Looking back on April’s QUILTBAG Jam…

To continue yesterday’s thread of thinking about diversity in games, I wanted to do a little looking back on April’s QUILTBAG Jam, thinking about how the event went down and the games that came out of it.

I want to say, first off, big thanks to co-organizer Zoe Quinn, to guest jammer Christine Love, and to the lab’s own Rik Eberhardt for all their hard work helping to make the jam a success. Also thanks to Brett Chalupa for setting up the BMO site that allowed for archiving and remote participation and such; I think it made a huge difference! If you haven’t been to said site, drop by http://quiltbag.herokuapp.com and look around to see the games that people submitted!

This was our second year doing an LGBTQ-themed game jam, and I was glad to see the event grow this year. Counting both the jammers who were here on the MIT campus and those people abroad who made games, we had a little over 20 participants (and possibly more I don’t know about!). Many people were cross-participating with that weekend’s Pulse Pounding Heart Stopping Dating Sim Jam, so that was also pretty great.

Rik made a great Storify of tweets from the jam and I suggest giving it a read-through. We had a number of different projects and team sizes; also we had a bunch of both first-time jammers and jammers who don’t ID on the queer spectrum but wanted to take part and I think both of those things are fantastic. Also this is the first year we had satellite participation and that is awesome. As I said at the time, waking up the day after the jam and looking at the site was like Christmas, seeing these awesome games I hadn’t known about until that moment and getting to play them.

Not everything went according to plan. On the list of things to consider changing for next year is scheduling (we were within a stone’s throw of PAX East and GDC, calendar-wise) and venue (we ended up in a room on MIT’s campus that was harder to get to for non-MIT people than I imagined). Hopefully we’ll sort these out for next time.

Also on the “for your consideration” block: I’m really glad Zoe was there, since she has a lot of experience running these kinds of events and I don’t. Most of what I know about game jams comes from the Global Game Jam style of affair which is how we ran things at last year’s Gayme Jam; it’s a little more regimented, with voting on projects and sorting into teams and the like. And that’s okay! For some jam contexts that works great. But at Zoe’s suggestion we ran the QUILTBAG Jam much more informally and the more I reflected on that the more necessary I think that decision was.

Why? I want to draw attention to some tweets of Courtney Stanton’s from the day of the jam itself:
https://twitter.com/q0rt/status/320537896832606208
https://twitter.com/q0rt/status/320538208670740481
https://twitter.com/q0rt/status/320538612724813825

Those tweets right there really articulate part of why we wanted to have this sort of jam in the first place, and why I think the more stratified way of approaching jams that works for other jam contexts might not work so well for something like QUILTBAG Jam. I think what we really want to do with this sort of jam is make a space where people feel like they can play around with ideas about queerness in games. Part of that involves feeling like you’re in a safe space, where talking about/expressing these ideas won’t just be not criticized, but actively welcomed and encouraged. I want to think that we managed to accomplish that with this year’s jam.

It also says something that the first REAL thing we did, the non-mingling thing, was to play Crystal Warrior Ke$ha as a group, including Christine getting to the front of the room and reading the narrative with great passion while the crowd disagreed over which ways to be awesome. And after we were done, there was an energy in the room that ran all the way through the event. Darius Kazemi recorded the whole affair, and it’s worth listening to, believe me.

As for the games… I could gush about them forever but the best thing for you to do is go play them! We’ve got a range, from totally silly, to biting and hilarious social commentary, to some personal explorations of queerness and identity that hit pretty hard. We’ve got formats ranging from a set of board game rules, to Twine games, to a puzzle game made in Perlenspiel. That we got such a wide range out of the jam is really awesome, to me.

I wonder how we’re gonna top all this next year!

PS: Raghav Bashyal (@raghaaav on twitter), a game designer and student of games at USC, recently tweeted to let me know he’s hoping to set up a QUILTBAG Jam on their campus and is already reaching out to people at other California colleges to see if they will too. I can’t wait to see what they produce!

PPS: If you’re interested, we devoted an entire Friday Games to looking through the various QBJ games:

Todd Harper is a researcher at the MIT Game Lab with a background in mass communication and cultural studies. His current research focuses on both competitive communities and their cultural norms, as well as queer and gender representation and issues in gaming culture. A game made as part of his research, "A Closed World," was an IndieCade finalist in 2012 and his book on competitive fighting game players, The Culture of Digital Fighting Games: Performance and Practice, was recently published by Routledge.

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