iThrive hosts idea jams, paper prototype jams and 48-hour digital game jams at universities, organizations, and regional game festivals, with the goal of bringing together professional developers, game design students and high school teens to build games together using our science based, expert-developed design resources. Our jams not only demonstrate what kinds of games can result from these design concepts, but are also important events to foster ongoing collaboration and to facilitate mentoring relationships at multiple levels…and, they’re fun! These jams also allow us to test and refine our design resources with the help of the people they are intended for.
There are some key ways in which iThrive’s Game Jams differ from other types of Game Jams:
- Participant Groups: Combines three specific, key groups of people as attendees, to foster cross-pollination, mentoring relationships, and learning for everyone:
- Professional developers
- Student developers
- Teen developers
- Design resources: Offers iThrive’s science-based, expert developed design resources about designing for prosocial outcomes in a block of instructional content at the outset, with subject matter expertise on-site throughout.
- Strengths-based approach: Emphasizes a strengths-based approach to game creation as opposed to treating a social problem or emotional condition as a disease.
- Teen focus: Focuses specifically on making games for a teen audience.
Types of iThrive Game Jams
An Idea Jam is a 4-hour jam which includes instructional content about designing for prosocial outcomes, and focuses on the generation of a game idea based on that instructional content.
The host location provides the space, publicity, and owns the registration process. iThrive Games provides supplies (paper, writing utensils, stickies, etc.), facilitator, instructional content and materials, subject matter expertise available throughout, and snacks and beverages. Planning for this event can happen over three months.
The deliverables of this type of jam are fleshed-out game ideas designed with the benefit of the instructional content, developed for a teen audience. The benefits of an Idea Jam as opposed to the other two types of jam products we offer include a shorter time commitment from participants, a larger focus on the instructional content, and that the results are easy to share online.
Prosocial Prototypes Jam
A Prosocial Prototype Jam is an 8-hour jam which includes instructional content about designing for prosocial outcomes, and focuses on the generation of an analog game (board game, card game, or paper prototype for a digital game).
The host location provides the space, publicity, WiFi, and owns the registration process. iThrive Games provides supplies (office supplies but also gaming supplies like timers, dice, spinners, game boards and playing cards, etc.), facilitator, instructional content and materials, subject matter expertise available throughout, lunch, snacks and beverages. Planning for this event can happen over three months.
The deliverables of this type of jam are paper prototypes of digital games, board games and card games, designed with the benefit of the instructional content, developed for a teen audience. The benefits of a Prosocial Prototypes Jam as opposed to the other two types of jam products we offer include a focus on design thinking rather than on digital tools, accessibility for people of all ages and experience levels to be able to participate, and the fact that it works well in a situation like MagFest where people are constantly coming and going, and team members can tag in and tag out at any time. What can be challenging about this type of jam is that the deliverables are often difficult to share online.
48-Hour Digital Game Jam
A 48-Hour Digital Jam, much like the Global Game Jam, operates over a full weekend. It includes instructional content about designing for prosocial outcomes, and the output is a playable digital game prototype. It is the only jam type that is competitive, with judging and prizes; judges are a mix between iThrive team members with various disciplinary backgrounds, and faculty members from the host university or staff from the host festival.
The host location provides space, security, computer labs and appropriate digital tools (where possible), publicity, WiFi, and ownership of the registration process. iThrive Games provides facilitator, instructional content and materials, subject matter expertise available throughout, (in locations that do not provide free food, like Google) meals, snacks and beverages, and prizes. Planning for this type of event generally takes three to six months based on the logistical needs of a longer jam.
The deliverables for this type of jam are digital game prototypes. The benefits to this type of jam over other types include helping people learn or practice their digital game-making skills (natural mentoring relationships develop between professionals, students, and teens); the prototypes are usually easily shared online; and teams often want to continue working on their games, toward possible release. The challenges with this type of jam include time commitment for the participants, higher operating costs, and technological considerations.
Instructional Content and Materials
At the start of each iThrive Game Jam, regardless of type, there is an hour of instructional content presented, so that participants understand:
- Who iThrive Games is and why we host these jams.
- Explanation of our design resources and where they came from, and encouragement to share feedback about the resources so that we can continue to make them better.
- Important definitions of specific prosocial concepts, including what the concept is and is not (ie., “sympathy versus empathy” and “being nice versus being kind”) and examples of what the concepts look like in daily practice.
- How specific prosocial concepts can manifest in games, including specific systems, features and game mechanics, with game references as examples.
- Suggestions for what ways might help enhance prosocial concepts in games, and what things might take away from these concepts.
- Defining what a “transformational framework” is and providing guiding questions that help participants form a transformational framework for their game.
Participants are given hard copies of iThrive’s Designer Guides (from our website, and they can either choose which design guide to work with or use one that follows a specific concept, like the Empathy Jam we held at DigiPen), and transformational framework worksheets. Participants are also given the link to an online survey where they can fill out information about their idea or prototype and the contact information for team members, so that work can be shared later on the iThrive website. (At digital jams, online survey completion is necessary for the game to qualify for prize consideration.)
Key lessons on providing instructional content at Game Jams:
- Developers really like having specific game references to help inform their work.
- The design resources on their own are helpful, but are not enough; equally important and also required is information about the transformational framework (ie., What specific change do we want to see? What barriers exist to that change taking place? How will our game remove those barriers and also encourage change? Can change be measured?)
- It’s important to have subject matter expertise available to participants throughout the event. Not only do questions come up during the design process, but developers like to know that they are on the right track. iThrive team members hold several check-ins with each team over the course of the event helps them be more confident about the material, which in turn offers iThrive a valuable glimpse into their processes and intentions.
- Many developers fall into the trap of approaching the concept like a cure for a disease, rather than from a strengths-based position; this needs to be specifically called out and clarified appropriately at the outset.