Global Game Jam 2020 – in DC @ AU Game Lab

We were proud to host the 2020 Global Game Jam at American University (January 31 – February 2).

Successful jammers from our event this year (Jan. 2020) – including students from IDEA PCS who did their own jam concurrently with our main event.
Keynote by Lien Tran of Miami

Our keynote by interaction designer Lien Tran of Miami, who co-directs the NERDLab. (See below for bio.)

Who came this year? 2020 registrants included:

  • a graphic designer with significant industry experience
  • a nutrition educator, eager to make games with health benefits
  • a game designer who has developed materials for the Smithsonian

Quick links:

  • Registration on our Eventbrite site (so we can order the food!)
  • Our group page for the Global Game Jam official site
  • Directions and parking for the AU Game Lab
  • Detailed schedule
  • Welcome and instructions for registered attendees (a release form is also required for non-AU participants — see form)
  • For more on your hosts, read about our AU Game Lab faculty, our MA and MFA programs in Game Design, and our PhD program in Communication Studies.

Keynote bio (for Friday night): Lien Tran is a social impact game designer, assistant professor, and co-director of the New Experience Research and Design Lab (NERDLab) at the University of Miami. Lien often applies design thinking and human center design techniques in order to create informed, goal-directed solutions for games, apps, and emerging technologies such as VR. Her game projects typically address social justice, health, and environment issues at the local, national, and international levels. Previous game partnerships include Open Society Foundations, World Bank, United Nations, and Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

Have questions about our plans for the AU Global Game Jam? Contact Benjamin Stokes, our faculty lead for #GGJ20.

Recap: Global Game Jam 2021 @ AU Game Center

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We were proud to host a DC site for the Global Game Jam (GGJ) 2021, joining teams in 100+ counties worldwide. This is the largest coordinated weekend of game design worldwide each year. Due to COVID, ours was online this year and ran January 29-31.

Featured games

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In this post, we celebrate two amazing game designs that came out of our Global Game Jam site:  Homeward Bound and Lost for Words. Each team had 5-6 members, including graphic designers, coders, and of course game designers.

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Keynote by Hazel Arroyo

Our keynote featured Hazel Arroyo, an alumni of the MA in Game Design at American University, who challenged teams to go deeper with their online tactics for creativity and brainstorming. 

In response, teams not only used Zoom and Discord but also experimented with spatial audio platforms like Gather.town to form teams and provide water cooler brainstorming.

Featured game #1: Homeward Bound

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The first of the two games is a narrative exploration game designed in Construct 3 by the name of Homeward Bound. The design team for Homeward Bound consisted of five graduate students currently enrolled in our Game Lab programs.

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In order to push the emotional impact of the story, the team had a heavy focus on thematic consistency, making sure that the art, sounds, story, and mechanics not only matched well with each other, but also with the time period they were aiming to represent. Shoot fireworks into the sky and follow the stars to find you way home in Homeward Bound!

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Try out Homeward Bound

  • Game Engine: Construct 3
  • Organization: Github, Google Drive, Microsoft Word 
  • Art Programs: Photoshop
  • Diversifiers: Starlight, Vocalize, Destination (happy place)
  • Team Members: Meagan Couture, Mig Mrizek, Illia Kowalzik, Sam Smyth, and Sharmarke Alisalad

Featured game #2: Lost for Words

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The second of the two games is a story building game built in Unity by the name of Lost for Words. The design team for Lost for Words consisted of six Alumni members who graduated from our Game Lab Programs.

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For their game, the team sought to combine traditional, pixel platformer game mechanics with Mad-Lib story telling, using torches to guide their players. Platform your way through each level to find the words to complete your story in Lost for Words!

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Play it! Try Lost for Words on Itch.IO

  • Unity Game Engine
  • Unity Collab (version control)
  • Aseprite (pixel art software)
  • Google Suite (planning, project management)
  • Team Members: Hazel Arroyo, Molly Eisenbeck, Mitchell Loewen, Rafael Murphy, Westley Thompson, and Andrew Yim

Special Thanks

Our organizers included student lead Meagan Couture, alumni lead Hazel Arroyo, and faculty lead Prof. Benjamin Stokes. Thank you to Meredith Fender from AU staff, and Andy Phelps, our fearless director of the AU Game Center. Thank you to Meagan for drafting this post.

