A lost pilgrim in an unknown land
Arriving at this year’s Scottish Game Jam was a more surreal experience than I may have expected. 2012’s Jam is, for me, a serving of salad rather than a full fat roast. There’s no book to write today, just a passive pair of eyes with which to observe.
The Global Game Jam began in 2009 and is a driving creative force in the developing games development market - especially popular with students, the annual weekend in January allows potential programmers, designers, artists and other game creative types to form teams and produce a game from scratch in the space of 48 hours. Scotland’s premier Game Jam event is hosted at Caledonian University in Glasgow and today’s venture marks four out of four attended - but it’s odd for me to be back here after leaving university last summer with no degree.
Returning to a place of purpose with essentially a purposeless cause is odd, because you feel like the most maligned of aliens - at odds with everyone around you, with their books and their studying and their general sense of working towards someone. You’re a drifter in their midst, a contrast to everything they embrace at this point in their life.
I’m at the Game Jam to lend a hand and co-ordinate the Jam’s social media efforts. I help set up the livestream and I tweet from a prepared account occasionally, affixing hashtags from which they can be found by like-minded Game Jam folk across the world. The tweets all read the same - all hope, wisdom, bursting creativity, but the same nevertheless; sneering, whingy arguments about which hashtag to use litter the search results. There’s divine, mutual respect between each jam site, self-congratulatory but nevertheless deserved once the event is over - so their optimism and pedantry is expected.
The t-shirts are inscribed with dull, limp comedy scribblings: “AK-47: When you absolutely, positively have to kill every motherfucker in the room”. One of the other voluntary assistants is the worst sort of person, the kinda guy who you want to punch because he can’t balance a laptop on his knees, instead clasping it from underneath like Hamlet holding Horatio’s skull, as if that’s some kind of ultra-dramatic and important statement. I’m even more a pilgrim lost in a foreign city than this morning.
This year’s Scottish Game Jam features six judges - games writers Phil Harris and Tom Welsh, Channel 4 Games Editor Colin McDonald, game designers David Thomson and Alastair Hebson, and Crytek artist Liam Wong. Each come and go frequently, assessing the teams as they go, commending them on good decisions and prodding at the cracks and offering solutions of verbal plastering. The faces don’t change, either. Some appear a little thinner, some fatter, but one pattern remains steady: the eyes sag a little more, shadows become more prominent and their slouching postures a little more bent forward. Game development is touch, and the late nights spent staring and leaning forward in desk chair after desk chair have their effect with each passing year.
The loneliness of observing the Game Jam from afar, all noise and constant converstational static, eats away at you a little. A field of the industry I once found myself considering as a career choice now seems completely unfamiliar, like I’d never dabbled in it in the past - totally alien. It’s a little scary, and I find myself worried about talking to the people on the otherside of the hall in which the Jam is taking place, lest I find it too difficult to connect with them. There’s too much going on - too many cables, too much noise, too much raw heat from person and computer fan alike - to focus properly. The Game Jam’s furious energy, this year, is almost too much to bear.
As a pilgrim in now-unknown land, bearing witness to the energetic creative force and relentless noise that drives the Global Game Jam is, at times, overwhelming. But it’s always worth turning up to witness the transformation from desolate floorspace to mass of computers, monitors, backpacks, food, drink, keyboards, tablets, chairs and people. The resilience of these people is incredible.
As I type this, my neck is flaring up with dry flakes. My back is roasting with raw heat and my thighs are charred from acting as a rest for my laptop. My ears are numb from trying to block out the static with music. The alienation is becoming too much, and The Fear is settling in.