Gaming the night away

The Game Jam will be a fascinating experience for these students that they will remember for the rest of their lives


Towards the end of the year, University students from different departments get together to participate in a Game Jam. But what is a Game Jam?

Game is a term we are familiar with since we are introduced to games when we are born. It’s an activity that people play and which usually has elements of fun. Many of them give us a sense of pleasure, and we return to them repeatedly.

The word Jam is borrowed from the music industry and refers to the jamming sessions performed by musicians. Essentially, they meet up somewhere, improvise some music without extensive preparation and play cover versions of existent songs or even create new tunes.

So a Game Jam is an activity whereby various people from different walks of life get together to create a game quickly. Typically these Jams are held over a couple of days, and the participants have to complete their game within 48hrs (nights included). This task may sound daunting for many, but in the end, many declare that it is probably one of the best experiences they had during their studies. The reasons are various.

First of all, it is an opportunity to use all the theories learnt in class and apply them to a real-world task. This applied task is critical because students learn much more by getting their hands dirty than through the traditional classroom process.

Second, such an exercise will help to prepare them for life. The students that participate come from various departments. Those with an Information Technology background take care of most of the programming, the art students handle all the graphics, the musicians take care of all the sounds, and the writers bake an exciting storyline. In essence, a game is a multidisciplinary endeavour. Of course, these are just a few of the roles typically found within the group, and there might be others.  When people with such diverse backgrounds get together under pressure, different traits inevitably start to emerge. Some are leaders, and others are followers. But irrespective of these traits, what’s important is that they all find a way of working together. This exercise is an important life lesson because once they find a job, they have no choice but to deal with different characters whether they like it or not!

Third, the Jam has a stringent time limit. It usually starts on a Friday evening and ends on a Sunday (nights included). So one can imagine the amount of pressure these students will have to face to deliver a finished product in time. Combine that with the sleepless nights, and you get an explosive mix. Hence students will be urged to first and foremost take care of their mental health, take frequent breaks and ensure that they are in a good state of mind.

Fourth, throughout that weekend, they also learn essential life skills. They have to plan their work and execute it incrementally; otherwise, they will not finish in time. They have to be smart with their time, avoid reinventing the wheel, reuse what’s available and only create what’s necessary. It is a given that they will face many problems, yet they have to find ways to solve them. Essentially, this will get them to think and use their grey matter effectively.

This year will be the 10th year of the Game Jam organised at the University of Malta. The primary sponsor will be Gaming Malta, an independent foundation set up to turn Malta into a centre of excellence for gaming. More than 80 students will participate in the competition, all of which trained in various disciplines. For this Gam Jam, students will use the Unity Game Engine. A gaming engine is a computer program with settings and configurations that optimise and simplify the development of video games across different platforms. Unity is considered by many as being the top Gaming Engine in the world, hence why we chose it!

This choice also follows from another agreement that the Government of Malta just signed. It allows academics from different institutions to undergo professional training on this platform and subsequently retrain students in various courses.

The Game Jam will be a fascinating experience for these students that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, since it is part of their undergraduate degree, they will also get the best of all worlds:

They will learn the gaming theory through the course.

During the tutorials, they are taught the basics of Unity and gain enough knowledge to pursue the official certification.

The Game Jam will allow them to dirty their hands and start building their games portfolio.

So once they go out in the industry and seek employment, they will have a distinguished University Degree, a Unity Certification and hands-on experience! In an industry where there are 100s of high-paying jobs available, gaming the night away is the first step to secure one of them.

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