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**This article contains spoilers for the aforementioned three games.**

Since I'm a writer myself, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I love games with a good, rich story. There's a lot of skill and effort that goes into revealing engaging narrative through dialogue and cutscenes to be sure. Even if a game writer is allowed an unlimited word count to tell a tale, it's still hard to make something as engaging and entertaining as, say, Disco Elysium (350,000 words narrated!), despite having plenty of room to let the written narrative stretch its legs. That's why it's all the more impressive to me, then, when a game developer is able to tell as story that grips the player and pulls them fully in to the game's imagined world by using very few words, or even through using no words at all.

Journey is one such game. I’ve already written about how there is a story told within the gameplay that keeps me questioning but engaged, leads me to form a strong bond with my companion despite our limited communication, and makes me excited to move forward on our expedition together even if I don't know why we're doing it. All of this is achieved without a word ever being uttered by any character or creature within the varied climates the player gets to explore.

Journey’s story is there at the forefront more or less: you need to reach the mountain. But little else is explicitly revealed. Why are you on this mission? It’s never made clear, but then again, the why isn’t really the point of the game, is it? Sorry for the unavoidable titular reference, but the whole point of the thing is really the… journey after all. (Though there are those who have tried to break it down in great detail, if you're into that sort of thing.)

I ended the game with unanswered questions and was maybe a little let down at the lack of a big finish to celebrate my character's achievement of reaching their destination, but simultaneously, I felt ultimately satisfied and, honestly, wowed. I was initially surprised that I didn’t get the usual fanfare I expect at the end of a game, sure, but is that these devs’ fault, or is it mine for being conditioned to expect the end of a game to carry most of its weight? Did I not just have a fantastic time? Was I not just dropped into a world that was an absolute pleasure to explore and given an experience that was both engaging and beautiful? Did I not just enjoy every single moment of my time playing?

So often, games are monotonous grinding and repetitious failure, with the elation that comes from our eventual and hard-won success acting as the bolt of dopamine we need to keep doing it again. Journey, instead, was a gift of an experience, with no part frustrating or tedious. Instead, the gameplay itself, at every moment, was the reward, so the ending, instead of offering that fanfare and congratulations I’d come to expect, instead simply asked if I’d like to play again.

And the answer was yes. Yes I would.

Screenshot from Adventure Gamers

Similarly, Gorogoa also manages to tell a story without a single word in the actual gameplay. What that story is, however, is up for debate. Some people say it’s less of a game and more of an interactive painting. Others say that they have no idea what any of it means but that the experience was some of the most beautiful gameplay they’d ever had the opportunity to enjoy. Discussion of the theme of the game generates varied opinions, but what seems to be agreed upon is the general sense of sadness expressed throughout the gameplay. There’s a constant sense of searching, of struggle, and dissatisfaction, even though the player's achievements. We chase a gorgeous dragon-monster, try to find normalcy in a war-torn city, see our character broken, humbled, and seemingly desperate as he travels desolate landscapes to a destination that remains unclear. At the end, once the player has successfully completed the final puzzle, gathering all five orbs and arranging the panels just so, an elder version of the game’s main character appears to be absorbed by the sun, which then becomes the eye of the dragon it seems as if we’ve been chasing from the very beginning. Is this a happy ending? The score doesn’t make it seem so. The game is beautiful and engaging, and its story is perplexing.

Screenshot from Adventure Gamers

Does this mean Gorogoa failed in its mission? Is this a warning to developers of what might happen if you choose to forego text to tell stories visually or non-linearly or experimentally? Yes and no. While I’ve yet to find someone certain they’ve correctly interpreted what the game is trying to say, I’ve also had no trouble finding people who love Gorogoa despite its ambiguities and who delve deeply into discussing it and their own thoughts and feelings about both their and the character’s journeys throughout the game. And, while I’m sure they exist, I have personally been unable to find anyone who says that they regret having played.

