This July 2018, all around the world, kids aged 12-17 years old gather together to make games. Known as GGJNext, it is a new game jam event specifically for youth.
What Exactly is a Game Jam?
In a game jam, designers are given a topic or theme and then build a game. Sometimes known as fast prototyping, groups work collaboratively to create sometimes barely viable games. The point isn’t to deliver a finished product, but to go through the steps of design thinking: ideating, making, and iterating. Often times, game jam participants may be college students or professional game designers. Examples of game jams include California State University’s East Bay Game Jam, NOAA’s Climate Game Jam, and the White House Education Game Jam, held at the White House back in 2014.
By far, the largest game jam is the Global Game Jam, which held its 10th annual event worldwide this year. Sponsors include Unity, Amazon, Facebook, iThrive Games, and GitHub—to name a few! Held every January, participants receive a theme, and then everyone that weekend makes games. One past theme was “deception,” which became the core mechanic, or player action in created games. For more about game jams and youth learning, check out this video. To learn about the history of game jams, read this blog post from Sande Chen. According to Chen, “In 2017, over 36,000 participants in 702 sites in 95 countries attended, making over 7000 games in one weekend. The games, all available for play on the GGJ site, range from tabletop games to virtual reality, Kinect games, handhelds and tablets, console games, and traditional PC games.”
Moveable Game Jams
In 2016-17 I helped facilitate Moveable Game Jams, held in multiple out-of-school locations around New York City (hence, moveable!). With the nonprofit Games for Change, we modeled our jams on the Global Game Jam. In our jams, middle and high school students designed games about real-world issues, which helped teach empathy, systems thinking, and design thinking. Our themed topics included immigration, climate change, and cities of the future.
Each Moveable Game Jams location started with a warm-up lesson involving hacking and modding (changing rules) of known games, like tic-tac-toe. For example, what happens if you add a third player, or change the grid? This got kids thinking about how to make games.
Next, we brought in educator experts from Current by GE (future cities), NOAA and NASA (climate change), and museum educators (immigration) to introduce content that youth would embed in the games. Finally, after a lot of pizza for lunch, everyone self-selected one of four game design stations—each facilitated by a different out-of-school program such as CoderDojoNYC, Global Kids, and the Institute of Play. In total, participants attended 2 of the 4 stations, for one hour each. The day concluded with sharing out of games created. Best of all, we published a FREE downloadable Game Jam Guide of curriculum on each station! It features over 20 easy-to-run lessons and activities created by the digital learning organizations from the Hive NYC network. For more, check out this free webinar on the Guide.
In fall 2017, at the University of California: Irvine, I led an Ignite talk at the DML Conference about our Moveable Game Jam successes. While there, I and my Moveable Game Jam partner-in-crime, BrainPOP’s Kevin Miklasz, met with game design veteran Michael “MJ” John. He connected us with Susan Gold, Ian Schreiber, and the rest of the Global Game Jam team. As it happened, they were organizing GGJNext, a global game jam for youth! Check out Ian’s video about GGJNext to learn more about this initiative.
For this inaugural, we already have GGJ NEXT sites in the planning stages for Finland, Argentina, USA, South Africa and Italy. Free to register as a site, we have an array of curriculum where youth can bring their own interests to game design. For instance, kids already interested in visual arts, coding, audio and music production, as well as analog and digital game design can explore their passions. These game jams are more flexible than their adult Global Game Jam counterparts, too. Events can be part of one day or longer, depending on the facilitator and participant’s needs. And if you are reading this after the GGJNext jams took place, no worries! The curriculum and materials, freely available at https://ggjnext.org/, can be used year-round!
For breakfast today I had 365 Everyday Value Bite-Sized Wheat Squares Cereal (from Whole Foods), a slice of turkey bacon, and a cup of Starbucks Pike’s Place coffee.