A couple of days ago, indie game treasure hunter extraordinaire moshboy announced that he is organising a game jam. He opened that post by saying "I have been vocally against game jams in recent months. They are held with such frequency and so commonly at the same places that they mostly taste vanilla and rarely feel special anymore."
That statement didn't sit right with a friend of mine, who voiced his dismay with Moshboy's opinion and the two got into a brief twitter argument (no drama; it was resolved as quickly as it started by shifting the topic to something both parties could agree on, namely that Jenny LeClue looks awesome and everyone should be throwing money at it).
The conversation between the two stuck with me, and I've been thinking about game jams a lot. While I agree with Moshboy that there are indeed too many jams, that didn't really factor into my decision to stop taking part in them.
Rather, it was my friend's pro-jam stance that made me reconsider my involvement in game jams. There was a level of attachment to the concept of game jams in his arguments that I found interesting. It felt like he perceived "I'm against jams" the same way as if someone had said "I'm against more people making games".
And I couldn't help but wonder- "are we perpetuating the idea that game jams make games happen rather than people make games happen?" And that thought fucked me up! I started feeling like game jams have become a forced frame for creativity, a required activity for those interested in making games. It's like we collectively started saying "You wanna make games? Do jams".
I do not feel comfortable being a part of that voice.
To break it down while conveniently using myself as an example: I've made 23 games since 2012, and a decent amount of those were due to game jams. Looking back, would I have made less games if I hadn't participated in those jams? Knowing myself, the answer is "probably not." Would I have made better games if I hadn't participated in those jams? Possibly, since I wouldn't have put myself in a position where I was stuck with a theme and a deadline I didn't set myself. Did participating in jams get me in touch with other indie devs / creatives? Not until I set out to make that happen my dang self. Did participating in jams get me more exposure? I can't front on that one- it's both yes and no. Participating in jams and using the associated hashtag will get you noticed by other participants which can lead to new fans / followers / friends. On the flipside, odds are that the jam as a whole will get more exposure than any individual entry, or that some entries will grab the spotlight leaving the rest ignored.
In August, the third edition of GBJam kicks off, a Game Boy themed jam I've participated in twice. I love making Game Boy style games! It's one of my favorite things to do, and the piece of advice I give the most to people asking me about pixel art- you'll learn a ton about things like limited palettes and color balance and much more. I think I've made maybe 6 or 7 GB style games altogether. So what's the difference between me making a GB style game and me participating in GBJam?
Someone else told me when to do it.
I want to be clear on this: despite the cynicism of the last two paragraphs, I have nothing against the concept of game jams. When I first tweeted that I decided I'm going to stop doing them, someone responded saying "I'd never get anything done if it wasn't for jams." Game jams are a valuable tool, a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone, to force yourself to release something, great to learn about deadlines and crunches... there are many, many things to be said for them. And many amazing games have come from them! SUPERHOT started as a 7DFPS entry. Gods Will Be Watching was a Ludum Dare entry. Shit, I myself am currently working on an expanded version of a game that was the result of a jam that I helped organize myself.
But I am worried that, with the abundance and popularity of game jams, we're at risk of losing a sense of spontaneous creativity, the lack of context and framing that can lead to amazing things. I'm worried that we're turning game jams into the new standard for aspiring indie game developers.
So in closing: You can make anything you want, whenever you want to. If you feel that participating in jams works for you, great. But we don't need jams to create.
We need people to create.