The follow report has been written for PAXsims by Tristian Martinez. Picture credits: Tristian Martinez (Jakarta Peacegame) and Dr. Lindsay Grace (others).
Scores of immigrants begin a thousand-mile trek from Mexico City to the Texas border. A fantasy adventuring party is wiped after resolving to use plurality voting to guide combat decisions. An anthropomorphized uterus rafts down a river of blood to a heavy metal soundtrack, lifting taboos against menstruation. In 24 hours, these games and more were designed at the Newsjam, held jointly at the American University Game Lab and the University of Miami School of Communication.
Newsjams iterate on hackathons and gamejams, promoting games with calls for social impact as viable journalism. Topics are left to the participant’s discretion, and digital toys, scripted interactables, and games are all encouraged. Organizers Lindsay Grace, Andy Phelps, Lien Tran, and Clay Ewing are all veteran game designers with a talent for creating serious games that drive positive change. Their participants are young (mostly undergrad and graduate students), socially conscious, and diverse. Together, they represent a part of the future of serious games.
The Newsjam gathered nearly 30 designers to explore the “intersection of news, games, and community,” by “connecting people with the news and empowering citizen reporters.” Issues of local concern like decaying Washington DC infrastructure and rolled back promises of Canadian electoral reform lept from experiences to interactive media as Dr. Ben Stoke, co-founder of Games for Change, encouraged participants to draw inspiration from innovations and subjects in local news. Dr. Lindsay Grace followed with a crash course in rapid prototyping, advising participants to
- Use small concepts driven by big ideas
- Take risks and not aim for perfection
- Tack on 30% more time to estimates
- Discard broken elements
- Focus on core gameplay/experience first
- Focus on efforts with high impact/low investment
- Use the development cycle
- Efficiently use time by taking breaks, commenting on work, saving frequently, creating multiple versions, and reusing assets
- Reward themselves afterward
- Remember the 24-hour time period
- Choose a topic that won’t lose relevance
- Ensure that the project playfully engages audiences
Dr. Andy Phelps of the American University Game Lab delivered finishing remarks, encouraging experiential learning, engagement, and warning participants against using text-based information delivery.
Throughout the night, participants worked to design and test prototypes of their games. Tension filled the morning; one team ran through 7 failed prototypes before splitting into mutually supportive groups at 3:00 AM to pursue related designs. Another team started off strong and worked through the night, only to be interrupted by a game-ending bug that took 2 hours to identify and undid 4 hours of effort. A third team, consisting of a single programmer, finished their code with only an hour to spare.
Many participants at the DC location expressed satisfaction with their product, and multiple projects were proudly published online and added to portfolios. Unfortunately, the facilities and organizers were heavily geared to digital design, with little support for analog games. Additionally, at the DC location, AU students were not integrated with unaffiliated participants, creating a university/town divide. However, the demonstration of design skills and opportunity for development indicate a strong future for serious gaming, and a potential new audience for the readers and community of PAXsims.
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