Over the years, game jams across the world have thrown up plenty of indie success stories. Surgeon Simulator, Superhot, Gods Will Be Watching, and Titan Souls, among others, have gone on to critical success, but their lives started as prototypes stapled together as part of a jam. Which is why I was intrigued to see a jam put forward actively discouraging developers from working on their games.
Earlier this month, indie developer Sophie Houlden posted a game jam pitch on itch.io. The rules were simple – “don’t make a game, don’t work on a game, do literally anything else.”
Houlden says that the idea for the jam came in the wake of 7DRL, a seven-day roguelike jam, and while they say that “it was a good experience and I’m really happy with the work I did […] even with the laxest rules I always end up pushing myself harder than I should.” A jam encouraging developers to take a break was an amusing enough idea that Houlden put up a page on itch.
Don’t Make a Game wasn’t “really an attempt to highlight anything in particular,” but Houlden says that it’s helped shine a spotlight on the fact that “[indie developers] are all working too hard, and most of us don’t really have a choice about it anyway.” They go on to say that “I think indie dev absolutely has a high rate of burnout but I can’t think of any creative work that isn’t just crushing the people who put their lives into it. I see it a lot in gamedev because that’s where I’m at, but the glimpses I see elsewhere of stuff like comics or writing seem to be much the same.”
Despite Houlden’s good intentions, some people don’t seem to have been able to stop themselves from putting games together. With three days to go until the end of the jam, there are already more than 30 submissions, and while most of them claim not to be games, there are at least a few entries that I’m pretty suspicious of. Houlden’s not sure that they’ll be able to hold off from making anything for a whole week, but says that “I guess it’s nice for us to acknowledge that ‘Hey we should take better care of ourselves and one-another.’”