What is a game jam?

What is a #gamejam? An academic definition explains. #gamestudies #gamedesign #gamedev #GGJ

Game jams have become a big phenomenon in game developer and hobbyist communities. They gather groups of enthusiasts to work together on an intensive schedule, providing a platform for collaborative creative expression. Big jams like the Global Game Jam gather tens of thousands of participants in different countries. Many jams have also emerged that specialize in a certain theme, such as health technologies, or take place in unexpected locations, like a moving train. As the interest in game jams has increasingly grown, many game researchers have also seen game jams as a viable research area for studying game design and development processes.

As it is often is with new research areas, the researchers first need to agree upon definitions and explanation of terms to be able to communicate about them in a coherent manner. Plenty of academic research articles that concern game jams have already been published, but they often approach the phenomenon with a slightly different emphasis and point of view. To address this issue, game researcher Annakaisa Kultima from the University of Tampere Game Research Lab, also a Global Game Jam associate herself, has reviewed 20 prior academic papers that in one way or another address the conceptualization of game jam.

By combining the views presented in the literature with her personal game jam experiences, Kultima proposes the following definition:

A game jam is an accelerated opportunistic game creation event where a game is created in a relatively short timeframe exploring given design constraint(s) and end results are shared publically.

The definition reveals many underlying aspects of game jams. Firstly, game jams involve creation of games – either on a fixed location or online – often starting from scratch. They are accelerated: the jam usually happens within a relatively short timeframe compared to the usual game making process. Design constraints such as themes or technological limitation are often set to facilitate creativity. Opportunism refers to the participant’s expectations: jammers hope to gain networking opportunities, experience, awards, or other positive outcomes. Finally, the end results of jams are commonly shared to the public, whether by presentations or releasing the game to distribution.

Game jams are an intriguing opportunity for game design researchers. They compress the whole game design and development process into a brief timespan, making it easy to observe, document
and conduct experiments on. Continuing with the proposed definition, more comparable empirical, theoretical and experimental research on the topic can be conducted to help understand how games are being created.

Kultima, A. (2015). Defining Game Jam. Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (FDG 2015), June 22-25, 2015, Pacific Grove, CA, USA.

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