Activity Ideas: Game Jam / Hack-a-thon!

Game Jams and Hack-a-thons are like National Novel Writing Month. 

But for games.

And shorter. 

Game Jams and Hack-a-thons are events where participants gather with a goal of building complete products together. Game Jams focus on games. Hack-a-thons are more generally about creating an app. We’ll use the phrase Game Jam for both in the rest of the article.

The idea is to create an intense, time-boxed period of creativity. 

Some common features of Game Jams:

  • Time frame. Traditional in-person game jams happen over a weekend. Virtual events can be anywhere from a weekend to a month. Set students up in a library or classroom for the weekend, overnight, or every day for lunch for a week.
  • Theme. Most game jams have a theme, to give creators a common starting point. Sometime it’s specific like “School Pride”. Sometime’s is purposefully vague to encourage creativity like “Lost and Found” or “Duality”. Sometimes it’s a specific problem areas: “Build games to teach basic math concepts”
  • Teams. To create the best experience for everyone, try to get a diverse set of participants: coders, musicians, artists, designers, organizers. You should have some experienced participants to help mentor beginners. In the middle of a jam you’ll often hear of late comers: “Hey, we have a new ___. Anyone need another __ for their team?”
  • Share. Schedule some time at the end of the game jam to allow teams to present their creations to everyone. Encourage them to talk about how their game relates to the theme, how they came up with the idea, how the short time affected their design and development process, and how different team members contributed.
  • Prizes. Some jams are just about participating and building, some include a prize component where the best projects are selected by the whole group or by independent judges.

To learn more about Game Jams in an Educational Setting:

Some public game jams to share with your students:

  • Global Game Jam is the premier worldwide game jam, held every year in January.
  • Games for Change host Game Jams as part of their Student Challenge.
  • host numerous community run game jams throughout the year.