What’s a Game Jam and Why is ADL Doing One?

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October 20, 2017

Recently, a video game designer was working on a multiplayer first-person shooter game at a small studio. Others in the company were building battle maps, weapons, and different avatars — but she was the only person to raise her hand and say, "What are we doing to make sure that folks who are playing this game online aren't being totally awful to each other?"

She decided to create community guidelines, looking at lists of hateful words to determine which words could or could not be used in user names. She looked at when moderators were needed to drop into chat rooms and how they would function. She also created a community of user moderators dedicated to the standards she put in place. Her goal was to get moderators to make sure players felt safe and respected during games. In the end, however, they could only keep one designer on staff and they chose the one who built the battle maps, weapons, and avatars, instead of the one who was building community.

There are many people like this designer doing good work in the gaming industry. At ADL, we’re eager to raise up and support their efforts. You don’t have to look far to know there’s a growing amount of hate online and in society. Just like any form of media, video games have tremendous influence over whether this bias and hate is challenged or normalized.

This is why ADL’s Center for Technology and Society (CTS) and the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (The MADE) have teamed up to organize a video game hackathon – a Game Jam -- this weekend, to begin partnering with the gaming industry.

A Game Jam is a marathon event where people who have the unique skillset to build video games do exactly that. A group of game developers gather in a room, brainstorm ideas based on a chosen theme, and rapidly prototype video game designs. Participants are asked to create a game from beginning to end in a set amount of time.

Our event will be a 24-hour-long hackathon where game developers will learn from ADL’s A World of Difference Institute facilitators about what it means to be an ally, and then they will build video games that incorporate ADL’s six simple ways to be an ally.

The Game Jam will kick off tomorrow evening in locations across the country, including Austin, Texas, New York City, and Oakland, Calif. ADL experts will judge the games based partially on how well they include at least two ally behaviors.

The winning teams will receive a $2,500 prize, an eight-week game development course in Unity or Unreal, and a Nintendo Switch or an SNES Mini. The teams will also be showcased at ADL’s Never is Now! conference on fighting hate and anti-Semitism in San Francisco on November 13.

“Games can unite people,” said Alex Handy, founder and director of the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment. “Everyone knows Sonic. Everyone knows Mario. I’m excited to partner with ADL, and to amplify their work imagining a world without hate. I think if anyone can do that, it’s the gaming community.”

For more information on the Game Jam, click here.