A Game Jam at the MIT Pt.2

And now to the interesting part of my trip – the game jam at the MIT. If you didn’t read Pt.1 of this post you can read it here.

After getting up a bit more tired than usual we got breakfast and were ready to jam! We already knew the topic of the jam and I must say: I was quite unsure about how the jam would turn out. Because: first of all the topic is one that you wouldn’t necessarily think of in context of games.

Rik introducing the topic.
Rik introducing the topic.

So the main topic was Martin Luther and his theses he drafted nearly 500 years ago. But before we could get our hands dirty with drafting out our game ideas of course we had to introduce ourselves to each other. So the people taking part at the jam were shuffled together and played a round of a card game called Buffalo. It’s a easy to grasp game: You draw adjective cards and noun cards related to persons. Then first who comes up with a specific person and convinces the other people that this person exists gets to take the cards. After playing this for 10 minutes, and I must say this is quite hard if you’re in a foreign country and don’t know none of the local known people, we got the task to redesign the game in order to adjust it to our liking. We then had to explain why we came up with the new rules. And all of that in another 10 minutes. This put me under a lot of pressure first – but retrospectively i think that it wasn’t that bad. I got to know a bit the people I was sitting at the table through their opinion on the game and how they would change it. Which is a pretty interesting way to get to know someone I must admit.

After that we got a presentation about martin luther’s life and doings in detail. As I’m not that much of a religious person this was pretty awesome for me because that would give me more insight and Ideas to make a game about. If you also need a refresher on what he did i suggest you read his wiki entry.

After reading the entry at first you may think: “That is an impossible topic to make a fun game about!”. As i said earlier, i also was skeptical in the beginning. But I was reminded of something I tend to forget: If you look closely at a specific topic there is always a core you find interesting which you can turn into a game mechanic with which the topic can be made accessible to other people. And for me it was the translating of text. So one big things martin luther did was translate the bible into german so that the common folk could read & understand it. And that’s a big deal. Because translating information makes you the gate for that information. If you’re part of a small group that understands a text which a lot of people depend on you hold great power there. Thousands or millions of people will read or hear your interpretation of a piece of information. And thinking of that mechanic in the group we came up with a game that is related to martin luther’s work on the translation of the bible. It’s about interpreting (because translation often comes with interpretation) written laws / rules.

First set of cards for our game
First set of cards for our game

The basic concept is this: Every player gets three GOAL cards with goals written on them like “At least one adjective” “No word with less than 3 letters” “Odd number of words” “Use alliteration” and so on. These goals are to kept secret. Now the group gets number of players +1 RULE cards. These cards have a very vague rule written on them like “Blue socks are prohibited” or “You may own guns”. Finally the TOPIC card is drawn. This card defines the topic under which the rules shall be discussed and interpreted. This topic only serves to drive the discussion. Now the first player starts by picking a rule and suggesting an interpretation of that rule for example: I pick the “Blue socks are prohibited” rule and suggest it should read “Blue and short socks should be prohibited”. If i had the “Use alliteration” GOAL card i would get points for this interpretation. But of course my interpretation now is open for discussion by the other players. Each of the player tries to bring in his goals in the interpretation but also trying to not expose his goals so that the other player don’t know how exactly they can screw you in discussions. It was a pretty fun game in the end (way more fun that my vague description seems to describe but hey – you can interpret it as you like 😉 ).

Other games focused on other aspects of the topic of Martin Luther’s life. One game for example was about convincing other people of your idea while not being caught by a priest or even the pope. It had a awesome & funny system of keeping track of your health which you could also improve with beer (of course).

At around 6pm we finished jamming and each group presented their results. This wasn’t my first short jam but again I was amazed on what you can achieve on such a short amount of time.

As this post has already become way longer than i wanted it to become I’ll have to come to an end.

I would like to thank the people at Goethe Insitut Boston for having me and making this awesome experience possible. The same goes for the fine folks of the Game Lab, thanks for having us!

A special “Thank you” goes to Christoph. Thanks for showing us Boston like this. Thanks for organizing everything. Thanks for always making sure we found our way home and had a nice place to sleep. Be sure – that whenever you make it to Berlin, we’ll have drinks on my terrace.

Have a nice weekend everyone!