Beginner-friendly game jams keep the indie genre afloat

A game jam is more than a competition, it is a community formed with the goal of fostering creativity and expanding the indie genre. The broadest definition of a game jam is an event that invites people to work as individuals or in teams to make a game that follows a theme.

What a game jam entails can vary wildly. Usually participants are making video games, but they can also focus on board games or tabletop role-playing games. Some game jams have strict time limits and ranking systems while others brand themselves as opportunities for learning and making friends.

What makes game jams unique is their accessibility. Websites like Game Jolt and offer opportunities for anyone to host or participate in one, no venue or fees required.

“Touch the Stars” players tap stars before they vanish. Photo courtesy of Kittyking101,

Many, like My First Game Jam: Winter 2023, welcome beginners. Its self-proclaimed goal was “to organize resources and make game development more accessible.” The associated Discord server offered a space for people of all experience levels to collaborate, troubleshoot and make new connections.

The event ran from Jan. 28 to Feb. 12 with the optional theme of growth, and it received over 400 entries. There were no winners. Instead, there was a joint celebration of what participants had accomplished. Several agreed to interviews via direct messages on social media on the condition that they only are referred to by their screen names.

Everyone entered the game jam for a unique reason. Kittyking101 used it as a way to escape burnout. After spending “thousands of hours” creating a “multiplayer VR experience” titled “Wings VR” — now on Steam — he decided to experiment with making a mobile game. “Touch the Stars” is self-explanatory and sparkly.

Kuzzi found the game jam after posting a project for his computer science class on “I wanted to join because I recently decided I wanted to go and study Computer Science post-secondary school, and what better way to get better at coding than by coding a game?”

His unorthodox interpretation of the theme led to “Brand Yourself,” a game where the player’s social media influences a stock’s value. Quips appear on the screen depending on how well a post does, such as “Gordon Ramsay ratio’d your lunch post and it was all over from there.”

The absurdist humor covers the hard work that went into the code. Kuzzi came out of the experience with new skills related to formatting code, saving data and finding bugs.

Other participants stuck to what they knew. “Since I can neither draw nor compose, I thought of making the simplest thing I could think of: a text adventure in a coding language I’m familiar with,” stated GlassFrog.

Despite their emphasis on simplicity, creating the stat-building game “Maybe a Witch Hunter” took them out of their element and deepened their coding knowledge. They dedicated their weekends to ensuring they finished in time. “Surprisingly, I didn’t find it tiring: watching your game develop is a bit like watching a sprout grow.” They exited the game jam with a better knowledge of Python and how to create a graphical user interface.

“Brand Yourself” players gamble with every post. Photo courtesy of Kuzzi,

Anyone who wants to learn how to make a game should join a game jam. Kittyking101 stated, “You can enter a jam to learn new skills [or] put those skills to the test… Jams exist like how marathons exist: to run with the crowd and reach a goal. You decide where the goal line is.”

Game jams provide more than opportunities to hone one’s skills, they also offer a supportive community. Kuzzi stated, “If I had just made and posted a game I would never have been able to get the help, feedback, and encouragement that I did get from being in the game jam. I also would have had zero motivation and probably not finished the project.”

Featured photo courtesy of RODNAE Productions, Pexels