One writer said that "Gorogoa’s overarching theme is curiosity,” and like Journey, perhaps the gameplay itself is more important than any why or where, exactly, we’re headed, just so long as we get there. Gorogoa’s vignettes pull you in, even if you’re not quite sure exactly where you’re being pulled to, and you feel calm, curious, worried, and victorious at all the right moments. Similar to Journey, I’ve found myself thinking of this game long after my first playthrough, despite the fact that there isn’t a single voice or clearly defined story point to call to mind. But just as the scenes and locations entranced me in Journey, so too have the peeks into the character’s life, struggles, and journey in Gorogoa come to me again and again as I continue to try and parse just what exactly it was the game was trying to tell me. It’s not that Gorogoa said nothing, but rather that it said so much, and I’m happy to have heard it all, even if its culmination still remains unclear.

The Unfinished Swan strays a bit from the former two games, as there is text within the gameplay, though there’s still no real dialogue between characters. The story in The Unfinished Swan goes two directions. First, we learn of a young boy, Monroe, who has lost his mother, and who escapes into a fantasy world after moving to an orphanage with only a single painting of hers to remember her by. Within the boy’s travels, we also learn the story of a king, so particular in his designing of his various kingdoms and castles that he continues to upset his royal subjects, who are less concerned with aesthetics and more interested in functionality. (Not being able to locate one’s house because the entire kingdom is painted stark white, for instance, isn’t particularly conducive to an easy life, the king's subjects might say.)

A room in The Unfinished Swan painted exactly to the king's liking.

Within the game, you begin by splattering black paint on the pristine white walls, floors, and decorations of the king’s design. The gameplay here is unique and interesting, but also a bit maddening at times. It’s very rewarding to find the outline of the room you’re in, but puzzles amid such an obfuscated and chaotic setting can cause one to struggle in ways that are, at times less fun and more frustrating. Nevertheless, the distinct gameplay remains engaging and surprising, and the player is periodically rewarded with snippets of plot in the form of pages in a storybook narrated by, I’d like to imagine, the main character’s mother, as if she is reading him to sleep even within his dreams.

Another room in the game after I used my paint to make out some of the walls and objects within.

What’s interesting about the storybook snippets is that they could potentially be totally missable. The player has to reveal them by interacting with them, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve hit every one. If the storybook doesn’t have to be read, does that mean the story isn’t actually important at all? I don't think so, but it does seem like a risk to take in game design.

Unlike Journey and Gorgogoa, The Unfinished Swan's gameplay itself doesn’t reveal the story so much as hint at it. Without the little storybook pages, I would have had no idea that the entire environment was white because the king wanted it that way, or that in the second section, gray shadows were introduced into the landscape to appease the king’s populace.

The sea monster was also a delightful touch.

One thing I did like a lot, though, was the way the gameplay made me feel, and I do believe a bit of the story was told through those feelings. You start a bit frustrated, unsure, and uncomfortable. Like the main character, who is dealing with a deep and intense loss as well as the upending of his life as he knows it, you don’t really understand the world around you anymore. It’s hard to gauge what’s coming next, and while it is satisfying to feel your way through and answer the questions you had as you explored (What is that? Oh! A pond! Are those spikes? No, no, just grass. Where am I supposed to go next? Aha! A hallway!), you could easily imagine yourself as the little boy, learning to navigate this new world as an orphan: a world that has somehow both recognizable and incomprehensible at the same time.

After progressing through the at time maddening white-on-white environment, gradually, shadows are added in. Then colors, one by one. You stop splashing everything wit deep, inky black splatters, which both reveal details and obfuscates them if you overdone, and start spraying water, which grows flowering vines that help you scale buildings and traverse canyons. Just as you were starting to understand how this new world works, it changes, but not all the changes are bad. These vines, once you encounter them and understand their purpose, feel like the first friendly thing you’ve met on your journey so far—unless you count the honking, titular swan.