Additional links: 

Maker Education + Games? Convening with Dept. of Education on January 10th

We are thrilled to join this special convening on the intersection of Maker Spaces and Game-based Learning, organized by the US Department of Education. Sign up to join us from 2-5pm in Alexandria, VA on Jan. 10, 2020 — see registration and details.

Our own Prof. Benjamin Stokes will give a talk on embedding games in neighborhood spaces and urban furniture. (This is based on his Playful Cities Lab that includes several of our game design students.)

The larger Ed Games Expo is now in its 7th year, and has events all week long.

Continue reading “Maker Education + Games? Convening with Dept. of Education on January 10th”

Grads in the news: on gamers’ soft skills in the Wall Street Journal

A great article came out yesterday featuring one of our graduates (Ryan Seymour), and our game scholar in residence (Andy Phelps).

When a Passion for Videogames Helps Land That Job: Hiring managers are opening up to candidates who tout skills gained from making or playing videogames” by Sarah E. Needleman (Mar. 6, 2019)

“Work history, check. Education, check. Videogame experience … check? Employers across a range of industries are embracing résumés that include backgrounds in making or playing videogames, concluding the digital pastime can help employees with online collaboration, problem solving and other critical workplace skills.


Soft skills plus programming matter, according to the DC organization that hired our grad:

Ashley Deese, who manages digital media at the Smithsonian Institution’s science-education center in Washington, D.C., said she appreciates programming know-how but also looks out for gamers’ soft skills. “They tend to be problem solvers, organized and adaptable,” she said.

One recent recruit, Ryan Seymour, came on board after earning a master’s in game design from American University. The 34-year-old, who grew up playing the historical game “Civilization,” had created a game while in school in which players manage a museum.

He included a description of it with his résumé.

“It was really incredible,” Ms. Deese said. “We absolutely knew he needed to be part of this team.”


Also quoted is our game scholar in residence:

Andrew Phelps, director of Rochester Institute of Technology’s game-degree program, said students are being recruited by companies outside the videogame industry, including GE, Forbes Media and the digital creative agency AKQA Inc., a unit of WPP PLC. Graduates have gone on to work in politics, education and areas within technology unrelated to videogames.

“What we used to stereotypically think of as a weird thing some folks did in their basement is now part of everyday life,” Mr. Phelps said. “Gaming has become a common touch point for people.”


To read the full text, see the article on the WSJ website.

Speaker: Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency

We are excited to co-host Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency at American University on March 6th, 2019. Details follow…

I Am So Tired: The Costs of Online Harassment

What is it like to be a public figure who is known more for the targeted acts of aggression and hate directed at you than for the creative or scholarly work you produce? Anita Sarkeesian, creator of Feminist Frequency video series, will recount the formative experiences that made her into the activist she is today before she unpacks the ways that the behavior of online harassers upholds and furthers a reactionary political agenda and silences the voices of women everywhere.

Who’s Anita Sarkeesian?

Anita Sarkeesian is an award-winning media critic, host, and the creator and executive director of Feminist Frequency, an educational nonprofit that explores the representations of women in pop culture narratives. Her work focuses on deconstructing the stereotypes and tropes associated with women in popular culture as well as highlighting issues surrounding the targeted harassment of women in online and gaming spaces. Anita has been interviewed and featured in publications such as Wired, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Good Morning America and The Colbert Report. Anita was named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2015. Anita’s first book History vs Women: The Defiant Lives That They Don’t Want You To Know, co-written with Ebony Adams is out now. See: http://www.anitasarkeesian.com

What’s Feminist Frequency?

In 2009, Anita Sarkeesian borrowed a camera and some lights, tacked a piece of fabric up on her living room wall, and started making videos examining pop culture from a feminist perspective. Those early videos were short and simple, but the core of Feminist Frequency was already visible in them: the belief that media has the power to change the world. Today, Feminist Frequency is a not-for-profit educational organization that analyzes modern media’s relationship to societal issues such as gender, race, and sexuality. We strongly advocate for the just treatment of all people online and believe that media and media literacy are essential tools for eradicating injustice and creating a more equitable world. https://feministfrequency.com (Some particularly great videos are about gender and the Smurfs, gender and Lego, and women in Hollywood are at these links.) 

