Part-time Lecturer, Rutgers University
Adjunct Instructor, New Jersey City University
Social Studies Teacher, Valleyview Middle School
Matthew Farber, Ed.D. is a social studies teacher at Valleyview Middle School in Denville, New Jersey. He is also an Edutopia blogger, and cohost on Ed Got Game on the BAM Radio Network. Dr. Farber was a Woodrow Wilson HistoryQuest Fellowship, and he is a Certified BrainPOP Educator. Look for Gamify Your Classroom: A Field Guide to Game-Based Learning -- Revised Edition on Amazon and BN.com.
This Breakfast Club blog post is a follow-up to Afterschool Game Jams! which I wrote last August 2016. In it, I described what game jams are, including the "Moveable Game Jam" initiative. Much has happened since then, and I am excited to share it all with the BOOST community!
What Are Game Jams, Anyway?
Game jams typically take place over a weekend, and involve a theme, or specific content area. For example, this spring, NOAA is hosting an Arctic Climate Game Jam, in which participants meet to design games about issues affecting the polar regions of the Earth. Good games can be particularly adept at evoking emotions by putting players in experiences in which they must make meaningful choices. An example is EcoChains: Arctic Crisis, a card game where players build food chains on top of ice cards. If a carbon pollution card is played, you lose ice cards (symbolizing melting ice floes), which can threaten the species cards played. For more, check out this video.
At a game jam, it can be helpful for participants to play games, like EcoChains: Arctic Crisis first. Then give small groups a chance to design their own games. The design and prototyping process is fun, and it teaches 21st-century skills, like design thinking and empathy. After all, when making games, you have to think about the experience you want the player to have! For free resources on game jams, check out this website, and this video.
Moveable Game Jams
This school year I was helped organize a series of game jams for New York City Youth themed around social impact issues. It was supported by a grant from the HIVE Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust. I worked with Games for Change, a New York-based nonprofit organization that hosts an annual festival for social impact games each year. The core team was myself, Games for Change's Sara Cornish, and BrainPOP's Kevin Miklasz. The game jams also were linked to Games for Change's Student Challenge, an annual citywide competition.
Moveable Game Jams took place during Saturday afternoons over four different locations. This year, events were hosted at the historic Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx, the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, Brooklyn College Community Partnerships in Brooklyn, and at the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library in Manhattan. At each, there were partner organizations that facilitated breakout sessions (more on this soon!). We worked with several digital media learning organizations at each location, including Mouse, Global Kids, Coderdojo NYC, Institute of Play, Spazecraft, and Museum of the Moving Image.
How It Works
Each Moveable Game Jam begins with a warm-up activity. Often, it is a whole group game. The goal is to get kids to be playful. At one event we had participants play the reverse charades party game HedBanz. To play, you have to guess what silly picture is stuck to your forehead. Next, everyone made cards based on that day's theme. Finally, I led the group in a discussion of parts of games.
The second half of the mornings featured guest speakers. We had three major themes for our Moveable Game Jams. The first theme was Future Communities, and it featured experts from Current by GE. The next event was a climate theme, and included educators from NOAA and NASA. The final game jam was themed on Local Stories and Immigrant Voices, and was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as guests from two different New York City historical museums. Click here to find out more about the themes we used.
After everyone learns content from experts, pizza is served! Then, after lunch, afternoon breakout sessions are selected to attend. Typically there are four choices, each running twice, for one-hour each. Participants choose two.
Organizing Your Own Moveable Game Jam
Moveable Game Jams can be planned with a just a small team of organizers. First, select an out-of-school location, like a museum or library space. Then choose themes and community experts to bring in as guests. Finally, look for local partners to run the breakout sessions.
We used a collaborative Google Doc to plan everything. Aside from keeping everyone on-task, it served to ensure that each event had a variety of game jam authoring tools to choose from. For example, we wanted to make sure that there was always a board game remix station.
For more on the Moveable Game Jam activities you can run in your out-of-school program, look for our free Moveable Game Jam Curriculum Guide, coming later this spring!
For breakfast, I had buckwheat pancakes and turkey bacon, with coffee. Lots of coffee!
Join us for Matt's engaging Masterclass: Thursday, April 20, 10:00am - 12:00pm, click here for more information.
Game jams are like a game about making a game. Participants meet in out-of-school spaces to create a game in either one day or over a weekend. Often, game jams center on a theme. For example, in spring 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) organized a climate-themed game jams about water. The topic of water was part of a White House call to action regarding building a sustainable water future. I helped facilitate the climate jam held in New York City. Students met at BrainPOP's headquarters on a Saturday afternoon. While there, they created games using free design tools, like Scratch, from the MIT Media Lab. To learn more, visit Climate Game Jam.
Last year I began to volunteer with the Moveable Game Jam initiative, a series of student game jams that—as the name implies—move about different locations in the New York City area. The first Moveable Game Jam I attended was held on a Saturday afternoon at the Quest to Learn, a school in New York City co-founded by the Institute of Play. And this year we are teaming up with the nonprofit Games for Change, which will run the Moveable Game Jams as part of its Student Challenge program!
How to Host a Game Jam
In a game jam event, begin in a common space with all participants present. Start with a brief, whole-group warm-up. We often use one of the 3 activities in the Moveable Game Jam guide: 1) Hacking tic-tac-toe; 2) Using a part of your body as a game component; and 3) Using everyday objects—like cups and rubber bands—as playful objects. The idea is to get everyone familiar with the parts of a game's system: goal, rules, components, core mechanics—or actions of play, and the space games are played. In tic-tac-toe the goal is 3 X's or O's in a row; the rules include the game being turn-based, with one letter per space; the components are paper and pencil; the core mechanics are drawing X's and O's and blocking other moves; and the space is the grid. After this discussion we then ask students to add a rule or drop a rule to the tic-tac-toe, or to make it a 3-player game. The idea of the warm-up is to get everyone familiar with game-based literacy. A colleague of mine likened it to teaching the rule-of-thirds or lighting to a photography student. You wouldn't just give someone a camera and expect him or her to take perfect wedding photos!
The main part of the game jam takes place in smaller groups. We create a menu of 3-4 activities, running a couple of hours each. Students self-select where to go, and then rotate at some point. You should have at least one facilitator per room, and each game design tool should be different. For example, try the free digital game application like Gamestar Mechanic, or the interactive fiction authoring tool Twine or inkleWriter. Also have an analog—or tabletop board game station. Or try a fully nondigital game station, like modding (changing the rules) of musical chairs.
At the conclusion of a game jam, every team should share-out their games. This helps focus students on a goal to complete a prototype in the allotted time. At Moveable Game Jams we find that students who arrive in the morning as strangers leave as friends! It is a fun day for all: students, facilitators, and educators. After all, play is what occurs within the structure of a game. For more on the Moveable Game Jam activities you can run in your out-of-school program, check out our Moveable Game Jam Guide.
For breakfast, I had french toast and turkey bacon, with coffee. Lots of coffee!