What’s amazing about the game is that it manages to be breathtaking, even throughout its minimalism and simplicity. There’s a sea monster that makes you gasp, and a huge city labyrinth that wows you. The town you explore is beautiful despite its mostly monochrome feel, and, as I imagine Monroe does, you begin to become more and more at ease with your surroundings. The discomfort lessons. There’s still something missing, of course. Like life without a loved one, even the good times feel incomplete. But the world around you is also no longer an incomprehensible mess, and, while we need the storybook pages to tie the persnickety king's story together with the environments we're moving through, Monroe’s story is told through a mix of extremely brief interludes and the overall experience the player has helping him navigate this new world. The feelings of moving through the slowly adapting space helping you understand the things left unsaid within the game.

The world is starting to feel a little more familiar, while simultaneously remaining a puzzling place to explore.

Something that is in line with the other two games in this entry, though is the way The Unfinished Swan's story is left in some ways up to interpretation. The creative director, Ian Dallas, said that there were things that remain unclear even to him in the end. One big point of confusion is whether the king knows who Monroe is. Late game reveals that the king created a woman who never finished the animals she painted—understood to be Monroe’s mom. That makes the king Monroe’s father, but, since the story reveals that Monroe’s mother left before he was born, it’s unclear whether the king really knows who Monroe is, though he certainly seems happy to see him. The king also doesn’t seem to realize that it was Monroe who “ruined” his life’s work, splashing paint on the pristine white walls and watering the wretched vines that are beautiful to me, the player, but a nuisance to the game’s king. Something that remained unclear to me, though Dallas seemed steadfast on it, is whether Monroe’s adventure in the kingdom was real or a dream. “It’s not a dream. There’s a door. He walks into it. It’s a world that exists on its own,” Dallas insists, but he immediately follows it up with a statement that if someone does think it’s a dream, “they’re [not] necessarily wrong, either. It’s a stew of a bunch of different related thematic elements,” and Dallas says it’s open to some interpretation.

That being said, the idea that this world is literal, and not an allegoristic dreamworld jaunt through Monroe’s grief kind of takes away some of the magic for me. I spent my game time thinking about how perfectly everything lined up. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, there’s a new mechanic to learn, a new reminder of the strange world you live in now that you have to navigate alone. There are times the ground literally falls out beneath you. Does that not represent the feeling of the loss of a loved one so poignantly? There’s one area, the only area where you take damage in the game, that is a hauntingly dark forest full of spiders. If you venture too far into the darkness, you get hurt, so you have to do your best to stay within the fleeting, dim lights along the way as you try to navigate forward, unsure of where you’re heading but hoping it’s better than here. If that doesn’t feel like a representation of depression, then I’m not sure what would! The area immediately after this frightening and steady slog through darkness grants you a new skill where you are able to build platforms that help you scale structures. (Like slowly rebuilding your life after loss, right? Right?). After you master that, you have to take another short jaunt in those dark woods, but the darkness doesn’t hurt you anymore. The spiders are gone. You’ve moved passed the worst of it by then. You have new coping skills. You're moving forward.

Your view at the end of your first foray in the dark woods.

Or, you’re literally just walking through a forest, I guess, and literally building some platforms to simply find your literal dad. Once it became clear within the story that the the king was Monroe's dad, I had one of those TV montage moments where all the storybook pages about the king's overbearing decrees and the repeated abandonment of his duties came rushing back. He’s so particular, gets mad and rejects things that don’t go exactly his way. It’s always his subjects’ fault the kingdom doesn’t run right, never his. Was this representation of abuse? Or lack of engagement in his significant other and future son's lives? Is that why Monroe’s mother left before he was born? Could it have been because of the constant emotional turmoil the impossible-to-please, narcissistic “king” put her in? It says the king loved her because she was like him. Was he holding her to impossible standards?

Or, again, perhaps everything we’ve learned so far is not allegory but literal. There is a literal king with a literal kingdom. He literally created Monroe’s mother in his own image and loved her because she was somewhat like looking into a mirror… literally.

It takes some of the magic out of it for me for sure, story-wise, anyway, but the game itself is still a fantastic adventure that I immediately recommended to a friend upon finishing. Since Dallas says it’s up to interpretation, I think I’m going to go ahead and stick with my own, which is, I suppose, another risk game developers run when they opt for a minimalist storytelling style.

