Game jams and the importance of practice...
It's now one week on from Global Game Jam 2016. As an academic who is predominantly concerned with teaching and (where possible) writing, I think it's important to reflect on just how crucial it is that we, as educators in Game Design, are actually involved in game development practice. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running of game development activities for students (delivering lectures, running labs, organising projects for students etc.) and forget that we, too, are supposed to be makers.
Game jams are a great way to reconnect with focused game making, even if it is only for a very short period. While the norm seems to be for academics to plan, manage, and run game jams, this seems to me to be not only a missed opportunity, but also somewhat at odds with what we are supposed to be specialists in. When we spend a significant proportion of our core working week facilitating learning opportunities for our students, it seems fair to me that we should use jams to practice our core skills.
While it is one week on from the latest Global Game Jam, it is now more than eight years since I was employed full time in the games industry. When I was creating game art five (six) days a week, my digital art skills were much sharper than they are today. It's simply not possible to maintain a deep level of knowledge of digital arts practice when you are not practicing frequently. In reality, Game Design academics are never going to be as skilled as professionals, as our jobs involve different roles and responsibilities. But we really do need to find the time to make games, or else we'll quickly lose touch with the very subject we are educational specialists in.
My suggestion would be that, where possible, we use Game jams as an entry route into game design practice. We will of course have to plan and run jams but, given the frequency with which jams take place, we should look to spread this burden across our academic departments, so everyone gets a turn to participate.
Game jam participation not only provides an opportunity to enhance and develop our practical skills, but also allows us to work directly with our students as peers. Indeed, I'd strongly encourage all Game Design academics to not only participate in game jams, but form teams with their students. This is arguably one of the best collaborative learning experiences we can facilitate: for both the students, and the academics!