Every time an in-person game jam rolls around, I find myself thinking about diversity, the lack of it at our game jams, and what can be done to improve it.
This isn’t unusual for me. I think about diversity almost daily. I think about the lack of diversity at game jams at least once a fortnight. And I’m constantly looking for ways to improve the inclusivity of the game development and game spaces I inhabit.
But sometimes, it’s not as simple as fixing the environment in a game jam site. Sometimes, we need to build something new instead.
Let’s play a quick game of ‘Would You Rather?’, the classic time-filler for any birthday sleepover, school camp, or bored lunchtime. Here we go:
Would you rather…
…spend $50 on a game jam ticket (meals included) for the weekend, or work 18 hours at your job and earn enough to cover your next lot of rent?
…spend 48 unpaid hours in a digital hub working on a (let’s be honest, mediocre at best) game, or spend 48 hours sleeping, doing housework, looking after your family, running errands, or whatever other urgent things you can’t do during the week?
…spend a weekend working on a game that (most likely) will be filled with broken, duct-taped code and hastily-created storylines than you probably won’t ever touch again, or spend a weekend doing some development on a more meaningful, longer-term project?
…spend $50 on a game jam ticket (meals included) for the weekend, or spend that $50 on your groceries for the upcoming week?
…spend an exorbitant amount of your limited-by-a-chronic-health-condition energy in an environment often neglectful of self-care, or spend a moderate amount of your aforementioned energy engaging in something else?
…spend 48 hours existing in a world which doesn’t acknowledge your outside-of-the-gender-binary self in their sleeping rooms, toileting spaces or their language use, or spend 48 hours in spaces that do.
For a lot of people, these choices aren’t really choices. They’re barriers, requiring a sacrifice of something that matters quite intensely to their lives and the lives of those around them.
In-person game jams are a pastime for the privileged. For the people who can afford to spend the time, or the money, or who aren’t dramatically risking their dignity, their safety and their health to participate.
Some of these things can be fixed by changing things at the site. Some can’t. Some are systemic, long-reaching, and complicated, and involve delving beyond game jams and game development into other issues. Issues of class, health, gender, race, access, privilege.
I’m not saying we need to get rid of in-person game jams. But we do need alternatives. We need online jams, jams with extended time deadlines, sponsored tickets for minority jammers, and mentors and workshops. And those are just the start. We need alternatives which allow people to experiment, meet other creative individuals, practice their craft, and build cool projects – but don’t require people to sacrifice their health, their safety and their livelihoods in the same way in-person game jams do.