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22,000 people. 73 countries. 4,250 games. 1 Global Game Jam.

Empty coffee cups and crum­pled fast food wrap­pers lit­tered the desks of North­eastern University’s Dig­ital Media Com­mons on Sunday after­noon as 115 people began to resur­face from a 48-​​hour game designing reverie. A young woman dazedly moved a half-​​full case of instant noo­dles from a clut­tered sur­face to an empty one. An elec­tric teapot sat cold in a far corner beside a tangle of gui­tars and portable key­boards that looked as if they’d been aban­doned after a long night’s jam session.

And essen­tially, that’s just what this was. Only, instead of playing a few tunes together, these folks had been game jam­ming. On Friday after­noon a motley crew of coders, designers, writers, and elec­tronic musi­cians gath­ered in Snell Library, where they waited atten­tively for the big reveal: the theme of this year’s Global Game Jam, an inter­na­tional rapid-​​fire game devel­oping event cre­ated by Susan Gold, North­eastern Pro­fessor of the Prac­tice in Game Design.

That theme turned out to be a quote: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” The adage com­monly attrib­uted to the Amer­ican author Anais Nin was meant to inspire 22,000 game jam­mers par­tic­i­pating at 488 sites across 73 coun­tries to create games—a col­lec­tive total of 4,250 games, in fact. Jam­mers were also free to incor­po­rate optional challenges—also known as diversifiers—into their games; among them were “honor Aaron Schwartz” and “Homo sapiens are boring.”

“When I heard the theme I liked the idea of having the power to con­trol what hap­pens in the world based on how you see it,” said Chris Ger­mano, a senior com­puter sci­ence major. “Con­vincing people and using that col­lec­tive view­point can change how the world is reflected, because when enough people agree on some­thing it’s gen­er­ally accepted to be truth.”

Germano’s game, which he devel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with fellow com­puter sci­ence seniors Duncan MacLeod, Zach Fand, and Justin Yang, chal­lenged players to con­vince an eerie pop­u­la­tion of urban walkers that an apoc­a­lypse is immi­nent and imme­diate. “The way it fits into the theme is if you get enough people to believe the world is going to end, the world does end,” MacLeod said.

But given the nature of the event, Doomsday, as this game was called, had very little in common with the other 20 games devel­oped at North­eastern over the weekend despite fol­lowing the same theme. Each group nat­u­rally inter­preted the theme differently.

One group went lit­eral, devel­oping a game that required players to con­trol their own drooping eye­lids as they lis­tened to a boring boss drone on about strate­gies and low-​​hanging fruit, all the while being dis­tracted by flying uni­corns and stray devil-​​robots.

Another group took a philo­soph­ical route, imag­ining the world as an eternal train ride during which block-​​headed pas­sen­gers enter and exit the vehicle, trig­gering the game player’s dating appli­ca­tion to ding on their vir­tual iPhone. Players were then asked to judge the other pas­sen­gers for their “date­ability.” Depending on the player’s selec­tions, the game would progress differently.

Some teams didn’t manage to finish their games, but orga­nizers said building some­thing spec­tac­ular isn’t the point of a game jam. Rather, it’s to col­lab­o­rate with people—oftentimes others they’re meeting for the first time—with a variety of skill sets and who come from dif­ferent dis­ci­plines in a intensely con­cen­trated manner for a couple of days to see, just see, what you can come up with.

As Richard Lemarc­hand, an acclaimed game-​​designer and one of the keynote speakers, said at the begin­ning of the weekend: “Don’t be afraid to fail—by cre­ating it you will learn some­thing about making games and then the next time you make a game you’ll be much more likely to make some­thing truly brilliant.”

The games can be viewed here and down­loaded here.

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