Global Game Jam

Global Game Jam

Using game jams as a way to spread awareness and experience of accessibility

Large room full of developers at desks

Game jams are hackathons for video games, a cross disciplinary gathering of people with the goal of creating a full game in a very short period of time. People take part for a number of reasons – for the social aspect, the challenge, students looking to gain end to end production experience, experienced devs looking for a change of pace or as a way to experiment with a new idea or technology.

The largest of these is Global Game Jam, which takes place at the end of January each year, with over 40,000 participants in over 100 countries.

GGJ was established in 2009. At the third event in 2011, the current SIG chair Tara Voelker (then Tefertiller) organised an accessibility challenge at her local site.

In 2012 and 2013 this spread to other sites in the USA, UK, Canada and Australia, with some sites taking on a set of criteria to work to.

By this point it was becoming large enough to attract attention of the GGJ board, which kicked off a collaboration to integrate it into the fabric of GGJ in general. The result was the inclusion of accessibility advice in the FAQ and specific accessibility diversifiers.

Global Game Jam has a single overall theme that the year’s games must take into account, alongside 20 or so optional extra challenges, called diversifiers, so since 2013 each year a number of those diversifers have been accessibility themed.

In 2019 the most popular diversifier, taken on by around 1700 teams of developers (around 4 devs per team), was an accessibility diversifier – “Keep it simple – Make your game playable by people who can use no more than a D-pad plus 2 buttons, with hardware like an Xbox Adaptive Controller in mind.

Outside of GGJ there have been a wide range of other game jams that both have accessibility as an optional extra challenge or are based solely on accessibility.

Jams are a great way to spread awareness and build experience, and that it’s possible to do great things in the context of a game built in 48 hours is a really powerful illustration that accessibility does not have to be difficult and expensive – an vitally important message for participants to be able to take back to their day jobs.