One of the game's discoverable storybook pages.

In the end, minimalist storytelling in games is not simply a way to keep the narrative short. In Journey, it was a way to force the player to connect with the environment and characters they encountered perhaps more closely than they could have if they hadn’t had to interpret and feel things out for themselves every step of the way, unguided and free. In Gorogoa, it served as a way to tell an at times unclear and nonlinear story that plays on your emotions and constantly alters you perceptions in order to spark curiosity and invention. In The Unfinished Swan, minimalist storytelling ends up being a way to expand the experience of the game. Though things in the game’s narrative remain unclear, some of that lack of clarity works in the game’s favor, allowing the player’s preconceived notions and own fantastic ideas fill in the blanks. The lack of a strict, defined narrative within the gameplay means that even the basic premise of the story can be up to the player’s interpretation, giving the game's premise the opportunity to grow bigger and grander in the player's mind without the game devs having to spell out the possibilities themselves.

It’s never really explained why the swan acts as a guide through this alternate reality or dreamworld, depending on your understanding of the story. It’s also interesting that though the catalyst for the entire experience is the death of Monroe’s mother, the entire game is mostly spent examining the actions and whims of the king, whose story feels disconnected from Monroe’s until the reveal near the very end.

But despite those seemingly loose ends, I might say that this is a story of how, after she was gone, Monroe’s mother perhaps answered the things she had left unanswered for Monroe in life. If we imagine hers as the voice reading the storybook pages, then the game is that of a mother guiding her son through his grief and explaining things to him that perhaps she had always meant to get around to but unfortunately ran out of time before she had the chance. It can then be a story about the journey one takes on the other side of loss as well as a reminder not to leave important things unsaid. It can be a testament to a boy’s love for his mother and her desire to give him whatever it is she can, even in death.

Or, with the other, more literal interpretation, perhaps it’s simply a story of a boy untethered, finally able to meet his magical father in person, both for the first and last time.

Where we finally meet the king.

One could also argue, regardless of whether you take the world explored within the game as real or not, there is a bit of learning on the king’s side as well, as it becomes more and more clear that all his endless attempts at creating an everlasting legacy have failed, perhaps even when it comes to his son, who has personally (and unknowingly) destroyed all that the king thought was important. It could also be a lesson, then, about how as parents, we should not expect our children to live our lives, do our bidding, and be perfect cookie-cutter people that fit perfectly into our idea of what we’d like them to be. They will be who they are and do what is right for them, and like the king in the end, we have to learn to accept that.

And all of this is said by the game without needing to be delivered via text on the screen. Like Journey and Gorogoa, The Unfinished Swan's narrative, in being allowed to expand to meet the player's chosen interpretations, is given free range to be as big and impactful as we want it to be. Minimalist storytelling in games comes with some risks, as we've seen, but it also opens the door for the player to take ownership of the narrative and make it theirs, creating a dialogue between the developers and players that is both intimately collaborative and decidedly hands-off. It can be cause for confusion or breed a richer, deeper experience for the player—or both. In the end, minimalist storytelling can be risk and reward simultaneously: you have much less control over the player's interpretation of your creation, but the gameplay can certainly be made richer by giving the player more freedom to interpret the story on their own. It's not an approach that would work in every game, but I think there's room for both the Disco Elysiums and the Gorogoas out there to co-exist peacefully. They both bring something valuable to the table, and the players are the ones who win when game devs are willing to stray from the norm and give us more options, more gameplay styles, and more varied opportunities to engage with their work.


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I never really thought game jams were for me. First of all, as you’re perhaps aware, I’m a writer. (Surprise!) But more importantly, for the point I'm trying to make here, at least, I’m “only” a writer. Not a writer and programmer. Not a writer and visual artist. Not a writer and sound designer. (The list goes on.) For this reason, I didn’t feel like I had much to offer a jam team with "just" my writing skills. Despite being really interested in the concept and wishing I had what it took to join one, I kept my distance from jams until the amazing Tom Sharpe of Gossamer Games assured me that a particular game jam back in January would be the perfect first jam for me—and he was right!

