About an hour into my first-ever game jam – this year’s Global Game Jam hosted in downtown Philly by the Philly IGDA – I almost got up and left. I have this weird kind of social anxiety that often manifests itself in an inability to sleep before “challenging” social events – ones with a lot of unknown factors, where I have to interact with many strangers all at once. Because of this little quirk of my brain, I didn’t sleep at all the night before GGJ12 started.
Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with how game jams tend to work, but here’s a hint: you’re supposed to stay up all night during the game jam, not the day before. (Actually, you shouldn’t even do that; see Advice #3 below.) So I started out sleepy and in a bad mood, and by the time we got to the “get into groups and brainstorm” part of the evening, I was feeling pretty generally awful. Then my group’s theme didn’t really resonate with me, and none of the game ideas that we generated caught my interest. (They were mostly arcade-style games and platformers, which aren’t genres that I’m personally into.)
By the time we did group introductions, when someone felt compelled to express oh-so-much-surprise that I’m a female programmer, I was so tired that I couldn’t even come up with a witty retort. I try to be well-prepared for things like that – I have a reputation as a wiseass to maintain, after all – but all I could manage right then was stare at the guy with my mouth hanging open. There might even have been a little bit of drool.
This is the point at which I honestly considered leaving. I felt horribly out of place, and didn’t think that I could contribute anything of value. The only thing that stopped me was that I drove with friends, and had no way to get home without dragging them along.
Later, I would be so glad that I was forced to stay.
When we split up into our final groups, I waited and waited, but still didn’t feel particularly drawn to any of the ideas. Finally, at the very end, there was this guy (hi, Major!) who kept repeating the phrase “velociraptor cannibalism”. Mostly people just laughed, but someone else threw out the idea of using that as the theme for a board game. The sheer randomness of this piqued my interest, so I wandered over and joined up with this haphazard group.
Of course, once we finally got into a group and started working, the usual thing happened: all of my anxiety fell away, and I quickly got into the flow of brainstorming and creation. My mood turned around completely, and I started having fun. Three hours later, we had already nailed down the basic concept for a game that we all really liked.
It turns out, this utterly random assortment of people made a great team. We had a variety of complementary skills, from illustration, to writing, to business sense, to extensive knowledge of board game mechanics. Even though I’d never worked on a board game before, I was able to use some of my logical/systematic programmer skills to help flesh out the rules for the game. Furthermore, everyone on the team respected everyone else. When we had a disagreement about an aspect of the game (which will definitely happen!), we resolved it by thinking through the consequences, instead of getting into ego-driven personal conflicts. We were so into our idea, and got such great feedback, that after the Game Jam we decided to continue working together.
I’m pleased to report that Velociraptor! Cannibalism! just wrapped up a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, in which we raised more than 1000% of our funding goal. (Yes, you read that extra zero correctly.) We’re currently working on getting full art drawn for the game, and preparing for our first commercial print run. Velociraptor! Cannibalism! has become a real thing, a game that literally hundreds of people are going to play, and I got to be a part of its creation. It’s been a wonderful experience, and a tremendous honor. And I never would have experienced any of that, if I’d given up and left when I wanted to.
So, from all of that, here’s my advice to any reader who has the slightest interest in games.
1. Give Global Game Jam a try.
You don’t have to be a programmer or an artist, just someone who’s interested in games and capable of generating game design ideas. Also, it’s not a competition, so there’s no judgment or extra pressure.
And if you’re female, you won’t be the only woman present; I can guarantee that, because I’ll be there. (Plus, if you’re in Philly, half of the local IGDA’s officers are female.)
2. Make yourself stay through the end of the first evening.
Join a team and give it a genuine try. If you’re not into it by the time people are drifting off to sleep, you have my permission to leave. But make yourself stay at least that long.
Ignore the people who like to brag about not sleeping the whole weekend. Getting enough sleep doesn’t make you weak or less “hardcore,” it just makes you more effective. I live an hour away from Center City, and I still went home once to sleep. Next year, I’m probably going to split a hotel room with some people.
Make arrangements so that you can get the sleep you need, especially if you’re introverted. It helps tremendously.
4. Step out if you need to.
It can get overwhelming, being around a bunch of people constantly. At one point, I could tell I was starting to get jumpy, so I left and went for a nice long walk around downtown Philly. It helped clear my head, and when I got back I was ready to deal with people again.
Don’t be afraid to take time out.
5. Start out by assuming that people are friendly.
This is a practice at which I often fail: I tend to focus too much on the ways that I don’t fit in. But 99% of the people I met at Game Jam were totally chill and a lot of fun to talk to, once I got over that initial awkward shyness.
I find that if you start with the assumption that people will be friendly, they generally will be.
6. Diverse teams make more interesting games.
Our team was lucky to have a variety of skillsets, points of view, and general life experiences. Try to work with a mix of people who are different from yourself in various ways; not only will your game benefit, but you might make some valuable friendships too.
In conclusion, Global Game Jam is an awesome opportunity for anyone, whether you’re connected to the game industry or not, to get involved in making a game. My hope is that reading this will inspire one or two people who wouldn’t otherwise consider it to come and check out next year’s Global Game Jam, in Philly or at the location nearest to you.
I’ll see you there!
Recap written by Girl Geek Dinners Philadelphia Member, Bri Lance
Bri Lance is a freelance web developer, game designer, and aspiring writer. She has worked on Kickstarter hit board game Velociraptor! Cannibalism! as well as the award-winning educational game Fitter Critters. Find her on Twitter as @yeah_its_me.