How to Get Started in a Game Jam

I have only peripheral experience with this, but for the “Big Bad Game Jam 2019” someone on the Discord suggested they were intimidated and tips or resources to start.  I didn’t have time immediately to respond, but I knew people would say, “Just do it,” and I was irritated that “just do it,” isn’t advice.

The jam’s make-up is intended to be the preserves of folk tales and fables.  This was the advice I originally crafted in response:

  1. Have an idea. In this case, it sounds like maybe you should have a favourite tale that’s always seemed gameable to you. For example, the Italian tale (I’ve been told), “The Colony of Cats,” is about a young girl who is a servant to a household of cats. Because they are so hard to please, they go through servants quickly, and they have the option to reward or punish her. That sounds like total game material to me!
  2. Find a mentor, or someone to bounce ideas off of, who might be able to help you focus the game, ask questions that need to be asked, or just tell you, “that sounds awesome,” or “ehhh, I’m not feeling it.”
  3. Create your anchor statement. This is the thing you want to do with the game, and it means whenever you’re stuck, you’re going to ask, “how does this attach to my anchor?” In “The Colony of Cats” it could be, “I want players to be a young girl in a cat’s world, for a period of one year, doing chores for cats.” So my 12 page essay on runic magic 1 probably doesn’t fit in here.
  4.  Figure out how they drop the anchor. So, while it can be fun to brainstorm some ideas for cat chores, besides cleaning litter boxes, fixing mouse mousse, and bottle-feeding kittens, is that where the fun for the player is? Probably not. So what makes interesting play here? Something like, “How does she interact with the cats for reward/punishment?” Maybe the game is a series of interactions with cats, and there’s a resolution method to decide how the girl does it. What if it isn’t a girl? What if it’s a boy in drag because his sister got rewarded in gold one year? 2 What qualities do I want the girl to have and measure against the cats? Do I use dice? Card draws? Maybe each mini-scenario has a set of key words the girl has to utter in her interview with them?
  5. Have fun … if it stops being fun, it isn’t the right game.

Because this is my space and I can, I do want to add a couple more words to the theories here.  First off, Jason Pitre on Twitter introduced the same day the, “RPG Design Worksheets” that seem to follow a similar structure.  I would probably just send people to that because it’s a great concept (of course – it significantly matches mine! [grin]) and while not everything may be applicable, it’s still a good starter/structure.

I didn’t make a lot of fuss about item #2, finding a mentor, which was actually the first thought I had.  I included it after much thought about the onus that placed on both parties, the one having to find someone, and the one of being the mentor to someone… but I have, personally, learned that designing in a vacuum is its own issue. Sometimes you need someone else to point out the trees in the forest, because darn it, you’re so used to stepping around them they no longer register.  (And that one? Over there? It needs to be trimmed before that entire branch falls on your sister. 3)

(Ahem.)

On item #5, this is another thing I learned the hard way. I have run too many games that became chores — sometimes because a situation went sour with the players, or I wasn’t really prepared, or something went wonky and I didn’t recover well, or I was tired, or whatever the excuse was, I need to remember that if I’m not having fun, why would I expect the players to be enjoying themselves? I don’t know how common this is, but really, “having fun” even if the subject matter is serious is what you’re generally going for in gaming.  I don’t get involved because I want to suffer or having a miserable time.

Even if I am an Amber DRPG player. [snicker]

  1. Yes, that was a reference to my “writing porn” story. Ask me if you don’t know it.
  2. I stand by my inclusion statements.
  3. If a treehouse falls on my sister without making a sound, is she a witch? Wait, that’s not how it goes…

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