But let’s back up for a second. What exactly is a game jam?

In a game jam, teams come together (sometimes pre-formed, sometimes formed at the onset of the jam) to create a game in a set amount of time. Generally all of the games will adhere to a theme that is revealed at the beginning of the jam. In the past, jams would frequently take place over the course of 24 to 72 hours, but in the evolving anti-crunch climate that more and more game devs are pushing for in the industry, so too have many game jams been extended, now sometimes lasting a week or longer. (Most jammers have full-time jobs to contend with while they participate, so the amount of work put into the game is often still expected to be around the same number of hours you'd be able to put into a shorter jam, you're just doing it on the evenings here and there rather than all together in one weekend.) The games that come out of jams are often only a few minutes long and pretty rough at submission time, but making a perfect game isn’t really the point.

So what is the point, exactly? Believe it or not, there are many, and creating often broken, short-play experiences with strangers has a lot more pluses than minuses to it in the end. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, not into jams at all, or on the fence about joining one, let me tell you what I’ve learned from doing them myself these last three months. You might be surprised!

10 Things I've Learned from My First Game Jams

1. You can work in a team of strangers—and have it go really well!

My first jam was a small, local affair with the Philly Game Mechanics. I think there were about 30 participants overall. As with all three jams I've done so far, it was run completely remotely, even with a group brainstorming phase and folks splitting off into teams. I didn't know anyone aside from some screen names I recognized in the PGM Discord server from time to time, and I was really nervous about finding folks to work with and fitting in, but before long, I and a team of strangers had a working concept and someone to fill every role we needed! From what I can tell, everyone who wanted to be on a team found themselves a project to work on, and each team managed to put something out at the end. Before this experience, I wouldn't have thought that was possible! Now I've seen it happen over and over again.

2. Upfront communication is key.

As I said before, what I have to offer my team is my writing, and I made that clear upfront. I wouldn't be able to code or make assets or anything fancy like that, but that worked just fine for my group. In fact, I had more to offer than I realized, as my ideas helped the team decide on gameplay mechanics and character styles as well.

In the end, everyone wants their team to succeed, so each person I worked with was similarly upfront about their abilities and limitations in their discipline as well as their time commitments, and it really helped our group create a project in the right scope for our team.

3. Jams are a great opportunity to learn.

I'd love to write for games professionally one day. I've taken classes, read books, and done my own exercises and expanded my own concepts, but collaborating with a real team was a learning experience I wouldn't have been able to otherwise replicate. I've loved the opportunity each jam has given me to work with a novel group of people and find new approaches to meet the goals we made together. Through these jams, I've been part of making wildly different games, and this not only taught me how to adapt my writing (both in style and tone) quickly for various projects, but the collaborative nature of the jam itself forced me to get better at communicating on Discord, using GitHub, and even doing some extremely minimal things in Unity. I know many of my teammates were similarly testing the waters with new software or approaches to their work that they wouldn't have felt comfortable trying in a more "serious" setting. Jams often give you the opportunity to branch out in a relatively safe environment.

4. Your portfolio benefits from game jams.

Speaking of wanting to work in the industry, obviously having some games—even short game jam games—on your portfolio is a great boon to your job hunt. Jams give you the opportunity to delve into different styles and genres with a quick turnaround. They also give you the opportunity to try things you're not sure you would like to devote yourself to long term, but now you've got the proof not only that you can see a project (or three) to the end, but that you are able to work on varied projects with multiple teams. I've already mentioned that the games I worked on were really different from each other. The first, organized by the Philly Game Mechanics as part of the Global Game Jam, was a puzzle platformer with a surprisingly sweet (and sad) storyline. The next was for the Game Jobs Live Spring 2022 Game Parade, and we developed a shooting game bookended with upbeat dialogue replete with puns. My third and final (so far) jam is once again with the Philly Game Mechanics, and my team has created an RPG-style game with a rich story told partially through interaction with NPCs. Adding these varied projects to my portfolio has really strengthened it overall and demonstrates in a very real way that my writing ability is broad and applicable to many different concepts and game styles. My friends who are programmers, sound designers, and artists feel their portfolios are getting similar benefits from their jam participation.

