On January 30, 2009, 1,650 people from 53 countries spent an entire weekend creating their own video games. In that first edition of the Global Game Jam, the central theme around which the developed titles should revolve was As long as we have each other, we will never run out of problems. When Sunday ended in the last of the time zones, 370 video games had been born. Every year since then, hundreds of communities of developers, artists, and fans have come together again to spend 48 hours working together to get all kinds of projects off the ground. The citation grew to 25 times its initial size. As of January 2020, 48,753 people from 118 countries created 9,601 games. And then the pandemic came.
“Last year it was on-line. And an event of these characteristics, where the interaction with the rest of the participants is quite important, made the experience even sadder”, recalls Alfonso Jurado, president of the Granada Jam association, organizer and participant of the Granada chapter of the event. The covid-19 left no choice but to transfer the Global Game Jam to the internet and it was a severe blow to a meeting, which, like the jam sessions music, has its raison d’être in the way the presence and viewpoints of others fuel creativity. “The Game Jam gives us the opportunity to try crazy ideas without fear of failure. Also, every year we try to do something we haven’t done before to learn a new tool or technology. It’s also a way for us to stay in touch even though we don’t all work together anymore, and we don’t even live in the same city.” This is how the developer Javier María explains it, who has been participating for six years with a team of former co-workers in the jam organized by the European Center for Business and Innovation (CEEI) in Burgos.
Without the physical contact claim, participation plummeted to 28,825 jammers. “Meeting the other teams is an important part of the experience, and in Burgos we always end the event playing each other’s games. All that was lost”, recalls María, a video game developer who has participated in the last six editions. The 2022 edition is a new opportunity to recover lost ground. However, a few days before the start of the event (it takes place from January 28 to 30), the registration figures are still even below the bump of 2021. At the time of writing this article, the page of the Global Game Jam recorded just under 19,000 jammers in 100 countries.
This year the appointment may be online, hybrid or face-to-face depending on the preferences of the venue that organizes it, and it may also be held in a flexible way, between the 20th and 30th of this month, although most venues are choosing for sticking to the final 48 hours. In the case of Granada, the event is resumed as it was, but with security measures. “The magic of Game Jam is that it’s a little crazy. It’s like going to a marathon: there are those who have trained more and others less, and the truth is that it’s very cool because it serves as an exercise to measure yourself. Also, you share that challenge with other people you may or may not know. Being in intensive care for 48 hours suffering at times and laughing at times creates a special bond”.
In the CEEI of Burgos they are also on the way to recovering the experience that the pandemic took from them, although with fewer registered than other years. According to Cristina Martínez, responsible for organizing the jam of the entity, their plan is to distribute the participants in different rooms. “Here there is a very good vibe between teams, if you have doubts you go to the next table and ask. That was missed last year. There was not much talk. It wasn’t that participatory,” he recalls. That collaborative atmosphere is common at Global Game Jam venues around the world. From the organization they insist that anyone can participate even if they have no knowledge of video game development. In fact, they also support the creation of board or card games.
In Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Canarian Association of Video Game Developers (ACADEVI) will maintain the online format that it already adopted before the pandemic due to the lack of resources to offer a physical space. “Yes, we do miss being in a space where the teams get to know each other and make new friends, especially for that good rollism to share a pizza and a soft drink”, admits Laura del Pino, president of this entity. To compensate for these shortcomings, they try to accompany their participants with previous events and, in the case of this year, a jam focused on the development of serious video games. “These are games that have a purpose beyond entertainment. Raise awareness about climate change, gender violence…”, explains Del Pino.
Will the Global Game Jam again touch 50,000 participants and produce more than 9,000 games in one weekend? “I am convinced that it is an issue exclusively related to covid-19 and that when the situation can be normalized, this will rise again. Above all, because there are more and more video game developers. It is an industry that is growing a lot and this type of event always attracts a lot of people”, reasons María.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.