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  • What I Learned From Doing A Game Jam Every Month For A Year

    - Theo Clarke

  • Imposter syndrome CAN be quelled... but it can easily sneak back...

    Like many of my fellow creatives and game developers, I am no stranger to "imposter syndrome". During this challenge I realised that imposter syndrome gets worse for me the longer I go without creating something. In the hours and days after finishing a jam, I had a great sense of validation and legitimacy, and my imposter syndrome felt like it was in-check... however, that feeling would slowly fade and the imposter syndrome would creep back. And so, I found myself yearning to enter my next jam and to create something to fend it off.

    This experience has taught me that completing a project, even something as small as a 3-hour game jam, can really help. One of my games, Soarin' Squirrel (pictured below, created in Construct engine in 3 hours for Trijam #83 in August), was a shameless Flappy Bird clone. It was incredibly small and simple, but I still felt accomplished and legitimised as a game developer after making it.

    Soarin' Squirrel, created in Construct engine in 3 hours for Trijam #83 in August

    I also noticed that other jammers often have similar struggles, weaknesses and failures. This helped me accept my own weaknesses. If you suffer from imposter syndrome, I can highly recommend taking part in a game jam. Exercising your creativity by making something - even something really small - and realising that others have struggles and weaknesses, can be very beneficial to your own self-confidence.

    Its not always easy to follow your own advice...

    Anyone who has ever been involved in a game jam will probably know that there is a loose set of best-practice advice that its a good idea to follow. Things such as "make sure you get plenty of sleep while jamming", "design your game on paper before you begin developing it", "try and keep things simple so you don't burn out", and "use software and tools that you're already experienced and comfortable with". This is all advice that I would give to any first-time jammer, but I noticed pretty quickly that its very easy to forget this and slip into ineffective or even unhealthy practices.

    In November 2020, I acted as an industry mentor for a team of game design students as part of the Ukie Students Game Jam. I advised them to keep things simple, get enough sleep, and stick to what they know. But on several occasions throughout my 1-jam-per-month challenge, I found myself stumbling into bed at 6am with a headache and aching wrists from sitting at a mouse and keyboard for hours, knowing that I would need to be awake to do it all again in a few hours. I took on too much work and ended up having to cut things or change my plan half way through.

    I must admit that by pushing myself to work harder than I really should, I did achieve a lot and made some great games that I was very proud of - but I didn't always do it in a very healthy way. An example of this is my game Scrap City Scoops (pictured below, created in Construct engine in 14 days for Gamedev.js Jam 2020 in April), which was incredibly ambitious and one of the best games I made all year - but it was a very long and arduous jam which I had to fit around my job and it really took a toll on me. Going forwards, I will try harder to follow my own advice and hold myself to higher standards of self-care, and I believe other game developers should endeavour to do the same.

    Scrap City Scoops, created in Construct engine in 14 days for Gamedev.js Jam 2020 in April

    Sharing your work is essential for validation...

    Throughout 2020, I kept track of my progress via a Twitter thread, as well as sharing screenshots and links to my games with family members, my girlfriend and fellow jammers on Discord and This became essential to achieving a sense of validation, completion and accomplishment for each jam I entered. I shared my game Lazy Santa (pictured below, created in Construct engine in 48 hours for Yogscast Game Jam in December) with some family members, who gave it a try and let me know what they thought and how far they got, which gave me useful insight into the game's playability and difficulty level.

    Lazy Santa, created in Construct engine in 48 hours for Yogscast Game Jam in December

    Even if you don't think your work is great, even if its something super simple made in a couple of hours, even if you are just starting out and your work is not to the same standard as your peers - don't keep your work to yourself! Set up some social media pages, create a blog or a portfolio website, or join game art sites such as Artstation or SketchFab - whatever method you choose, its important to show off your work. You don't even have to make detailed posts or have a big following. Keeping it short and simple is fine - sharing your work should primarily be for your own benefit.

    The many benefits from sharing your work publicly include: gaining a sense of achievement, validation and closure by sharing a finished project; having a record of your progress over time to look back on; receiving useful feedback from peers; feeling a greater sense of motivation to finish something or create something shareable. Indeed, as well as hoping to share my knowledge with other game developers, a major reason for me making this blog post is to gain a sense of closure and make sense of my own experiences.

    Game development (especially game jams) should be fun and feel fulfilling...

    This is perhaps one of the most important lessons I learned, and one that I would really encourage other game jammers and developers to take away. Though I really enjoyed this challenge for the most part, there was a few moments where I had simply given myself too much work, or a longer jam was really stretching on and felt endless, or I scrapped an idea after hours of work or even abandoned a jam entirely. Game development and jams can be very fun, but can also be exhausting, frustrating or disheartening. It is important to strike a balance.

    It's fine to work hard if you are gaining something from it - such as fulfillment, pride or knowledge - but you should not force yourself to continue a jam or project if you are not getting any enjoyment or benefit from it. If you find yourself wishing to stop or gaining no fulfillment, rest assured that it is fine to abandon a project and move on, because above-all, game development and jams should be fun.

    In Conclusion...

    Before beginning this challenge, I already felt that jamming was one of the most rewarding and worthwhile activities a game developer could participate in - no matter their skill level. After completing this challenge, I am now absolutely convinced of this, and I strongly encourage game developers to join more game jams or take on the 1-jam-a-month challenge themselves - regardless of whether they are students, amateurs, hobbyists, or established professionals with years of experience.

    Thanks for reading my first Gamasutra blog, feel free to check out my work or connect with me on the following platforms:

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