Gamercamp 2013: The Legacy of TOJam

Games born at TOJam are displayed at Gamercamp.
Games born at TOJam are displayed at Gamercamp.

To an outsider, Gamercamp’s decision to honor the Toronto Game Jam during the inaugural Gamercamp Honours Ceremony might seem like insider trading. It’s a Toronto game conference toasting a group of Toronto organizers thanking them for contributions to Toronto gaming. If you’re not from Toronto, you might not know what all the fuss is about.

In a way, you’d be justified. The informal gala closed out the festivities on day one of Gamercamp as TOJam co-founder Jim McGinley accepted the award, regaling the crowd with madcap tales of Nvidia-ade and Titanic Pinball. You didn’t need to be a local to enjoy the evening, but you would have a greater appreciation of the humor if you were familiar with all the players.

And yet, the event wasn’t really about Toronto. It was about a process, a template demonstrating the ways in which a vibrant community reinforces itself to everyone’s benefit, and one that could play out in any city given a similar set of circumstances.

Even those outside of the Toronto bubble are familiar with the output of the city’s developers. Titles as varied as Capy’s Sword and Sworcery, Droqen’s Starseed Pilgrim, Spooky Squid’s They Bleed Pixels and Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist have all won international acclaim, and there are dozens more that have received comparable attention.

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What became increasingly clear throughout Friday’s ceremony is that none of that happens without events like TOJam. A group of enthusiastic individuals attracts the attention of other talented, equally enthusiastic individuals, creating a critical feedback loop that fosters a community of artists capable of prolific output.

Attendees play board games and enjoy something to eat at Gamercamp, which called Hotel Ocho its home this year.
Attendees play board games and enjoy something to eat at Gamercamp, which called Hotel Ocho its home this year.

McGinley didn’t say as much during his presentation, though he’s the kind of irrepressible optimist who would rather give everyone else credit for the event. His acceptance speech was more like the greatest vacation slideshow ever, a collection of dozens of pictures and memories gathered across eight years of TOJam.

Many of those stories detailed organizational chaos. TOJam was at one point slapped together in a warehouse with bits of spare newspaper, while other iterations were saved at the last minute thanks to donors willing and able to purchase Chinese food for 400 people. McGinley is as surprised as anyone that his little work weekend has become an institution that’s lasted for nearly a decade.

But whenever it seemed like TOJam was in danger of falling apart, someone – usually a former jammer – stepped up to keep a good thing going. TOJam inspired its participants, and they in turn want to give something back to the jam. The positive reinforcement sustains the community as success becomes reciprocal.

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It therefore wasn’t entirely tongue-in-cheek when McGinley repeatedly (and jokingly) made reference to the TOJam circle of life. TOJam co-founder Rob Segal – also on hand Friday – would later go on to develop Mega Jump and Mega Run at Get Set Games. Get Set has in turn become one of the primary sponsors of subsequent TOJams. Other jammers have gone on to jobs at Get Set (and elsewhere), continuing a cycle that builds upon a city’s collective history.

Toronto now has a thriving development scene with numerous established studios and independent developers. That’s lead to the creation of an educational and organizational infrastructure comprised of trade groups and local universities, as well as events like Gamercamp that connect game developers to the people who play their games.

Maybe the Honours Ceremony was an excuse for a group of friends to throw a party. And maybe you don’t care if you’re not local to Toronto. It’s still worth remembering that humble beginnings can lead to great things eight years down the line.

 

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