Take Care Game Jam Postmortem

As a game maker living with chronic pain, I’m intensely interested in both game jams and self-care. So it was incredibly heartening and fascinating to hear Stephanie Fisher and Kara Stone’s talk on their wellness-focused Game Jam, Take Care.

Their talk focused on how to run a game jam that takes care of its participants, and that also got me thinking about how game jammers can take those lessons into their own personal jam practice.

Here are my actual notes from the conference:

handwritten notes on lined paper

“An interventionist approach to running game jams by including wellness”

Before going into how to incorporate Take Care’s ethos into your own game jam participation, I want to acknowledge that the most powerful thing the jam did was to create an intentional, supportive, and safe community. One that was specifically for women and non-binary game makers. If you are interested in creating such a place for a game jam, then the notes above should be helpful to you. There’s power in community.

More game jams should begin with a group-viewing of a documentary on the topic, continue with jammers hanging out and eating together, and end with everyone potting a seed to take home. Unfortunately, they don’t.  Most jams are disparate, online, and macho affairs. So then how do we take the lessons of Take Care into the wider wilder world of Ludum Dare, GGJ, and all the rest?

First off, focus on process over product.

Take Care is unjudged, and not all participants created a “final” product. This is great! Focusing on finishing or making something “great” are false idols – especially for a one-weekend project. If you’re too focused on what you’re making, it’s impossible to focus on how you’re making it. And since we’re talking about self-care, the important thing is how you do whatever it is that you’re doing.

What does disregarding results in favor of process look like for a game jam? Remove yourself from judging & ratings. If the site doesn’t allow you to, maybe post a comment saying something like, “Hi. Thanks for checking out my game. I’m not interested in the ratings above so please don’t rate the game! But feel free to comment below as much as you’d like :-)”

By removing the stress of “doing well” by the jam’s (and internet strangers’) standards, you can be open to defining your own success: learning a new tool, making a new friend on twitter, learning something about the world or yourself through your research, etc.

After discarding the yoke of “accomplishment,” you can more easily physically take care of yourself.

I no longer sacrifice sleep for game jams. It’s not a possibility for me to work 12 hour days even for “just” one weekend. Walks are necessary. Breaks are necessary. Healthy food and nutrients are necessary. If you want your inner artist to take care of you, you have to take care of them, too.

Take Care took place in a public library that wasn’t open past 9pm (if I remember correctly). They had healthy(ish) food brought in. They had optional group yoga twice a day. You can do all this for yourself during a jam, too!

It’s OK to not work till midnight every night. It’s OK to not push through exhaustion by downing energy drinks. It’s OK to stretch your legs and give yourself a break.

Remember, you’re not focused on the what, you’re focused on the how. The process and taking care of yourself is more important than the end result. The good news is that even though this can be difficult, the amount of compassion and care you show for yourself is completely up to you. You can do it. And if you try your best and it doesn’t go as you planned, that’s OK too. A lot of this is very counter to how game jams are traditionally practiced so it may take some time for you to find your groove. The important thing of course is to keep trying.

As always, feel free to reach out on twitter if you want to talk more about this stuff. I’m happy to discuss any and all of this further!

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