Sponsored by the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Communication, Anthropology, AU Game Lab, Communication Studies, Film & Media Arts, Humanities Lab, Office of Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence, Sociology, Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies 

Speaker: Andy Phelps on “An Intersection of Production, Research, Teaching and Play”

Andy Phelps, currently Game Scholar In Residence at the AU Game Lab, will give a research colloquium on Wednesday, March 6th from 10:30 am to 12 pm in the Game Lab (room 117).

Talk abstract:

This talk explores the integration of teaching, research, and creative practice as a basis for computing and arts education though a retrospective of the design, development, history and analysis of the programs, projects, related work of Professor Andrew Phelps at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Specific focus is placed on the integration of computing and the arts, the role of and support for multidisciplinary teaching and research, and lessons learned, current challenges, and related national and international trends in games development education. This session features numerous examples from curriculum design, current research projects, creative practice, student work, and academic/industry partnerships.

More on Andy Phelps:

Andrew “Andy” Phelps is a Professor of Art & Design at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). He is the also the founder of the RIT School of Interactive Games & Media, the founder of the RIT Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction & Creativity (MAGIC) and the founder of the related campus-wide studio and production organization, MAGIC Spell Studios. He led the design and establishment of the RIT Masters of Science in Game Design & Development, as well as the Bachelors of the same name, both of which have been ranked in the top 10 in the nation since their creation by the Princeton Review.

Andy’s alumni can be found at major studios worldwide including Microsoft/343, Activision|Blizzard, Bungie, Sony, Zynga, and more, as well as numerous other engineering, art, design, and interactive media companies. His students have also gone on to successful careers in graduate and doctoral programs, government agencies at the local, state, national and international level, non-profits, and several philanthropic foundations. His work in game design, game development, game art and game education is recognized internationally, has regularly been presented at numerous academic conferences and in related journals, has been supported by grants from multiple federal agencies, numerous state and local agencies, and research labs at private corporations. These include the Library of Congress, the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Education, Microsoft Research, and more. His work has also been extensively covered in the popular press and trade literature, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, Polygon, Gamasutra, Inside HigherEd, the Chronicle, Campus Technology, etc.

In addition to his roles at RIT, he currently serves as president of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA), which he co-founded with colleagues in 2014, and which now represents over 310 colleges and universities with games curricula world wide. In the spring of 2019 Phelps is serving as a Games Scholar in Residence at the School of Communications at American University, working with faculty and staff at the School and the AU Game Lab. He maintains a website featuring his work as an artist, researcher, and educator at https://andyworld.io/

Speaker: Henry Jenkins on “Popular Culture as Politics, Politics as Popular Culture”

The Game Lab is proud to co-host Dr. Henry Jenkins, a pioneer in civic media, fan studies, and media literacy.

Monday, November 19 at 6:30 p.m., American University
Program will be followed by a cookie and coffee reception

Program Description
A Reality Television Star and former professional wrestling personality is in the White House, while protestors outside are using imagery drawn from Handmaid’s Tale, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Star Wars to express their concerns. How can we make sense of the blurring between popular culture and politics which characterizes our current moment? The talk explores the concept of the civic imagination, suggesting ways that young activists in particular are turning their attention to the alternative worlds offered by fantasy and speculative fiction to construct alternatives to their frustration with current reality. Can we change the world without imagining what a better world looks like?

About Dr. Henry Jenkins
Henry Jenkins is the Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the University of Southern California. He arrived at USC in Fall 2009 after spending more than a decade as the Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities. He is the author and/or editor of seventeen books on various aspects of media and popular culture, including Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture, From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture, and By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. He is currently editing a handbook on the civic imagination and writing a book on “comics and stuff”. He has written for Technology Review, Computer Games, Salon, and The Huffington Post.

This program is co-presented by the National Telemedia Council, Center for Media and Social Impact (CMSI), AU Game Lab, and the School of Communication at American University.