5. Jams helps you show off all those “soft skills” of yours to possible employers.

Speaking of portfolios and jobs, let's talk about how game jams can help represent the best side of you to recruiters. Picking someone at random, let's say you're, oh, me for instance. That means you're trying to enter into an industry that you have not worked in before. Sure, you have the skills you need to do the work, but not a demonstration of their application in this capacity. But now that you've done a game jam (or three!), you can prove that you're a team player, that you can work as part of a remote team successfully, that you're adaptable, can keep a schedule and meet deadlines, are able to work under pressure, etc. etc. and the list goes on. If you don't yet have a paying industry job to prove your skills to recruiters (and even if you do), jams can really help you represent yourself and your abilities well.

7. Jams can give you the opportunity expand your role and to try new ones.

In a game writing class I took recently, the professor warned that writers low on the totem pole often get assigned work within very strict parameters—meaning there's not a lot of opportunity to flex your creative muscles outside of the narrow scope you've been assigned to. Doing jams, however, has given me the opportunity to develop a concept with my team from the very beginning brainstorms to the exciting final product. It's been so rewarding to take that initial seed and alter and adapt it as our game develops and to work closely with my team to support the gameplay with narrative in the way that works best for our project. In jams, I have more freedom and control over the story than I would starting out at basically any larger studio, and it has really been an excellent learning experience. I also make a point to keep up with all the channels on our game jam team servers, so I get a really interesting view of each part of the development process in a way I never have before, and all of this together will, I hope, help prepare me for any "real" work I get in the industry soon.

In addition to the wider range of writing duties game jamming has afforded me, working on these projects has also given me the opportunity to branch out a bit to fill other roles on the team. One of the games I helped make is being adapted into a full-length release. As we work on that and prepare a demo to hopefully show at a convention later this summer, I have been doing more than just work on the storyline. I made a server for us to work in (which also lets me play with channels, bots, and other fun community management things), and I now do things like organizing our meetings, keeping us on track as far as timelines and availability, and drafting clear documents that outline the goals and scope of our project (all of which feels a bit like working as a project lead—small project though it is). I even got to help design some levels, and of course I have worked with my team to continue developing and altering the narrative throughout the further development of our game. I likely wouldn't have had the opportunity to wear (or even try on) these other hats if not for participating in that game jam and being part of this project, and I'm really enjoying the opportunity to try new things it has afforded me.

8. Jams teach the importance of understanding scope and setting realistic goals.

When it comes to game jams, you generally need to get your ideas out there... and then pare them down a bit. (Then perhaps cut them in half and pare them down again. Seriously!) We're all creators, and we all have big ideas, but those big ideas are generally not feasible in the time you have for a jam. Finding that balance between impressive and doable, however, is all part of the fun! It's usually better to have a simpler game that runs more or less smoothly than it is to have a grand concept with an incredibly broken execution. This is a lesson I think extends to every project, even outside of jams: understand what is actually achievable with your time and resources, and work within that to make the best product you can. My approach lately has been to generally aim low and be excited for the opportunity to expand if I get it, rather than aiming high and struggling to keep up or, even worse, spending time on things that end up having to be abandoned and/or getting cut later.

9. Jams can help you understand the biz... at least a little bit.

I mentioned that I took a game writing class recently. In it, we learned about the parameters game writers usually have to work within, such as writing for the pre-existing mechanics of a game, doing stuff that doesn't seem as creative (but is actually incredibly important), like writing barks, etc. At the end of class, the teacher asked people to honestly answer if, after taking the class and learning more about the game writing role, they still really wanted to write for games. When most of my classmates said no, I was shocked. The challenge, the frequent need to adapt, the struggle to get inventive over things like game mechanics and make them a living part of the story you aim to tell—all of that is such a thrill to me. (A frustration at times too, of course, but definitely something that excites me!) Working in game jams has only solidified that feeling for me. However, if I was one of the other people in my class, jams might have also helped me understand what I don't want to be doing, and that's ok too! Working on a game jam isn't exactly like working for a real game company, of course, but it can give you some insight into the cool stuff and the bad stuff, the struggles and the snags, and the frustrations and successes you're likely to encounter as a game dev, and you can feel out in real time and in a real way if this is something you would actually want to do long term. I know my answer, of course, and game jams have only made my feelings stronger. (You can read all my thoughts on working in the games industry here.)

