Gaming gets serious at the Pittsburgh Global Game Jam

Kids+Creativity Network member Heather Mallak reports from the front lines of the 48-hour game design challenge

In 2008, a conversation between two strangers with a passion for gaming resulted in a revelation–the global expansion of an existing Nordic Game Jam. The first Global Game Jam (GGJ), a project of the International Game Developer’s Association (IGDA), was impressive enough with participants from 55 locations. Last year, GGJ set the Guinness World RecordTM for being “The Largest Game Jam in the World”. This past weekend, marking the 5th year, 11,000 individuals from 55 countries across the world created 1,000s of games.

Organized by three members of the local chapter of IGDA–Sabrina Haskell Culyba, Gabe Yu and Manoj Anand, Pittsburgh has participated in the past three GGJs. On Friday, January 25th, local jammers committed to being “all in” for the 48 hour game building event, held at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh (AIP). AIP’s centralized downtown location, dozens of computer labs and strong Game Art + Design program made them a fitting host. With a capacity for 120 participants, GGJPGH 2013 maxed out quickly. In addition to a t-shirt and the jamming opportunity, meals and snacks were provided all weekend. Beyond students from AIP and Carnegie Mellon University, aspiring and professional Artists, Computer Scientists, Game Designers and Developers brought their laptops, accessories, sleeping bags, deodorant and “creativity, collaborative spirit, and good humor.”

Each year, with a purpose to inspire and create common ground, a “theme” is announced to participating teams. Local gamers formed 24 teams–newbies and seasoned jammers alike worked with the theme, a sound file of a beating heart and some suggested parameters or “diversifiers,” including:

  • Stay Inside The Box: The whole game takes place in just one screen.
  • Inclusive: The game is specifically designed to include people with a given disability.
  • Bigger Picture: The game touches on a political, environmental or social issue.

Sabrina invited three impressive judges to sacrifice their Sunday evening to offer guidance, insight and suggestions to the games creators. Jen Stancil from WQED, Jesse Schell of Schell Games and Tom Murphy VII from Google Pittsburgh spent hours serpentining through the space briming with twentysome games and their makers. Sabrina spoke to the event’s building success–“The Pittsburgh Global Game Jam has grown from 50 participants in 2010 to 117 this year. Every year the range of games gets more varied- this year more than ever we had an innovative mix of game inputs- teams created a Microsoft Kinect Game, a Sony Move game, an Android tablet game, 2 games that used USB controllers, and even a game that detected a player doing pushups.”

Numerous awards were given–by judges for specific merit, conditions created by sponsors or from the organizers for boldness and risk-taking.

In true immersive judging style, Google’s Tom Murphy VII strapped the oversized MaKey MaKey heart onto his chest and performed push-ups while another player tried to grab bouncing bacteria with chopsticks, via mouse clicks. The team succeeded with three diversifiers: Stay Inside The Box, No cheating (please), Approved for All Audiences. They worked in Windows platform, developed in Unity and used MaKey Makey and mouse as input devices.

MozGames sponsored seven local jams including Pittsburgh’s. Their mission is to promote the web as a platform and acknowledged some games, including Guinea Pig from small a Pittsburgh team, that succeeded in building a “no plug-in needed” web-friendly experience.

Beyond the experience of the weekend, many opportunities are afforded to GGJ participants. Worldwide sponsors provide “hook-ups”–Facebook promotes jammer resumes for the next month, Microsoft encourages numerous ways to engage with the company, the new Mozilla Game_On competition has sweet prizes for web-based games as well as an extensive list of promotions from top game industry companies.

This year’s GGJ teams will publically showcase  in April at the Geek Art / Green Innovators (GA/GI) festival on Penn Avenue.

The team/makers of the game hold all intellectual property rights though by participating and submitting their games, they also agree to Creative Commons Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike, making the source code and assets to many of the games available for other game designers.


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