Game Jam Puts Students at the Controls in Creating Their Own Video Games
As part of the University’s inaugural Game Jam, current and prospective students engaged in a friendly gaming competition, challenging them not simply to play video games but also to create them. The University is planning another Game Jam in late October, an exciting and spooky opportunity for students to create games with a Halloween theme.
September 20, 2022
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Last summer, Myles Allan ’24 worked at an overnight dog kennel, and his experiences inspired his creativity in, perhaps, an unexpected way: the creation of an 8-bit horror video game. “Welcome to DogHaven” was born – eventually capturing the overall best game award at the University’s inaugural Game Jam event.
Creating the game was an interdisciplinary collaboration between Allan and a few of his friends from a “Building Games and Stories” course he took during the spring semester. Allan wrote the game and created most of the level design, and his classmates worked on the program and created the music. He says their game’s recognition at the later summer Game Jam was a “huge personal accomplishment.
“I loved making a game with complete creative freedom,” continued Allan, an English major. “I've made a few indie games before in my classes, but there were usually limits on themes and structure, so to have free rein to create any kind of game I wanted was awesome. I also enjoyed collaborating with people of different talents and fields and learning about how different folks bring different things to the process of game development. Learning to create something in a strict timeframe was a fun exercise.”
‘I was truly blown away’
An immersive and exciting virtual experience, Game Jam enabled participants – referred to as “jammers” – to spend 48 hours creating their very own video games. Featuring a “Back to School” theme, the event was designed to be a fun and collaborative experience for students with a passion for gaming, including those creating a game for the first time.
“The Game Jam was an opportunity for us to create a community of people interested in creating games in a constrained amount of time and based on a theme,” said Shaily Menon, Ph.D., dean of the University’s College of Arts and Sciences and vice provost for interdisciplinary initiatives. “It allowed for participants who didn’t know each other to form teams and then to collaborate and engage each other in problem-solving and rapidly prototyping and testing solutions. These are klinds of skills that students will need to engage in more frequently as they encounter and address global and complex problems.”
Held shortly before the fall semester started, the event included high school students, as well as incoming first-year and returning students. At the end of the virtual event, four games were recognized for best game artistic design, most creative game design, best game coding/programming, and overall best game.
“The Office of the Provost has enjoyed supporting new program development in areas that match student interest with faculty experience and with regional industry needs,” said Christine Shakespeare, Ph.D., vice provost for policy and program coordinator. “The inaugural Game Jam’s success demonstrates that we can move into new disciplines where innovation is ahead of us and where we need to go as a University quickly.”
Participants also heard from members of the University community, including Bryson Gundry, a practitioner in residence and assistant coach of esports. He brought his background in esports and his passion for gaming. He also managed the Discord platform on which the event – and most game jams and esports take place – was held. He wanted to create a welcoming place for beginners, especially since many of the jammers did not have experience making games.
“I was truly blown away by the quality and effort every group of students made regarding their games,” he said. “The games had stories, characters, and even soundtracks that were all unique, and I could see the amount of time and effort each group of students put in to making these games. It was awesome to see the students with different strengths in certain areas come together to make a cohesive, final, playable game at the end.”
‘The building blocks for their careers’
As part of the event, students were split into teams, in many cases with individuals they’d never collaborated with before, to create a new game. As with Allan’s team, the event fostered interdisciplinary collaboration, enabling students with a variety of backgrounds, skills, and interests to bring their passions and talents to creating their games.
“There are different teams looking for a variety of different roles, whether in game design, music design, story design, or even artistic design,” explains Gundry. “If any student is interested in game creation, game design, or even making music, they should participate. This is an awesome opportunity, even for students with no previous knowledge of gaming, and there are many resources available to help them.”
The University is committed to making gaming fun, exciting, and inclusive, offering four different and distinct curricular opportunities: an M.S. in Esports Business, which is offered entirely online and is delivered leveraging the professional experiences of many of the instructors (from industry) teaching in the program; a Game Design and Development concentration as part of the B.S. in Computer Science degree; a B.S. in Esports and Gaming degree; and a B.A. in Game Development and Interactive Media (to launch in Fall of 2023) that will bring together students from a wide range of disciplines to study the many overlapping dimensions of esports and gaming, such as music, illustration, English, sociology, psychology, the health sciences, and business, among others. On the co-curricular side of University life, one of the largest and most robust student organizations on campus in the student run Esports Club.
“The game jam concept is a fantastic way to show students the experience they will receive from the University,” said Matthew Fleischer, assistant director of undergraduate admissions, who was part of the event. “Speaking from an Admissions perspective, we have students coming from a diverse range of interests and experience. These students had an opportunity to create their own games and work with current developers and professionals in this field. Game Jam provided a great understanding of how their education will provide the building blocks for their careers and futures.”
‘Video games are an amalgamation of every kind of art’
The Game Jam also included professionals and developers from the industry who shared their expertise and advice, worked with the groups of students, offered tech support as they learned how to code, and helped them create a community during the event. The industry professionals included Philip Levine, who is an adjunct professor at the University, and Nate Lombardi, founder of the online magazine Comic Book Curious.
It was Allan, the English major, who initially invited Lombardi to participate. Allan interned with Lombardi over the summer, helping with the online magazine’s social media, writing articles for Lombardi’s website, and networking with esports teams across the country.
"I was thrilled to be among a group of talented students,” said Lombardi. “I learned a heck of a lot from the other mentors."
The University is planning another Game Jam for later this fall. The event, scheduled for October 29 and 30, will have a Halloween theme. Allan is already looking forward to participating, and he is excited to create something new with his teammates.
“I'm a writer and an English major, so I've always been really passionate about storytelling,” said Allan, who hopes to create a new game as part of his Honors thesis. “To me, gaming is the next level of literature after the age of film and television. Video games are an amalgamation of every kind of art: design, narrative, modeling, acting, coding, and countless other roles. I love the way games push the boundaries of art and media, telling stories in unique ways.”