TOJam 9: Jamming with Children

Team Fembots (Photo by Brendan Lynch)
Team Fembots (Photo by Brendan Lynch)

(Editor’s Note: This interview was originally conducted shortly after TOJam 9 as a continuation of our coverage of the April weekend. The context is specific to that event, but the issues discussed remain relevant to game jams everywhere.)

At TOJam, everyone is either a game developer or a game enthusiast, which typically ensures that the primary appeal will be roughly the same for everyone. Participants have 72 hours to create a game prototype in a contained, intensely collaborative environment.

But there are many permutations of that general theme, largely because game jams attract participants at every stage of life. Some are students. Most are professionals. Many are parents. They all bring their own unique motivations to the jam, and sometimes those motivations even change over time.

New mother Kim Koronya learned that as a member of Team Fembots at TOJam 9 in April. While she always hopes to leave with a completed prototype, she was happy just to be able to contribute while taking care of her six-week-old daughter Penelope at the jam.

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“We did a little bit of juggling,” said Koronya, whose husband was also jamming, “but everybody pulled through.”

Koronya was ultimately more worried about disrupting the cloistered sanctity of the event than she was about coordinating her more familiar parental responsibilities.

“You’re trying to uphold the jam,” said Koronya. “I asked everyone in the room to bear with me. It was stressful, but everyone seemed to be supportive.”

As a veteran jammer, Koronya intuitively understands and respects the creative atmosphere of a game jam. She left the room whenever Penelope became restless, and her fellow jammers repaid the respect in kind. However, she admitted that her priorities as a game developer have altered since the birth of her daughter.

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“I didn’t think it would, but I have to say yes,” said Koronya when asked if her approach had changed. “As a parent, I see new opportunities that can make it fun to learn. “

Koronya is particularly interested in addressing gaps in the modern educational curriculum.  For TOJam 9, she sold her team on an evolution tutorial after reading an NPR article about the lack of quality evolution textbooks for children. That creative drive is why Koronya still makes it a point to participate in TOJam.

“It’s fun,” said Koronya. “I get to run into people I know I won’t run into again until the next jam. So we party. We go out and get coffees together. “

Koronya’s definition of ‘party’ may differ from that of a teenager with a fake ID, but her point remains. TOJam is as much a social event as a professional one, even (and perhaps especially) for game development parents. That’s why Koronya believes that jam organizers will soon have to account for the presence of children at every event.

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“I’m in my 30s, and as our generation has kids, I can’t imagine them not wanting to get involved,” she said. Koronya views TOJam as an opportunity to empower the next generation of developers. “Show them what we do and how they can do it too.”

The cultural shift is already evident at TOJam. Co-founders Jim and Em McGinley were also present with their daughter Serena, prompting several discussions about maternal necessities.

“We were talking about trying to nurse. Maybe we should have a room where it’s safe for families to run to and not disturbing the people that are really there to work,” said Koronya.

Yet while organizers may need to tinker with the logistics, the spirit of TOJam remains intact. Team Fembots was able to complete the prototype of Biomii, which you can play at TOJam’s page at itch.io.

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“We don’t want TOJam to turn into a Chuck-E-Cheese,” said Koronya. “It’s a balance, but I think we did it.”

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