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If you've been in TRPG General Chat before, you may have seen BESW share a link to a "jam" on itch.io that's about tabletop games. Curious, I went to itch.io and there is a Game Jams tab where you can browse all of the currently active jams. From what I can gather, it is some sort of event where users submit games they have designed for...something, and I am curious about the details. It seems to be something people regularly organise for tabletop RPGs. I even saw this alarming statistic there:

193,532 games have been created for jams hosted on itch.io.

What is a game jam and how does it work?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It is a strange irony that this question might actually be too broad to just be answered by RPG Stack Exchange. Gaming and Board & card games stacks would likely have as many things to say about Game Jams as RPG would. Probably more in fact, considering that the history of Game Jams is more intrinsic to Video and Board games. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11 at 16:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I fail to see anything which would make this too broad. The fact this might be askable on other stacks does not make it off topic here. If this is a term inherited from other domains, that would be something for answers to cover; it makes it neither too broad nor off-topic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Mar 11 at 18:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ You know, I think what you said @ThomasMarkov is what you should do. Yes it's pedantic, but I think that's how you make this question focused. Because Game Jams are so broad, just focusing it down to TTRPG Game Jams will make this question better all around. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is fine and good as-is. I gave the question a bit of amendment to further clarify why you're asking here in specific but I think it's already made clear by context. Requiring the querent to further specify constraints for the answers would require him to know the answer in order to know how to ask the question; that's unreasonable. It's a TRPG thing, we do game jams for TRPGs. It's also other things, but it's a TRPG thing. That justifies the question ipso facto. It's up to answerers whether they want to talk about the broader scope of jams in general. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11 at 18:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question was fine as asked. Experts should be expected to read for context and answer questions in context-- in this case, the obvious and default context of (and I quote our tour) "tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games." \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Mar 11 at 18:46

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An itch.io game jam is a distributed challenge, with a central organizing point but no expectation of coworking or collaboration.

A similar distributed challenge that you're likely to have heard of is a project called National Novel Writing Month, which was started around the year 2000. People would sign on as individual writers with the goal of reaching a certain word count on a personal novel project that began and ended in the same month. While a common online space was provided, though the specifics of that space changed as the years passed, there was no expectation that all participants in the project would make use of it, or that cross-collaboration and criticism would occur among participants.

itch.io game jams organize around similar principles - while there is a theme, a deadline, and the expectation that work will be novel work done exclusively during the jam period, there is no expectation by people who create a jam that anyone who works on it will be taking a dedicated timeblock to do it or maintain any kind of shared physical presence. Sometimes they offer up a collaboration space like a forum or Discord channel, but the expectation is that the jam will take up your spare time over a longer time period rather than being the only thing you're doing.

This differs from the original "game jam", effectively an extended coworking "jam session" where people collaborated to make games.

[A] ton of wacky game designs instantly popped into our heads. As we told other game designer/programmer friends about it, they too had zillions of wacky game ideas. The concept for the 0th Annual Indie Game Jam was born.

The Concept: we get a group of creative game programmer-designers together at my office (which has a big open pit area) in Oakland, CA for 3 or 4 days. [...] Participants can work on their own game, team up with others, do multiple games, do a new game every hour if you're Ken Demarest, or any combination of thereof. We'll do the Jam sometime before GDC02, show the games at the Experimental Gameplay Workshop (www.experimental-gameplay.com) at GDC, and release them (and the engine) under the GPL so other game developers can play with the idea and do some [wild stuff] of their own.

-- "The 0th Annual Indie Game Jam", indiegamejam.com

The idea of an informal improvisational session and refinement workshop among craftspeople is much older than Gilded Age jazz, though the "jam session" terminology dates back to then, and perhaps apocryphally to one regular participant's desire to improv around Clarence Williams' "(I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None O' This) Jelly Roll".

Similarly to a musician's jam session, game jams began with the idea of a group of people taking a small but dedicated block of time to do game development work, with the same sort of open criticism, commentary, and knowledge sharing you'd get from a musician's jam session. They also involved physical presence in the same space. Rather than just ad hoc refinement of the craft, however, these game jams had a goal - that everyone involved would participate in creating one or more complete games, which would take more than just a few convivial after-hours hours.

The only commonality itch.io game jams have is this same goal - to produce something novel under time constraints.

This isn't to dismiss any of the work that goes on there - the Internet can connect people with common interests even if they don't have the desire or the means to be commonly physically present, and as you've noted many products on itch.io are connected to one jam or another. But if you're looking for the opportunity to have a short burst of active, focused collaboration with fellow game design enthusiasts, itch.io game jams are better viewed as an opportunity to initiate one yourself, rather than one that has been set up for your participation by an involved organizer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The information on the etymology of the term is golden, but I feel the need to point out that the drift in meaning isn't unique to itch. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Mar 11 at 22:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I second that, I think older jam formats such as earlier Ludum Dare had a much greater emphasis on "jamming" improvisation over "collaboration" and teamwork. But it's also a matter of "jam" being so much easier on the tongue, instead of calling everything a "game design contest". Funny Trivia btw: Jam can actually mean a team or group in several languages. Homophones! Gotta love 'em \$\endgroup\$ Mar 13 at 0:29
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An event where many people try to make a game within a time limit, and often to a specific theme.

"Game jam" actually has a Wikipedia entry which summarizes it quite well:

A game jam is an event where participants try to make a video game from scratch. Depending on the format, participants might work independently, or in teams. The event duration usually ranges from 24 to 72 hours. Participants are generally programmers, game designers, artists, writers, and others in game development-related fields. Some game jams are contests, others are not.

Traditionally, game jams focus on video games; however, board games have also been the subject of game jams.

Most game jams I've heard of are for video games, but itch.io has also become popular as a site for publishing experimental and independent tabletop RPG rules, and the concept of a jam has led to RPG game jams too.

There may or may not be a prize, but the real goal is for entrants to challenge themselves to create something to a short deadline. The time limit forces you to get creative due to resource constraints, and puts pressure on you to finish a project rather than let development drag out for weeks or years.

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    \$\begingroup\$ “the real goal is for entrants to challenge themselves to create something to a short deadline” — also to design within the unique constraints offered by the jam! Sometimes those are fairly direct constraints like the 200 word RPG challenge, sometimes the constraint is just adherence to the theme. Those constraints prompt us to produce RPGs and make decisions we might otherwise never have even considered. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11 at 20:13

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