Contrary to popular belief, video games are not the product of magic. In actuality, they are the result of years of hard work by trained professionals. But they’re also getting easier and easier to make, and the previously formidable walls surrounding the vaunted halls of game development are crumbling away. These days, anyone can have a go at making a game. Even you.
If you’re interested in testing your mettle, then attend the Global Game Jam. It’s an international game-making marathon in which participants are given 48 hours to make a game inspired by a prompt, from scratch. It just so happens that there is a site in Portland, and you’re invited.
Portland’s Global Game Jam will be held at the Art Institute of Portland from Friday, Jan. 24 until Sunday, Jan. 26. The jam begins at 6:00 p.m. on Friday and runs until 6:00 a.m. on Sunday. Members of the public are invited to play the games participants developed after the jam has concluded.
The event is being organized by the Portland Indie Game Squad, or PIGSquad. PIGSquad is a local group that focuses on promoting video game development by arranging events that focus on game design, programming, writing and music.
Will Lewis, a Portland State alumnus and founder of PIGSquad, is organizing the jam. Lewis is an old hat at leading gaming events. He said he has organized at least eight jams, two of which were Global Game Jams.
There are no prerequisites for participating in the jam; no prior knowledge of programming languages or development software is required. Lewis said that participants should be willing to work in teams, though some participants opt to work alone.
In the past, Portland’s Global Game Jam has seen a diverse group of attendees. Lewis said he has seen groups ranging in age and skill level.
“There’s obvious gender diversity,” said Jefferey Sens, co-organizer for the jam. “There’s also diversity in experience. I think it’s absolutely phenomenal that groups of people with different levels of confidence or self-belief in their own abilities are showing up and finding a welcoming space.”
Computers and work spaces will be provided at the site, though participants are welcome to bring their own laptops and materials. Computers on-site will be fitted with accessible game development software like Unity and Stencyl.
The health of jammers during the event is of paramount concern. While Global Game Jam is limited to a 48 hour period, participants are discouraged from working straight through the event.
“[Events like] hackathons have an unfortunate connotation,” Sens said. “They’re college kids drinking Mountain Dew and eating pizza and burning themselves out by staying up for 96 hours.”
Lewis and Sens are striving to make Portland’s Global Game Jam a quality of life experience. There will be recommended sleeping and eating hours, and food will be provided.
Participants should come to Portland’s Global Game Jam expecting to create a “mini game,” a simple game that can be completed by the player quickly and in a single sitting. Primarily, game jams are about learning in a community setting.
“I think the achievement of completing something, even if it’s totally not what you imagined or wanted when you started, is just a different feeling of success,” Sens said.
A popular extreme
Game jams are only getting more popular. Last year there were over 300 sites across the world that participated in Global Game Jam. This year, the number has crept closer to 330. Lewis said that he’s expecting nearly 70 people to show up at the Portland site.
Sens said he thought one of the reasons why game jams have become so popular recently is because of how open and democratic they are. Game jams are structured so as to not privilege the skillful over the newcomer, the professional over the amateur.
“It’s radically inclusive,” Lewis said.
That sense of inclusion extends across the globe. The Global Game Jam is the largest event of its kind in the world. Since the jam is conducted on an international level, it’s an opportunity for different cultures to interact.
“A lot of people video conference during [Global Game Jam], so it’s a really cool way to bring the communities together,” Lewis said. “You get to interact, based on a common ground, with all these people that you never would have otherwise interacted with.”
For more information about the Global Game Jam visit globalgamejam.org. Additional information on Portland’s Global Game Jam and PIGSquad can be found at pigsquad.com.