Online Intervention: Indigestible Jam
The game jam as a medium is a curatorial one, in which the output of artists is regulated by the host. Similar to a hackathon, yet differing in its output, game jams ask game developers to make a game in an allotted amount of time, usually going along with a prompt or theme. In my case, the time given was one week, and the theme was to make a super niche game for a very specific audience.
I began filling out information for the game jam on February 21st. I knew I wanted to host the jam on itch.io. I think the site is great for game developers and is a hub for many game jams. It is also a seemingly endless sea of unplayed, unnoticed, niche games. I began the process, and reached out to their support staff after my jam didn’t appear on the jam calendar. Within the next day, it was posted, in addition to being retweeted by their twitter, which allowed for a lot of interest to be generated, as well as put on their front page. I had 43 people signed up to participate, and got 9 submissions out of it (8 on the website, one sent to my email the day I streamed the games on twitch). Once Saturday arrived, I started the twitch stream (to a rough start, due to my computer not being able to record, stream, and run a game without crazy lag). I ended up switching to the computer in CFA 321, which has OBS, and streamed from there. It worked out great for the most part, except some of the games were Windows only. That meant I couldn’t stream them from the Mac. So instead, I enlarged the webcam and played the games directly from my laptop. It was then that I decided I would also make a record only version of the stream, where I could record the games on my laptop that were only Windows based and not add lag by not streaming them at the same time. This recorded stream is on YouTube now.
Once I finished uploading the stream, I went to every persons page and posted a link to the full, 2 and a half hour stream.
The winner was 1ByteUniverse, who made Acquiese, by four votes all giving 5s. The winner was promised a poem from me, which I wrote:
Creation of a mind
Goes through enigmatic lines
The game you play that breaks
You can see the break from upset to confession
The shift that turns from good fun to depression
Yet the indigestibility wanes to foster
You romance the browser, acquieses become incarnate
You did this
You made this
You built a house in a week
That takes up not one but two spaces
You were voted most niche
It begins, as you face it-
Not metricked and fearful
Embracing the weird
You have much
You earned it, now make it
Soak in the win
Onlookers, copying is for the big fish
Set your path and make it
There are people to play it
I feel like intervening on itch.io by hosting a contest that encourages putting real effort into niche work allowed for a wide breadth of games. I also think that I am speaking to the wild, chaotic nature of itch, where games can go unplayed for years because of the sheer amount of them. However, itch also has the most diverse, unique groupings of games I know of, and I wanted to highlight that in my jam. I received submissions from people in Indonesia, India, and South Africa. This wasn’t known until I started the live stream or read certain community messages, where I engaged with the participants directly. I felt like I was giving people whose content might have otherwise been lost, their games forgotten or ignored because of their specificity, a chance to speak to a wider audience- or at least each other. There were great conversations and our discord ended up being super supportive.
I think that me playing the games as a streamer also speaks to the power streamers have for generating buzz about content, seemingly by just recording themselves experiencing it. It is a rare, important moment for a developer on itch when a streamer responds- “check out this stream I made of your game.” Most of the time these are games that allow for crazy reactions from the streamer or force the streamer to make interesting choices. That wasn’t all the games submitted- instead, I would critique, praise, or discuss with the creators their design. I made recommendations for further reading (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) or ways to expand projects. I didn’t want to be a generic streamer, rather a developer finding his way giving advice to other developers finding their way.
Here is my final thought on what this project means:
Streams and video games already appeal to a niche audience (though this is growing), and independent games appeal to an even smaller section of that niche audience. Streamers, especially unknown ones, and long streams appeal to an even smaller section in that. The Indigestible Jam as a whole is talking about the role of niche culture on the internet- like dark energy, it is what we don’t see, yet makes up so much of our network (65%). I wanted to comment on this, bring it to my peers and to a larger art context. Like dark energy, I don’t know what the function of these games, this jam, niche content online that may never find an audience, is, besides its own existence. I ask viewers of the piece what their view is of content that may never be played- streams that may never be watched- jams that run for a week- websites that fade into obscurity after a few years.