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Nov 07 2014

The Movable Game Jam Initiative: Chicago Edition

The Hive Network Effect

As an enthusiastic supporter of independent games in Chicago, I was thrilled that Hive Chicago joined in as a sponsor of Bit Bash, and even more thrilled to spend the day representing Hive organizations who use game-like learning. Bit Bash drew me in with the festival games, the poster art, and the supportive atmosphere, but I left feeling most inspired by the number of young people who showed up, totally of their own volition. Although the event wasn’t planned with an explicit youth audience in mind, Bit Bash was clearly a place Chicago’s young people wanted to be.

In fellow Hiver Rob Lockhart’s recent blog post, What an Indie Games Party Can Offer, he turns this realization into a call to action for the Hive:

How do we bring youth into an event like Bit Bash? How do we help them move from consumers of game culture to producers of their own games? How do we create pathways for them to become the future artists, designers, and entrepreneurs the independent game scene needs to continue thriving?

Introducing: the Movable Game Jam Initiative, fresh out of Hive NYC! After receiving Hive funding to run game jams in 2014, the collaborating organizations are ready to share what they’ve learned and invite educators everywhere to join in.

What’s a Movable Game Jam, You Say?

When you hear the phrase “game jam” you’re likely picturing a room full of adults working, hacking, playing through the night to push forward the latest version of a game. A Movable Game Jam is not that.

For starters, a Movable Game Jam is designed for youth, not adults. It’s designed to foster deep learning in design thinking over a short period of time, and to do so by using games. Each Movable Game Jam has (you guessed it) many moving parts—multiple educators, organizations, and individuals coming together to put on an event to introduce youth to game design. You might be thinking “This sounds like a Maker Party…”, and you’re partially right! Movable Game Jams are like Maker Parties with more of a focus, both for the youth (who concentrate on one or two intensive games-based projects instead of many smaller interactions) and for the facilitators (who are using Movable Game Jams to build a community around teaching game design to youth).

The Movable Game Jam Initiative aims to bring these same organizers (and new ones!) together multiple times to host different events, in different places (there’s that movability again) with different content (and one more time). Organizers of Movable Game Jams also come together virtually, adding the lessons they’ve learned and the modifications they’ve made to the overall Game Jam Model to a living document, the Movable Game Jam Guide. This document serves as a guide to anyone interested in running a Movable Game Jam, and as the movement grows, it will too.

The idea for the Movable Game Jam Initiative emerged out of Hive network pop-up events, a game jam held at the Museum of the Moving Image run for youth by youth, and Iridescent’s experiences running collaborative game jams. It was clear in all these experiences that a collaborative element added an extra spark to events, making them more valuable not only for the attendees, but for the organizers.

Collaborative game jams are a great way to teach youth about game design, and to give them hands-on experience making and hacking games for themselves, but they’re also a great way for the adults hosting the event to get to know other interested organizations, educators, people and parties—to start developing or strengthening a network. While youth get to learn the principles of game design, design their own games, and play each others’ games, organizers are able to learn from and work with other adults also interested in education, game-based learning, and games. This creates an explosion of all kinds of good stuff, which the organizers share back to the initiative by adding to the live document for other organizers to read and use and comment on, and the learning and the sharing never end. Well. They never end as long as people are interested in this and contributing. So we’re hoping you’re interested and ready to contribute.

Do you do games? Do you know someone who does? With the number of Hive organizations already using games and game-like learning in their programs, we know there’s a community here, ready to answer the call of the Movable Game Jam Initiative and pick up the torch in Chicago. But have we cast a wide enough net? Are there other game design folk who should be at the table? And what does Chicago need to do or have or know to contribute? Really, the only thing we need to join the Movable Game Jam Initiative is a desire to run game jams. If you’re interested, you sign up, you get permission to edit the document, you read the document…and then you get together with the rest of us in Chicago to put on our own event! Plans are in the works for Spring 2015 and we’d love for you to join us.

Leveling Up: Games Pathways

Bit Bash shone a light on Chicago’s incredible independent games scene, and it got us thinking: How can we leverage the local games community to give Chicago’s youth opportunities to create the games that make it to these public showcases?

Hosting Movable Game Jams in Chicago could be just the first step. How might we use them as a catalyst to get youth interested, and then move them on to more intensive game design? One of Hive Chicago’s goals is to “cultivate and illuminate network connections to create learning pathways”, to show our youth how the things they already like to spend their time on can be pathways to future opportunities. So, what might a Games Pathway look like?

Start with Movable Game Jams. Host a few events at different sites in Chicago, introducing youth to game design through accessible, easy-to-learn tools.

Some of the youth get hooked and want to keep going. They’re directed to upcoming opportunities in the Hive network where they can explore games and game design further, maybe at Game Changer Chicago or YouMedia’s Library of Games Podcast.

For teens who are ready to “level up”, we can look to the STEAM STUDIO collaboration with Chicago Fashion Week for inspiration: What if we did a similar project with games, leading up to Bit Bash? It could be an intensive design workshop and game jam, where teens learn more sophisticated game creation tools and work on small teams to build prototypes, with the best projects making it to a Teen Showcase at Bit Bash.

And for our young people who want to pursue game design beyond high school, what kind of shadowing or mentoring opportunities could there be with local game developers? Or local colleges & universities? Maybe we find ways to connect our Games Pathway to the game development programs at DePaul and Columbia College, where our youth can advance toward a career in games.

This all sounds very aspirational, and it is! But many of the pieces are already there; we just need to find ways to string them together. Bringing the Movable Game Jam Initiative to Chicago can be the first step to a Games Pathway, and the youth we engage in game design today can become the creators of the favorite games we discover at festivals in the future.

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