry.
We were not taught to be ‘creatives’ and given the opportunity to meet likely-minded peers; we were taught to be productive and accept to work under poor conditions, constraints, and pressure. It was more about creating something that would make you “industry-ready” than something of which you can be artistically proud. Still, a brilliant thing about game jams is that they teach you to work with people from various game development disciplines.
It’s probably the conditioned part of my brain speaking; the one that thinks that having your dream game idea crushed and condensed in a tight ball of reduced scope is an inherent part of being a successful creative, but I could not accept that there was no artistic equivalent to game jams. Something had to be done.
After our conversation, I furiously scoured the internet. The closest event I could find to an Art Jam – and not an “artistic game jam”, was an event in Cologne where – at the end of the weekend, the organiser took everyone’s assets, throw it in a salad bowl (a scene) and mixed it all together (placed them in a game environment in a seemingly organic way). The result was excellent, and there was an eery stillness about it. But it was still not what I was looking for. I wanted to take the buzzing conversation and chill atmosphere of opening nights and smash it with the structure of game jams. Ideally, this would create a transformative networking experience with the potential of bringing to life stunning creations.
Picture it: the first hour of a game jam is not anymore about frantically hunting – in a crowd brimmed of bright hair heads and energy drink guzzlers, the digital artist who would accept to whip up game-ready assets as fast as they can put on their wrist brace. Now instead, the first night is about soaking yourself in the work of artists from all disciplines and for them to find their perfect developer match, the game designer who would manage to bring to (virtual) reality their biggest ideas.
In plainer words: I dream of an Art & Game jam where game designers could, in the span of a week, help artists to turn their vision into something interactive. The final result would not have to be a video game, but it would have to be interactive and, above all else, playful.
I hope that introducing students and early-career game practitioners to a more experimental form of design and cross-collaboration work would help us look past the commodified aspect of game development and encourage us to embrace its poetry and the beauty of turning any words and any ideas into a system of rules and pixels. Similarly, the idea of introducing sculptors, poets, painters, dancers, playwrights and any artists with a capital A to the vast universe of using games as a medium fills my heart with anticipation for the future.
Who’s with me?