10. You can make great connections.

Finally, people say over and over that breaking into the industry is all about networking, and what better way to make connections than to work on a team with people who have similar interests? Before 2020, a lot of getting to know folks in the industry was done face-to-face, but today, a lot more is happening behind computer screens, which is both frustrating and makes for interesting opportunities. I have now worked on teams with people in India, England, and Singapore, as well as tons of folks right here in my own city, and while it may have been easier to strike up a conversation with another dev by the bar at a game event in the past, sticking to local, in-person hobnobbing would have meant that I missed out on being a part of such diverse teams and wouldn't have met some of the incredibly talented people I've had the privilege to work with this year. After taking a risk and teaming up with those complete strangers in my first game jam, I can now safely say that I have several friends with great skills and bright futures in the industry. We've continued to work together and support each other as well as introduce each other to more devs near and far. It's really been a fantastic experience.

If a jam still doesn't appeal to you because you're not sure working on a small project is really worth it, then keep in mind that a game jam's end doesn't have to mean the end of your game. I mentioned before that one of my jam teams is expanding our game to make it full length, but we are far from the first to do something like that. Games that range from silly to serious and everything in between have been born in jams and developed further into full releases. Some favorites of mine are Don't Starve, Goat Simulator, Inscryption, and Superhot.

In the end, if you have any interest in working in games—or you just like to do it for fun—I can't recommend joining game jams enough. The connections you make, the challenges you face, and the successes you achieve are beyond worth it, and you can be anyone—even a writer!—and have something to contribute. I'm proof of that.


If you're not sure where to find jams, you can start over at the jam page on I also recommend joining the Discord server of your local IGDA or any other game dev organizations you're interested in.

If you want to see the games I helped make in the jams, they're over at my portfolio.

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Born and raised in small-town Arkansas, I grew up next door to a herd of cows and spent my summers exploring the woods and making friends with every critter I could find. While on those childhood expeditions, I wove stories around myself until I was shrouded in them completely; I became a hero of my own invention. Turkeys, deer, snakes, and turtles served as my accomplices, and together we completed quests, solved mysteries, and outsmarted our adversaries, though I was always just one shout from Mom away from being summoned home to reality.

Baby me with one of my new friends

I’ve spent my entire life creating and consuming stories, always finding comfort, adventure, and belonging when nestled within a world of imagination. Since I've been able to read and write, I have devoured books and written prolifically, but there has always been special kind of experience that felt uniquely like doing both at the same time: Gaming. Even as an adult, I've never stopped being captivated by my time spent exploring countless fantasy worlds, my controller or keyboard the key to realms that entertain me endlessly. Unlike anything else I've experienced, my time controlling a game character feels like consuming and creating all at once. There is nothing like it! I'm in another world, but the characters' choices are my own. It's invigorating and empowering and ever since my very first taste—when I picked up the NES controller at my older brother’s direction and flattened my first goomba—I've been hooked.

