top of page
desktop resize 11.jpg
Home: Welcome

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.

Enjoyed this post? See new articles as they're released by becoming a subscriber.

118 views0 comments

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.


Enjoyed this post? See new articles as they're released by becoming a subscriber.

173 views0 comments

I’ve written again and again about the value I believe games posses. Gaming is escape, it’s catharsis, it’s exploration and adventure; in short, gaming is art. Much like a play or a movie or even a moving orchestral piece, video games too can represent an amalgamation of talents that, together, create something poignant, evocative, and awe-inspiring.

Not every game needs to be considered a deep, serious masterpiece to be valuable, of course. There is merit in laughing together with friends at a good stand-up show or freaking out over the over-the-top effects of an explosive, Michael Bay-esque action sequence, if that’s what you’re into, and there is value in games that contribute similar enjoyment. But sometimes you come across a game that is one of those masterpieces. And no matter how much worth you already see in games from The Sims to Skyrim to Overwatch (recent Blizzard news notwithstanding), there’s something special, something extra, about a game that makes you really say “wow.” One that takes you somewhere new, makes your eyes widen again and again in wonder, and immerses you completely in a new, unique, and incomparably beautiful world.

Journey does all of that, and it does it without a single word of dialogue. It’s amazing. You start in a beautiful desert landscape with little idea of what to do. Moving around instantly becomes a delight. Your character slides over sand dunes, marches uphill, hops up stairs and, soon, flies. There is very little instruction and almost just as little direction, but figuring it all out is part of the fun that not only leaves you guessing but keeps you breathless. What’s coming next? The only way to find out is to keep moving forward. The gorgeous landscapes continue to change as you and your silent companion—someone a near-replica of your red-robed avatar who, like you, only communicates thought lights and alternating tones—make your way over sandfalls, float through underwater-without-quite-being-underwater biomes, and navigate windswept clearings. You encounter creatures large and small, each more incomprehensible and dreamlike than the last.

And always, you move forward. My companion and I (I dubbed them “Longscarf,” as my friends said part of the fun in the game is naming all the creatures you encounter), moved ever forward, at times directed by someone I call The Owl Mother, who let us know the mountain is our ultimate goal. Despite having a defined endpoint, we’re free to travel and explore at our own pace. There are amazing sequences of being airborne and dipping in and out of twirling flightpaths, slipping and slide down sandy slaloms with feet dug deep and cutting paths into the dunes, and our robes trailing hypnotically behind us as we swim through the enchanted air along with floating jelly fish and whale shark-like beasts made of the game's ubiquitous and mysterious red scarves. With each new area discovered, a new environment is uncovered, neither wildly different nor quite the same as where you just were, keeping each segment of exploration fresh, gorgeous, and captivating.

For a wordless game, Journey is surprisingly emotional. Originally developed for the PS3, my friends joked that the developers’ aim was to do everything in their power to show how gorgeous a game could be on PlayStation, and from the graphics to the characters’ movements to the score, they succeeded. Not since Shadow of the Colossus has a Playstation game made my jaw drop at its realistic (while somehow simultaneously unrealistic) beauty. And for a game where not a single word was uttered, I was amazed at how invested I was in my character (and their friend) at the end. A Rock Monster (my name for the beast) hit my companion at one point, and I audibly gasped. Not Longscarf! It was hard enough to see one of the little scarf-creatures destroyed by the brute, especially as the game up until that point had felt pretty consequence free, so it was shocking to see any type of violence, but my bond with my companion by this point had run deep. Through our wordless communications—cryptic though those pleasant tones and halo-like lights could be—it was obvious that we were in this together, and I was pained and frightened to see any harm befall them. There's no real way to fight back in the game, so my heart thudded in my chest as Longscarf and I continued forward, avoiding the beacon-like gaze of the hulking Rock Monsters as they surveyed the passageway we had to make our way through. I watched over my friend like an anxious mother hen as we navigated our way around jutting structures and through broken tunnels, avoiding the danger I had only so recently realized existed.

Journey does a great job of keeping you on your toes. You spend your time playing forever unsure of what exactly is going on while simultaneously reveling in the gorgeous experiences taking place all around you. You think you finally get a full understanding of what this world will throw at you, and that's exactly when a new challenge arises. It's an exhilarating mix of wonder and curiosity.

That's why I shouldn't have been surprised that the Rock Monsters wouldn't be players' last encounter with adversity in the game. The terrain grows harsh as you grow ever closer to your destination, and as you and your companion strive toward the mountain, your goal, the endpoint of your journey finally in sight, you find yourselves slowed by bitter winds, your scarves growing stiff in the sleet and snow, no longer lively and illuminated, no longer designating your ability to fly. You lose your ability to “speak,” and you suddenly become aware of how comforting those beeps and boops and the bright, circular light and little hops and spins you two shared had become to you, how even though you were never truly sure you were going the right way, or why exactly you were going there, you weren’t alone, and you could say so—in your own way—to each other.

At this part in the game, as our feet sank deeper into the growing snowbanks, our robed bodies hunched against the frigid wind, each step slower than the last, silent we marched on, and my heart ached for us. We’d been through so much, seen such amazing sights, survived such unimaginable things, we had to make it… didn’t we?

To me, this is such a fantastic example of what games have to offer, of the emotional journeys they can take us on, and the evocativeness of the creativity and collaboration that goes into them. Other than the title and the credits, the game has no words, but it manages to wow you, to make you feel—it'll make you elate and worry, mourn and celebrate, and form connections with voiceless beings better than games with books' worth of dialogue sometimes do. The music swells and simmers, pulling you along magical, gorgeous like an orchestra punctuates what's happening on stage, and it does it in a way that's immersive rather than intrusive. Everything fits together in a way that makes the game feel whole and balanced, with no one element standing out to overshadow the others. Visual, auditory, and emotional elements intertwine seamlessly to create an interactive masterpiece. If you can play Journey and call it anything but a work of art, I will be amazed. But I’ve yet to find anyone willing to make that argument, and, I imagine, likely never will.

As an aside, one thing I didn’t realize until I began writing this article is that apparently, my friend—Longscarf, as I insist on calling them—may well have been another player. There’s some debate on the topic, but when I was on my first playthrough, I was sure the other person was A.I. They always seemed to lead me in the right direction, always responded to my tones and lights (and gave their own when I was having trouble orienting myself to their location), and would come to find me when I struggled to get to the right area. Were they an experienced other player, benevolently leading me to the mountain, slipping and sliding with me, dodging Rock Monsters, and battling fierce winds at my side like an understanding older sibling, showing me the way? Or were they merely a computer creation, helping me not to get too lost in this vast, magical desert, where it can be all too easy to get turned around? I thought the latter, and unfortunately I didn’t watch the credits closely enough, as apparently, if you do play with another player, their name will be listed there.

Darn. Guess I’ll have to play again (and perhaps even a few more times, just to be sure) in order to figure it out.

But whether or not that mystery ever gets solved, I'll be satisfied. After all, it's all about the journey, right?


Enjoyed this post? See new articles as they're released by becoming a subscriber.

16 views0 comments
Home: Blog2


Post List