For over 3 years now I’ve been hosting a weekly event in Philadelphia called Dev Night. The main purpose of this event is to help grow and centralize the gaming community in Philadelphia. One thing above all others accomplishes this task: our Monthly Game Jams.
What is a Game Jam?
For people in the gaming industry, the term “Game Jam” means a ton of things. But what game jams do very well is bring people into the community. So what is a Game Jam? It’s an event where people come together to make games based around a theme in a very short amount of time. Some times you have 1 hour (Zero Hour Game Jam); sometimes you have 48 hrs (Ludum dare). Other times, you don’t know what the hell you’re going to get (Philly Dev Night).
Why do we Jam?
I run a game studio called Cipher Prime, organize events like the Geek Awards, and manage the Philly Game Forge. My day-to-day is always crazy and involves a lot of disciplines. I also have to be quite resourceful with my use of time. Holding back on experimentation helps me finish my goals faster most of the time. But, experimentation in my craft is what makes me better and sharpens my skills. Game Jams are not just something I want to do, they’re a thing I need to do. If I want to get better, I need to take risks and I need to work under pressure.
Why does it work?
We’ve all heard the saying, “Practice Makes Perfect” and a lot of us have also heard,”Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”. We’ve heard Malcolm Gladwell talk about the 10,000 hour principle in Outliers, and we’ve read inspirational books by Tim Ferriss. But, what really helps motivate me and most of the people I know is *proof*.
Loish is one of my favorite digital painters. But she didn’t start off brilliant. She started off with passion, and became amazing through dedication. I recently did a talk on this concept: Dedication over Motivation. The games industry is rather new, so it’s hard to have 100’s of examples of qualified growth. In the BuzzFeed era, we readers and consumers seem to need everything in quick graphs. So here is the growth chart that Loish did, that chronicles her growth from 2003-2014 .
Yeah, it’s awesome. But guess what: Your games can improve like that too. Here is a screenshot of my first game I made in 2004 called BBO. And here’s the remade version called Intake made in 2013.
Also, Game Jams are about finding the people in your life who are going to inspire you to become better. As you grow, so will those around you. Game Development is a Coop Team Game and you’re going to want those skilled friends once you start tackling some seriously large projects.
Why doesn’t everyone do them?
All the time people come to me and say there is no way they can make a game. It seems like people need permission to even try. For all those people, game jams are my way of saying, “I’m giving you permission to be great.” If you came up to me at Dev Night tonight and told me you couldn’t make a game, I’d ask you if you ever played tag, or checkers, or any other type of game that’s ever existed. Eventually, you’ll say yes. Then, I’d challenge you to make a “house rule” for that game. Most people already have these for their favorite games. Good news folks: you’re already game designers.
For everyone who is interested, I’d like to challenge you to be a better you. Do the thing you love; monthly at the very least. Test yourself regularly and set some goals. If you love making games, I’ll see you at Dev Night. If something else is your poison, I’ll fucking cheer for you. Let’s be awesome together. Let me know how it goes.