At the end of January, Minneapolis-based nonprofit GLITCH hosted the local site for Global Game Jam, a yearly hackathon taking place at 860 different locations all over the world in 2019. The participants, called “jammers,” form teams and work to create a video game—from start to finish—over the course of 48 hours. Jammers include musicians, voice actors, narrative designers, and artists. This year, for the first time ever, jammers could participate remotely instead of only in person.
On February 26, 2019, one month after the jammers originally came together, they and the public will gather to play 29 games created at the Minnesota site. From 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. at Keg and Case Market, the GLITCH’s free Play Party will give you the chance to try out one of these creations.
On Friday, January 25, game creators from across the Midwest carted monitors, towers, cords, and other electronic equipment into the TPT Partnerships building in downtown St. Paul. After entering with their belongings, they signed in and received a badge with their name and pronouns. Once they were all checked in, it was time to start gearing up for Global Game Jam.
On the first night of every year’s event, jammers share a meal and watch a YouTube video that includes advice for all the worldwide attendees. The video also reveals the year’s theme, which for 2019 was “what home means to you.” There is also a local theme, or diversifier, which this year was “crisp.” Evva Kraikul, founder and creative director at GLITCH, explained that jammers could make what they wanted of the goofy, ambiguous subtheme.
Once the theme is announced, and participants can’t contain their excitement any longer, they get about a couple hours of time to brainstorm ideas for projects. Those ideas are then pitched to the larger group, and jammers start to form teams based on interest in a project and expertise. This year, over 200 participants came together to make a wide variety of video games that embraced the themes to different extents. Some jammers, like August Brown and Martin Grider, didn’t incorporate either theme into gameplay itself, just referencing it in the title of their project—Home Is Where the Food Is is a rhythm game in which the player turns a little crocodile left and right to catch the food flying at it.
Others made the diversifier the central element of their game. Karl Koehle and Scott Lembcke made OVERCRISP’D!, which was inspired by the “crisp” theme. It’s a puzzle game about editing DNA with CRISPR technology for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Global Game Jam is just as much about the people as it is the video games. One aspect of the event that makes it so special is that it is an opportunity for creators to come together and support each other. Artist Abdiwak Yohannes said, “The thing that keeps bringing me back is the people. The game developer community here in Minnesota has wonderfully kind and supportive people.” Yohannes added that the jam is a great event to reconnect with the larger development community for those who can’t make it to monthly events. Fellow jammer Benjamin Gartner said, “I come back because it’s a motivating combination of time pressure and positive collaborative energy.”
This collaborative community makes Global Game Jam a safe place to experiment and try new things. Gartner’s team, which worked on a game called Wholesome Zombies in which you heal an invading swarm of zombies, taught him how to code in a new engine for the project. Yohannes echoed this, noting, “I love that it’s not a competition but an opportunity for you to learn a new thing like working in a new engine, practicing making background or character art, or just practicing working on a team.”
The Play Party happens February 26 at Keg and Case Market. The event is free, but GLITCH asks attendees to RSVP on Eventbrite to help with game station estimates.