Thinking about participating in a game jam? Excellent choice — there’s nothing like spending two or three days pushing yourself to the limit to create something unique. While you’re at it, you might want to ensure you don’t go right past those limits. Here are a few ideas to help you have a good time without sacrificing your physical or mental health in the process.
Decide why you’re there. Think about why you’re participating ahead of time, and refer back as the game jam progresses. Are you there to challenge yourself and see what you can do in a hurry, just to learn with no pressure? Are you there to be part of a group project? Are you there for a charitable cause? Are you there to have fun trying to create something? Remembering why you’re there may take some of the stress off of you. If you’re there just to have fun but start obsessing over details, you might have a better time if you remind yourself to enjoy the experience instead of trying to make the perfect game.
Put your health first. Since game jams require you to come up with results in a short period of time, it’s tempting to give up sleep, skip showers, and eat whatever junk you can find easily at hand. That can be rough on both your mental and physical health, so try to practice self-care while you work. Consider keeping your game’s scope limited to what you can create while still keeping yourself fed, getting enough sleep, taking your medications, keeping on top of your hygiene — anything that helps you stay on track normally. And be sure to move around and stretch every once in a while.
Don’t sweat the details. You might prefer that your creations be absolutely perfect before releasing them to the world, but you may want to set that aside for the duration of the jam. Aiming for perfection can make the game jam experience a lot more stressful, and it’s a recipe for conflict if you’re working with other people. Game jams are an opportunity to throw perfectionism out the window for a little while and see what happens when you relax your standards – you might be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Use the tools that are available. You might worry that you don’t have the technical know-how or artistic skills to join a game jam, but that’s usually not a problem. Take a look at the rules of the jam before you start. Most allow you to use game engines like Twine, RPG Maker or Unity. Many also let you use existing music and art assets. Generally speaking, no one expects you to run yourself into the ground trying to build everything from scratch, and successful game jam participants often make liberal use of whatever resources they’re allowed. No one will judge you or think you’re a fraud for doing the same, and you shouldn’t either.
Participate in the social side. For a lot of people, the best part of a game jam is the feeling of participating in something bigger than themselves. For a couple days, you’ll be part of a community all working toward similar goals. That can start with putting together a team. You might be allowed to use resources, but if you’d like to work with people who have skills that complement your own, it never hurts to ask if they’re interested. Once the jam begins, there are more opportunities. If you’re attending a jam in person, you can introduce yourself, reach out to others, and exchange ideas with people who are open to it. If you’re joining a global jam from home, consider following other participants online, tracking the event’s hashtag on twitter, and sharing your own thoughts and progress. You can even ask for support if you need it. Everyone has their own game to create, but people are often willing to cheer you on if you need a boost.
Don’t worry about failing. For every successful game jam entry that works from start to finish, there are many that don’t quite reach that point. Even if you don’t manage to get an entry together before the deadline, it’s no big deal. The important thing is that you tried — really. Game jams are as much about the process as the result, so it’s better to get something out of the experience than to turn in a finished project at the cost of your own well-being. If you do manage to put together a functional game and submit it, be proud — that’s a genuine accomplishment! But so is setting out to do the best you can, learning something new, or making friends and connections with other participants.
Have fun! The looming deadline might be stressful, but try to remember why you decided to participate. Beyond that, game jams should be fun! They’re a chance to try something new, stretch yourself creatively, and — hopefully — come out the other side having created a game. The stakes aren’t usually very high, so give yourself a chance to have a good time with it. You’re dedicating your weekend to the task, after all, so you deserve to enjoy yourself!