Empty coffee cups and crumpled fast food wrappers littered the desks of Northeastern University’s Digital Media Commons on Sunday afternoon as 115 people began to resurface from a 48-hour game designing reverie. A young woman dazedly moved a half-full case of instant noodles from a cluttered surface to an empty one. An electric teapot sat cold in a far corner beside a tangle of guitars and portable keyboards that looked as if they’d been abandoned after a long night’s jam session.
And essentially, that’s just what this was. Only, instead of playing a few tunes together, these folks had been game jamming. On Friday afternoon a motley crew of coders, designers, writers, and electronic musicians gathered in Snell Library, where they waited attentively for the big reveal: the theme of this year’s Global Game Jam, an international rapid-fire game developing event created by Susan Gold, Northeastern Professor of the Practice in Game Design.
That theme turned out to be a quote: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” The adage commonly attributed to the American author Anais Nin was meant to inspire 22,000 game jammers participating at 488 sites across 73 countries to create games—a collective total of 4,250 games, in fact. Jammers were also free to incorporate optional challenges—also known as diversifiers—into their games; among them were “honor Aaron Schwartz” and “Homo sapiens are boring.”
“When I heard the theme I liked the idea of having the power to control what happens in the world based on how you see it,” said Chris Germano, a senior computer science major. “Convincing people and using that collective viewpoint can change how the world is reflected, because when enough people agree on something it’s generally accepted to be truth.”
Germano’s game, which he developed in collaboration with fellow computer science seniors Duncan MacLeod, Zach Fand, and Justin Yang, challenged players to convince an eerie population of urban walkers that an apocalypse is imminent and immediate. “The way it fits into the theme is if you get enough people to believe the world is going to end, the world does end,” MacLeod said.
But given the nature of the event, Doomsday, as this game was called, had very little in common with the other 20 games developed at Northeastern over the weekend despite following the same theme. Each group naturally interpreted the theme differently.
One group went literal, developing a game that required players to control their own drooping eyelids as they listened to a boring boss drone on about strategies and low-hanging fruit, all the while being distracted by flying unicorns and stray devil-robots.
Another group took a philosophical route, imagining the world as an eternal train ride during which block-headed passengers enter and exit the vehicle, triggering the game player’s dating application to ding on their virtual iPhone. Players were then asked to judge the other passengers for their “dateability.” Depending on the player’s selections, the game would progress differently.
Some teams didn’t manage to finish their games, but organizers said building something spectacular isn’t the point of a game jam. Rather, it’s to collaborate with people—oftentimes others they’re meeting for the first time—with a variety of skill sets and who come from different disciplines in a intensely concentrated manner for a couple of days to see, just see, what you can come up with.
As Richard Lemarchand, an acclaimed game-designer and one of the keynote speakers, said at the beginning of the weekend: “Don’t be afraid to fail—by creating it you will learn something about making games and then the next time you make a game you’ll be much more likely to make something truly brilliant.”