Global Game Jam 2017: Making Waves Across the World

Today, we usher in the Lunar New Year, a time for rest, celebration, and perhaps the consumption of a little more food than we intended. But during this past week, a very different sort of event spanning global proportions took place. Gameranx spoke to Global Game Jam’s Giselle Rosman for her insights on one of gaming’s most interesting phenomenons.

Global Game Jam® January 20 – 22, 2017

2017 marks the ninth year of the Global Game Jam, an annual gathering of like-minded people in the pursuit of creating games within a limited period of time. This year, a whopping 36,393 participants churned out 7,248 games. Compared to 2009, which saw 1,650 participants from 23 countries put forward 370 games, the leap is tremendous. Worldwide Executive Producer of the GGJ Giselle Rosman believes the jam is inspiring on a global scale, not just because participants have a common desire to engage in a community oriented activity, but because jammers are all pushing in the same direction for something positive.

The Serpent Cycle, a circular narrative puzzle game

“The scale is hard to comprehend,” says Rosman, who is also the regional organiser, diversifier, and manages the Global Game Jam website, “There are (now) more countries involved than the last Winter Olympics.”

The number of total jam sites experienced a pretty big increase too, skyrocketing from 53 to 701 locations. During her seven years working on the Global Game Jam, Rosman has witnessed the growth of a modern medium of expression and its power to inspire: Before participating in the Global Game Jam, countries like Tunisia completely lacked a games industry, and South Sudan entered the Jam for the first time this year. Nigerian teams had to hold a 2-3 day tutorial to familiarise people with the concept in advance. Slowly but surely, the foundations are being put in place to build an industry.

“It’s mind blowing that so many places are working with you, pitching in together at some location at the same time.”

Trump Card, a satirical game about escaping ‘the trap of enlightenment’

Rosman runs the Melbourne Global Game Jam, which has now been running for seven years. Interestingly, roughly half of the 245 jammers involved this year had never jammed before, which Rosman feels allows a good range of Game Jam veterans and beginners to mingle with one another. Many of the games produced were digital, and a few veered into tabletop territory, but irrespective of the path each team chose, taking part in a Game Jam isn’t just about gaming: “Getting together in meatspace makes Global really special”, says Rosman, who emphasises that unlike the highly competitive world of e-Sports, a Game Jam is designed to inspire a spirit of collaboration. She says because of this attribute, women find the Jam more appealing. In 2017, more than 24% of the Melbourne Global Game Jam participants were female, a figure which may rise in the years to come as Jams become more accessible to women.

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Each year, there is a new Game Jam theme which is privately selected by a core committee of eight people. It isn’t just a matter of choosing something flexible enough to build games around, the committee needs to keep in mind how the theme will be culturally interpreted around the world, and whether it will work. This year’s theme was simply ‘waves‘. Alex Camilleri of the Danish theme selection panel expressed some of the reasoning behind its selection, honing into the word’s linguistic flexibility:

“Our intention was to find a theme that could be universally understood and interpreted in very different ways…We wanted newcomers to be able to look at the theme from a gameplay or narrative perspective, as well as allowing experienced jammers to dive deeper into the theme and explore it from more personal, political or experimental ways.”

The Global Game Jam might be a yearly event, but its power to connect people both globally and locally is transforming it into a gaming industry juggernaut. In 2009, Rosman rebooted the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) of Melbourne, which led to monthly followup meetings till the present day, and the commencement of the very first Melbourne Global Game Jam in 2011. Today, Melbourne is almost in the top ten of most registered jam sites.

Rosman recalls many of the participants looking ‘exhausted, but glowing’ after the completion of the Jam. There’s something special in her voice when she describes the whole experience as a ‘joyful thing’. It sounds a lot like passion. Exactly the kind of passion Satoru Iwata symbolised when he said: “Above all, video games are meant to just be one thing: Fun for everyone.”

Try out all this year’s Global Game Jam entries here.