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48 Hours, Little Sleep, and A Lot of Pizza: Ph.D. Student Brings Global Game Jam to Duke

February 6, 2020

Some of Duke's Global Game Jam participants
Some of Duke's Global Game Jam participants check out each other's work after two days of development.

By Jillian Daly
Duke Graduate School Communications Intern

For nearly 48 hours last weekend, about 20 participants filled the Duke Game Lab and—fueled by plenty of coffee, pizza, and snacks—joined minds to bring to life their ideas for games related to a common theme.

At the same time, at 933 other sites around the globe, tens of thousands of people were doing the same thing. They were all participating in the Global Game Jam (GGJ), the world’s largest game creation event, where people interested in game development came together all over the world to design, develop, and present games around a secret theme.

This year was the first time Duke hosted a GGJ site. Bass Digital Education Fellow Katya Gorecki, who organized the Duke site, said bringing the GGJ to Duke was a way to introduce students to the game development industry despite the lack of a formal game design and development program on campus.

“We decided to partner with the Global Game Jam because they have so much access to different resources that we couldn’t replicate on our own,” said Gorecki, an English Ph.D. candidate. “It also allows students to plug into a global network of game designers and people interested, even if it’s just a hobby.”

A Showcase and A Learning Experience

The event at the Duke site began on Friday with a lecture on game design and the GGJ keynote, during which the secret theme for this year’s games was revealed. Participants, or “jammers,” then had until Sunday afternoon to develop and upload their games for others to play.

Global Game Jam
During the Global Game Jam, students at the Duke site
worked alone or in groups to develop six games over
two days around the theme of "repair."

The GGJ brought together students interested in computer science, programming, visual art, and story design and showed them how different disciplines can collaborate to produce a complex, cohesive project. Gorecki said it also showcased the campus resources available to students interested in game design, such as the game lab itself, which opened in February of last year.

In addition to new game development courses at Duke—such as postdoctoral fellow Marshall Miller’s Foundations of Game Design and Assistant Professor Augustus Wendell’s Immersive Visual Worlds—growing support for a game development community has sparked the idea of a game development club. The club would allow students to connect with peers who share interests in game development and even host future GGJ sites at Duke.

GGJ events are well-known throughout the game development industry, with sponsors like Microsoft, Sony Interactive Entertainment, and Unreal Engine. The GGJ gives participants a chance for resumé and portfolio building, as well as a path to professional opportunity. The GGJ also features a keynote speaker, who is usually an important figure in the game development industry.

This year’s GGJ challenged participants to create games around the theme of “repair.” GGJ themes are often broad, giving jammers room to get creative. Gorecki, for instance, applied the theme in a literal sense, as her game, “Threads,” teaches players how to sew with a needle and thread.

Daniel Hwang, an undergraduate in mathematics and computer science, said the GGJ was an enjoyable experience and a learning opportunity.

“Every step has been a bump,” Hwang said, explaining that each challenge in the process helped him expand his knowledge of programming with GameMaker Studio, a 2D game development software.

The GGJ is not limited to digital games. One of the six games developed at the Duke site, for example, was an analog game created by undergraduates Jennifer Han and Eilam Doron where players use strategy and tangible game pieces to create different narratives.

Virtual Reality and Others’ Realities

Gorecki's Bass Digital Education Fellowship is a partnership between The Graduate School and Duke Learning Innovation that launched in 2018. As part of the fellowship, she works with Duke Learning Innovation, the Duke Game Lab, and the Duke Games & Culture Humanities Lab. Through these collaborations, she is also advised by Professor Shai Ginsberg from the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies.

Katya Gorecki
In addition to organizing the Duke site for the
Global Game Jam, Katya Gorecki is also
incorporating game development into her
dissertation work.

In addition to organizing Duke’s GGJ event, Gorecki is developing games of her own. Those games, a part of her dissertation, highlight the ability of virtual reality to be used as an educational tool—specifically, to display realities experienced by others so that players can understand life from multiple perspectives.

“Alternate realities kind of are a thing,” Gorecki said. “It can be really difficult to have a conversation with somebody about what is actually going on in the world if you have fundamentally different beliefs that are informing your conception of what the world is.”

Her two games are based on the Salem witch trials, where players can witness what it was like to be a part of the trials themselves. One involves the trial of Dorothy Good, who—at 5 years old—was the youngest victim of the trials in 1692. The other is a role-playing game that simulates what a Salem witch trial looked like.

“The idea is that if you play that game, then hopefully players will get a sense of the kind of arguments that I’m making in my dissertation project on that specific subject,” Gorecki said. “So if you don’t want to read a 60-page dissertation chapter, you could play a fun game instead and hopefully get some of the same ideas.”

 

Katya Gorecki is holding test play sessions for her Salem witch trial games on March 2 and March 16 at 6:15 p.m. Email katya.gorecki@duke.edu for details.

 

Photos from the Global Game Jam