Jam Session

Last week I tried to start in earnest on The Project — the big slab of rock that requires at least a full year of meticulous sculpting before it even resembles a form. Staring at that monolithic stone, still exhausted after a fortnight of open road, my shaking hands were in no mood to pick up my dulled chisel. As is usually the case, my friends helped me out of the funk. After a few warm gulps of The Good Stuff — Tyler knows his whiskey — we began a weekend-long game-making jam session.

Now look, I’m not inclined to argue the dictionary definition of game jam. To many people, game jams need to be an organized event, planned months in advance, with a hidden theme, many participants, and an exact time-table. But I like jamming whenever I can, screw your rules of timing and motif. Their goals are usually different from mine too: networking, bolstering a portfolio, or making a prototype for a future project. Hey, those are all good things and I’m not knocking them. But that’s never been it for me.

No, to me, a game jam is a giant blacksmith. Three-hundred pounds of soot, sweat, and muscle, hunched over a dirty whetstone wheel, barking as you enter his shop. He’ll yell in your ear for two whole days as he makes you grind your own tools on that stone. But God damn, when you leave, those blades will sing through the sky. Haven’t hand drawn characters in a while? Get sharpening those Artist Shears. Not sure how a physics engine works? Coding one in a weekend should make that Algebra Sickle nice and tapered. As you walk out his door, squinting into the first sunlight you’ve seen all weekend, exhausted from lack of sleep and proper nutrition — for all he feeds you is beer, caffeine, and pizza — you sigh with elation. Now your tools are ready for their next challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of fun during jams too. These sessions are my purest form of pleasure — a masochism that can’t properly be explained to outsiders. Even in the middle of the first night, exhausted from overwork yet still behind schedule, dehydrated from attempts to reach a Balmer’s Peak, about to throw in the towel so hard it smashes through the ring — suddenly, another round of coffee brewed, the problem that was about to defeat you gets solved, and your victorious enthusiasm turns the whetstone ever faster, confident now that any dream can become a reality on this adrenaline high.

Friends are required for the grueling task. And I couldn’t have asked for a better band. Our five-some is now a veteran crew of jammers, coming together for four sessions in the past couple years. We know this blacksmith well, grinning as we step into his hut.

And this weekend was no different than usual. It was fucking fantastic, there really isn’t another way to put it. I’ll post the game on the site this week, but I wanted to get across how irrelevant the final product actually is. Whether the game is fun, or even playable, has no bearing on the success of the jam. Right now, my tools are sharper, and I’m out of last week’s paralysis. Thanks to some good whetstone grinding, I’m now ready to chisel into that giant rock.

Image by Andrea Parrish