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Helping people through game jams

Game jams are gaining traction every day. Why not using that energy towards a goal that would help the industry advance towards people's welfare?

Yesterday night, while I was brushing my teeth before going to bed, was thinking on some ideas to spend my spare time with my nephews this coming holidays. The idea of them just throwing random ideas for a game and me trying to implement them as fast and succintly as possible (pretty much like one does during a jam) popped up in my mind. But there was something more; there was something stored in my long-term memory that suddenly came to my mind.

Back in 2003 and 2004, Ben Duskin, a then-8-years-old boy, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, got his idea for a videogame fulfilled by developer Eric Johnston: Ben's Game was born from the wish of that boy.

Nowadays, game jams are gaining a lot of popularity thanks to a number of factors like the resurgence of the indie scene, a democratization of tools and knowledge needed to make games, the internet access, and the trend created by studios like Double Fine's Amnesia Fortnight. Even have been the subject of a number of articles and blog entries lately here on Gamasutra. The vast majority of game jams revolve around a subject, or a certain constraint, sometimes random, sometimes being interesting from the game design point of view. So why not driving them to a more philanthropic purpose?

I've thought of two possibilities (although there are probably many, many more). The first one would be to let a kid constrain the entries for the jam, quite like Ben did. Contacting foundations or hospitals, asking them for kids wishing to design a game (i.e. what things they would like a videogame to have), and using their design as the guideline for the jam. The other possibility would be to explore accessibility. Meagan Marie wrote an excellent and insightful feature on accessibility and videogames for GameInformer some years ago; it's easy to see how much is still needed to bring videogames close enough to people with certain kinds of disabilities and handicaps.

Both of these options often require lots of volunteering and/or fundraising to succeed, and rarely in a short span of time. Why not taking advantage of all the creativity and effort used for the game jams for this purpose? (As far as I found out today, the Global Game Jam was devoted to accessibility last year). Every participant is going to volunteer anyways ("working for free" if you wish to name it that way) so the cost of development is gone. As for the time cost, jams are great to bring results to the table almost immediately (usually no longer than 48-72 hours).

Honestly, I haven't found much about previous jams with this goal in mind (I've read about several fundraising jams for non-profit organizations though), and am probably missing a lot of important points. But I strongly believe in the power of this collective drive to achieve goals that would help real people in the real world.

I'm more than open to discussion and ideas about this, specially from jam veterans (organizing and/or participating) and experts from the industry, lacking a lot of knowledge on this myself. So please, leave your comments below! :)

________________________

References and interesting links:

[1] "Ben's Game." Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 3 Dec 2013. Web. 4 Dec 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben's_Game>.

[2] Marie, Meagan. "Accessibility: Creating Games For A Diverse Audience." GameInformer. 28 Sep 2009. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2009/09/28/feature-accessibility_3a00_-creating-games-for-a-diverse-audience.aspx>.

[3] Stuart, Keith. "Global Game Jam tackles the issue of accessibility." The Guardian. 27 Jan 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <http://www.theguardian.com/technology/gamesblog/2012/jan/27/global-game-jam-accessibility>.

[4] Charity Game Jam. One Game A Month and Games For Change, n.d. Web. 4 Dec 2013. <http://www.charitygamejam.com/>.

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