On game jams

This post is going up in August, and that’s the month for the summer version of everyone’s favorite game jam, Ludum Dare. But I’m writing this at the end of June, when there’s still a bit of drama regarding whether the competition will even take place. If it does, then that’s great. If not, well, that’s too bad. Neither outcome affects the substance of this text.

Ludum Dare isn’t the only game jam on the market, anyway. It’s just the most popular. But all of them have a few things in common. They’re competitive programming, in the sense of writing a program that follows certain rules (such as a theme) in a certain time—two or three days, for example, or a week—with the results being judged and winners declared. In this, it’s a little more serious than something like NaNoWriMo.

And it’s not for me. Now, that’s just my opinion. I’m not saying game jams are a bad thing in general, nor am I casting aspersions at LD in particular. I simply don’t feel that something like this fits my coding style. It’s the same thing with NaNoWriMo, actually. I’ve never truly “competed” in it, though I have followed along with the “write 50,000 words in November” guideline. Again, that’s because it’s not my style.

One reason is shyness. I don’t want people to see my unfinished work. I’m afraid of what they’d say. Another reason is the schedule, and that’s far more of a factor for a three-day game jam than a month-long writing exercise. I don’t think I could stand to code for the better part of 48 or 72 hours. Call it flightiness or a poor attention span, but I can’t code (or write) for hours on end. I have to take a break and do something else for a while.

Finally, there are the rules themselves. I don’t like rules intruding on my creative expression. In my view, trying to direct art of any kind is a waste of time. I have my own ideas and themes, thank you very much. All I need from you is the gentle nudge to get me to put them into action. That’s why I do a kind of “shadow” NaNoWriMo, instead of participating in the “real thing”. It seems antisocial, but I feel it’s a better use of my time and effort. What’s important is the goal you set for yourself. Climbing into a straitjacket to achieve it just doesn’t appeal to me.

But I do see why others look at game jams differently. They are that nudge, that impetus that helps us overcome our writing (or coding) inertia. And that is a noble enough purpose. I doubt I’ll join the next Ludum Dare or whatever, but I won’t begrudge the existence of the game jam. It does what it needs to do: it gets people to express themselves. It gets them to write code when they otherwise wouldn’t dare. There’s nothing bad about that, even if it isn’t my thing.

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