Those days of small-town living are far behind me, but I'm still a gamer and storyteller through and through. Of course, if you’ve been following my blog, then it’s no surprise to you how important games are to me. I’ve written about their social impact again and again. But while singing games' praises and even arguing that games are art, it hadn't yet occurred to me the ways in which games can contain art as well. Jesse Schell says in The Art of Game Design that “at their technological limit, games will subsume all other media.” As technology continues to improve, more and more of the human existence and artistic achievement will be translated into games. “You can put a painting, a radio broadcast, or a movie into a game,” Schell explains. And while games have only recently been considered a more “serious” form of expression, when it comes to creating impactful and meaningful games, Schell advises that “we have no reason to wait.” Games are it. They’re not the next big thing; they’re about to be the thing. As we dive deeper into rich storytelling, immersive graphics, and robust systems that make the game world feel like the real world (or as far from it as you’d like for them to be), games are about to be the way we tell stories. Not only that, but the way we live them, because there is no other form of mass-collaboration in storytelling like gaming.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that of course there is collaboration in almost any writing job. Making a movie, for instance, takes a team of people. Even a novelist, unless entirely self-published, collaborates with her editor at the very least. But writing a story for linear media is akin to giving a lecture or presentation to your audience, albeit often a very exciting one. You have the plot all mapped out, and your audience will experience it in the style, manner, and pace you dictate. It is delivered in a way that is almost entirely under your (or your team's) control.

But if writing a novel is like giving a presentation to your audience, developing a game is like having a conversation with them. The experience doesn’t work without a back and forth. Game developers create a story for the players, sure, but in the end, the devs and players have to work together for the product to be successful. The developers' vision will be both complemented and altered by their audience's actions and choices within their creation, and in this way, an experience is created that will be unlike any other player’s, and often even unlike any other playthrough. The story doesn’t get told without the player, because ultimately, the player is collaborating in the writing process as they play, whether they realize it or not. Unlike other media, a game is collaborative from first conception to every single iteration of its release, because each time a person gets settles in to play, whether it be the first time or the hundredth, a new story—even despite being in the same setting and with the same characters—will be written.

Additionally, when playing a game, the player is put into a position where she really has to be the person she controls. You’re not simply observing a hero’s journey but on one yourself, and the player feels that. On the Get Played podcast recently, the hosts discussed playing Disco Elysium and how their character choices affected them as players. After explaining how her heart broke after her character upset his partner in the game, Heather Anne Campbell went on to say that “video games really do something different than movies and books—a great video game, at least—because it’s your choices that are making you feel the way you feel.” She continues to say that in her recent playthrough, people in the game told her character that he was a horrible person, and she said it hit differently than it would if the main character of a book she was reading had been told the same thing, because she made the decisions that led to that point herself. “I’ll get engrossed in a book and I’ll feel terrible, because I’m projecting myself into the protagonist, but, like, it’s not because of what I did,” Campbell explained. This is part of the magic of games that isn’t easily replicated in any other media.

Of course, developing a form of media that the audience needs to interact with is a unique challenge and a special treat all at once. The player has to use what you give them, which engages their mind, their imagination, and their sense of fantasy in a different way than sitting back and watching a movie does. A player has to truly experience what you’ve built. People have long left movies theaters buzzing after the latest blockbuster, recounting every death-defying battle and witty quip by the heroes, but in games, the player feels as if they are the one winning the battle. They give the witty quips. They are the amazing stunt driver, kick boxer, dragon wrangler, pilot, explorer, hunter, or whatever else they get to be. It’s not that your audience doesn’t know they’re playing a character, it’s that gaming allows them to so fully transport themselves that in that moment, it doesn’t matter.

In short, gaming is unlike any other form of media. There is so much potential, not only in the technology and the utilization of narrative, sound design, and art and animation to evoke and engage, but in the industry itself. These past few years especially have shown us how games can bring us together. How they can be an escape, a lifeline, and a comfort. They can give us a sense of accomplishment. A feeling of power. An opportunity to conquer.

Gaming is a way to engage and inspire; it's an avenue through which you can help players realize their most fantastic goals and find a community with which to share them. And I want to be someone who helps builds that community, who is part of that forever-changing, ongoing conversation, and who gives other people the magic, the wonder, and that unmatched experience of gaming that I’ve been lucky enough to have had in my life all these years. I want to create together with players, to have artistic and collaborative conversations with them that create unforgettable experiences and stretch the limits of what media can do.

To put it simply, gaming has been a big part of my past and present, and with my love for the media and my skills as a writer, I want be a big part of gaming’s future.


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