Along with Jeremy Griffith, Amanda Cha, and Linnea Harrison, I help to operate the Ringling College of Art and Design’s Game Design Club. Our mission is simple, to provide a structured and regular forum for Ringling students to engage in curriculum-based and extracurricular game design activities. In the first semester of each academic year the Sophomores in the curriculum are  learning about game design using traditional games, and Game Design Club found a niche in supporting that project.

Finding a way to maintain relevance during the Spring semester proved somewhat more of a challenge. We wanted a way to hone our understanding of Game Design, and traditional media had proven useful in the past. With no project grounded in the curriculum, however, encouraging students to play and analyze board games every week proved somewhat shortlived, or would prove rather expensive.

After a fair amount of reading about Global Game Jam and some idea synthesis Jeremy and I sat down with a deck of cards with the simple goal of “make a game.” Our first experiment was both success and failure. The game itself was rather boring, and unnecessarily complex. The success lay in our realization that we learned volumes about game design in 2 hours with one deck of cards, moreso than we could have trying to knock together a flash game in 48 hours.

Following that first experiment Jeremy and I simply dubbed the activity “Traditional Game Jamming” and tasked the Game Design Club with the same goal: “Make a game”. As time has progressed we vary the constraints and the media. Sometimes dice, sometimes cards, sometimes we use the assets of an extant board game outside the context of the board game’s rules.

Regardless of the contstraints these game jams held a common thread: a 2 hour time limit.  This, we found, allowed us to rapidly iterate not only on our games, but on our design skills as well. If we made a game that turned out to be boring or complex we’d analyze why the game was a failure and take that knowledge with us to the next game jam. Through this iteration we found we’re more quickly able to sketch up mechanics, goals, and challenges regardless of the projects we’ve been assgined in classes.

So, to anyone who feels it takes millions of dollars and a significant risk to make a game I say “poppy-cock”. To those who think it takes significant programming experience to bang out a prototype I say the same. I encourage you to grab a deck of cards, grab a friend, and make a game in 2 hours. It’s a great way to practice game design with no risk involved.

Artists sketch, why can’t designers jam?

If anyone is interested in seeing this in action, Jeremy and I will be at GDC on the second floor of the main conference building during breakfast and lunch each day having a little jam. Won't you come and join us?