It’s not often you see students giving up a weekend in the pursuit of art.
But such was the case in late January, when approximately 50 University of Denver students joined other members of the city’s game-making community for the 2014 Global Game Jam, a worldwide event that challenges teams to make a playable video game in 48 hours.
DU was a game jam host site — the only one in Denver — for the fifth year, welcoming 95 game makers to the technology-rich second floor of the Shwayder Art Building. Participants arrived with laptops, notebooks, pillows and blankets as they prepared for a weekend of game making.
The event began the evening of Friday, Jan. 24, with a video welcome that played to game jam teams around the world. Participants divided into teams later that night and worked until Sunday afternoon, when each team walked the larger group through its game. Game creators in Denver finished the challenge with 20 completed games, some of which may go on to further development and possible commercial distribution.
“I think everybody who participated felt like they learned something,” says Rafael Fajardo, an associate professor in the University’s Emergent Digital Practices program and organizer of the DU host site. “That’s really important for me, that they value this as a learning opportunity, a way to stretch themselves.”
Many of the University of Denver students who participated were computer science majors — DU was the first four-year university to offer a degree in game development — but not all. Some were Lamont School of Music students who helped set up a service bureau to provide sound and music for the games being created. It’s all evidence, Fajardo, says, of the community he’s trying to create via the game jam.
“We’re trying to create a community of game makers and contribute to the one that already exists in Colorado,” he says. “We have novices come and we have experts that come, and by not making it a competition, that lowers the barriers between the novices and the experts, so they’re willing to work with each other and share each other’s expertise and experience. For me, that’s crucial in creating a multigenerational community.”
For students looking to enhance their resumés, the weekend had an even more tangible benefit: real-world experience designing a game from scratch, under a tight deadline.
“Crunch time is not something you would want to do all the time, but it’s still a good skill to have,” says game development major and game jam participant Scott Davis. “It also allows you to have a valid addition to your portfolio. When people say Global Game Jam, it’s like, ‘Yes, I know what that is.’ It’s valid, and it will almost always be a positive aspect of your portfolio. It allows for a little bit of uniqueness on your application. There’s a lot of upside for a student to do it.”