Will Blanton and Lauren Vincelli of RVA Game Jams (photo by Holly Speck)
Red and blue block letters reading “Bedhogg” jump from the screen. My hand tenses as I tentatively finger the up arrow key to start the game. A blue child and a red child face each other with their weapons drawn. The blue child flings a weapon into my red face. Another weapon sails into my side.
The blue child wields yet more pillows, the weapon of this game, knocking my avatar down and hurting my pride as my first, second and sixth losses pile up. My frustration builds and I stoop to belittlement — how do I beat this stupid video game?!
I’m not the only one to get hooked. The brainchild of Richmonder Will Blanton, “Bedhogg” won the Ludum Dare 32, an international online competition held last April in which participants were given a set amount of time to create a video game from the ground up using a predetermined theme. Blanton’s chosen weapon — the perilous pillow — fit the “unconventional weapon” theme of the challenge.
This weekend, Blanton and dozens of other gamers in Richmond will be flexing their creative muscles during the Global Game Jam, a 48-hour video game making competition held locally in The Depot at Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2015, the annual international event took place in more than 500 locations in 78 countries, with participants creating 5,439 games in one weekend.
Locally, the Global Game Jam is put on by RVA Game Jams (founded by Blanton and his best friend, Lauren Vincelli) in cooperation with the VCU School of the Arts' departments of Kinetic Imaging, Art Education and Communication Arts. The competition runs from 8 p.m. on Jan. 29 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 31, and is free and open to the public. Professional and amateur game developers, students, musicians, artists, designers and friends are encouraged to attend and use The Depot’s motion capture studio.
In addition, RVA Game Jams and VCU will present a keynote lecture by Chris Suellentrop, a former political writer who is now a contributing video game critic for The New York Times and host of the podcast “Shall We Play a Game?” The lecture occurs prior to the competition, at 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 29. Also that day, at 2 p.m., Suellentrop will take part in a panel of game-world personalities discussing video games and the media. Other panelists include brothers Nick and Joe from the YouTube channel “Instant Replay Live.”
After years of talking to game designers and developers, whom Suellentrop labels “some of the most interesting people in the word,” he is excited to attend his first game jam.
Suellentrop, who plays video games 10 to 60 hours a week for work alone, offers this advice for those seeking to following his footsteps. “The way to become a good writer about video games is no different than becoming a good writer for anything — read widely, play widely and be curious, interested and broad-minded.”
While RVA Game Jams holds bi-weekly workshops, lectures and discussions for local gamers at the Richmond Public Library’s Main branch, the Global Game Jam is its biggest event of the year. Between 50 and 60 participants are expected to attend, says Vincelli. These participants will be broken up into five to six teams.
“This is an opportunity to learn from others about artwork, audio and everything about games,” she says. “Some people won’t know how they can contribute, but we always find something for those interested.”
All formats of games are created, from mobile phone applications to games for PCs. People can even develop board games, Blanton says. He knows of one person working on a super chess variant game.
The Global Game Jam gives participants a secret theme each year, but Blanton and Vincelli agreed that in the Richmond event, the theme exists as a “creative catalyst” to explore various theme interpretations or no theme at all.
RVA Game Jams’ goal is to facilitate a community for gamers and to get people motivated to be involved. Before his first game jam, Blanton always dreamed of creating video games. “The funny thing is, I always wanted to make video games, but never tried,” he says.
Blanton and Vincelli hope this game jam will inspire passionate people to pursue this modern artistic form, free of financial obligations and incentives.
“From a creative standpoint, making money from making something is sort of antithetical,” Blanton says.
He advises Global Game Jam participants to take breaks during the two-day event — “24 hours of the game jam for well-thought time management work and another 24 hours for eating, sleeping, playing games and goofing off.”
RVA Game Jams runs purely on website donations and support from family and friends. There is no formal prize for winners, but as Vincelli explains, “The prize is you make your own freakin’ video game and you get to play a thousand others!”
Pizza will be served at 8 p.m. on Sunday, during which time designers can display their games and play others. For more information or to RSVP to the event, visit rvagamejams.com.