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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Western’s game-building event affected by online move

How WWU Game Design Club has used Discord to organize

WWU Game Design Club logo. WWU Game Design Club hosted a game-building competition earlier this quarter.
WWU Game Design Club logo. WWU Game Design Club hosted a game-building competition earlier this quarter. // Courtesy of the WWU Game Design Club

By Cole Mumper

Whether it’s the surge in Animal Crossing players or the quick sellout of PlayStation 5’s, it’s clear COVID-19 has not hampered gaming, and the WWU Game Design Club is no exception.

From Jan. 16 to 17, the club held their third entirely virtual quarterly Game Jam, and is planning to hold another in the same format next quarter. The game-building competition prompts participants to submit themes to be used as the basis of the video games they make in teams. 

The games made during the Game Jams are connected to one of the participant-submitted themes, which can range from a game type to an abstract concept, and are voted on by participants.

Anais Dawson, a Game Design Club member, said the minimum for themes is one, although it is not unprecedented to go as high as five. 

“People usually pick one theme or a combination of themes for their project for the game jam,” Dawson said.

Some notable examples include: wacky physics, massively multiplayer, transparency, contain it and endless runner.

One of the games created from the wacky physics theme was Schlurbie, which was made by Jason Cook, the Game Design Club social media manager. 

In Schlurbie, the arrow keys do not control character movements, but rather, the direction of gravity. The massively multiplayer theme resulted in one game needing a piano keyboard to be brought in, with each player being represented by three keys.

Since Western Washington University moved online, the Game Design Club has been hosting its Game Jams and other functions through Discord. Although the club struggled to organize itself at the beginning of the pandemic, WWU Game Design Club Co-President Connor Dole said it’s gotten easier.

Despite the club’s adaptations, club attendance has decreased during the pandemic with Game Jam attendance down to about half its usual 20-person participation.

Cullen Owen, a Game Design Club member, had to create his game, Contain it, alone this quarter.

“Game Jam currently isn’t team-based, currently Game Jams are more or less do something solo,” Owen said.

During the spring 2020 Game Jam, only four games were submitted, while the fall 2020 Game Jam saw only two submissions. But with three submissions in winter 2021, Cook is hopeful.

“I think students are finally becoming more comfortable with the club in an online format,” Cook said.

The WWU Game Design Club is not alone in its online adjustments. The Science and Media Museum of Bradford in West Yorkshire, England faces a similar problem as it prepares to hold its yearly Yorkshire Games Festival remotely from Feb. 5 to Feb. 28.

Rebecca Hill, the festival events manager, used a similar strategy as the WWU Game Design Club, shifting the festival online and meeting through Zoom and Discord. Although Hill says that they can’t determine its success until after the festival, she described the transition as a positive and easy experience.

While meeting online has its limitations, it also opens up new possibilities.

“The festival has become more accessible and has extended its reach beyond Bradford and Yorkshire,” Hill said.

Without travel limiting budgets or time, the festival has secured a wider variety of speakers and attracted new groups to attend, Hill said.

Dole said by hosting the Game Jams during the pandemic, they’re doing what they can to make this time a little more enjoyable and less isolating.

“Festivals and events, or the arts in general have never been more important,” Hill said. “At a time where people are spending a lot of time at home away from friends or family, or self-isolating alone at home, it is important to keep providing opportunities for interaction and engagement, even if they are online.”

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