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The Game Designer at the Game Jam

In this article, game designer Sande Chen discusses the role of the game designer at game jams and describes her first experience at Global Game Jam.

Sande Chen

January 10, 2017

3 Min Read

[This article originally appeared on Game Design Aspect of the Month under the topic of Game Design Practice.]

Hello!  Did you make a resolution to become a better game designer in the New Year?  Then, I encourage you to attend Global Game Jam (GGJ), the world's largest game jam event.  It's happening January 20-22, 2017 and is the perfect opportunity to meet people in the industry and to challenge yourself.  If you're in New York City, then PlayCrafting NYC and Microsoft are again teaming up to serve as an official site. Be sure to take a look at this advice on how to be successful at game jams.

Although Global Game Jam has been around since 2009, I admit last January was my first time there. I guess I had always been intimidated.  I had heard stories that teams were pre-formed or that if you were a game designer or writer, you might have some difficulty latching on to a team.  Definitely, if you are a designer who knows your way around Unity or other applications, you'll have an easier time of it.  As it happened, I saw a friend at the game jam and while there was some "Oh I already promised I'd be in this group" going on, my friend and I still were able to form a team.  We didn't have a phalanx of programmers and artists, so I just had to design based on what were our capabilities.

In actuality, I think everyone on the team contributed to the design and the polish.  On the first day, after the introductions and discussion, I knew we had to lock down the basic idea and go with it.  I did research on the idea and wrote an initial game design document.  The plan was to make a functional demo in less than 2 days (because we would not be staying overnight and working non-stop.)

Although some game design questions did crop up in the remaining time, I did see that my role made a transition to producer, as I became more involved in making cuts to the design and reminding teammates to keep focused.  I was very careful to keep the vision intact.  I wanted very much to get the game on a tablet but in the end, we made do with a laptop that had touch functionality. 

After the demo night, I was asked to put together a little segment on the inspiration behind our GGJ 2016 demo for Major Nelson's Recap of the NYC Global Game Jam Microsoft site.  Here is our offering, Dance of Love, based on the word "RITUAL."


Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

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About the Author(s)

Sande Chen


A co-founder of Writers Cabal, Sande Chen works as a game writer and designer. In 2008, she was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing. While still at film school at USC, she was nominated for a Grammy in music video direction. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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