Why is TOJam Different from All Other Jams?

You can play this year’s submissions at the Tentacular page at itch.io.

The tenth annual Toronto Game Jam is in the books and I still don’t know what I’m going to write about. I just know that I have to write something to commemorate the event – dubbed the Tentacular – and that distinction seems like it’s important.

As game jams have become more and more prevalent, they’ve also lost some of the luster that makes them special. They come and go, and there are now so many that it would be a fool’s errand to participate in every one that comes along.

TOJam is the exception, the one game jam I always feel obligated to cover because the story always seems worth telling. The event is meaningful in a way that other jams are not, and I don’t think I’m alone in that belief. Independent developers and longtime participants Damian Sommer, Daniel Steger, and Alexander Martin even became official sponsors for the Tentacular, uniting under the Shock Lightening banner to help make the event possible for everyone else.

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You're Dead After School (Team Andrew Group of Companies)
You’re Dead After School (Andrew Group of Companies)

 

Though that level of commitment is exceptional, their dedication is hardly unique. Like the Shock Lightening triumvirate, many participants donate time and resources to TOJam that go well beyond what they would consider for another jam. Every year Barry Rowe always brings a new homemade food concoction to TOJam. He topped his previous efforts for the Tentacular, showing up with eight flavors of homemade ice cream and homemade chocolate chip cookies to turn them into sandwiches. (The caramel-marshmallow is like Lucky Charms in the form of ice cream.)

Over the years, TOJam has amassed an astonishing number of such traditions, from the Chinese buffet to the annual screening of Hackers on Saturday night, and new ones seem to be cropping up every year. #yoitsyourboyarthur trended on Twitter during the live stream opening ceremonies, and by the closing ceremonies it had spawned a legend (and possibly a drinking game). The event just seems to matter more to everyone involved, which is why I keep coming back to the same question:

Why is TOJam different from all other jams?

 

Snake & Bake (illiterate ai)
Snake & Bake (illiterate ai)

 

I think the answer ultimately has more to do with the people than the games. While other organizers have pursued other gimmicks with varying levels of success – Train Jam is rapidly becoming an institution, while Mountain Dew’s foray into reality TV was a well-publicized disaster – the ‘game’ part of game jams remains relatively the same. Developers spend a weekend making a game knowing the result will likely be imperfect, a practice that fulfills a basic and necessary purpose.

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Creatively speaking, a game jam is a way to fail quickly, allowing developers to experiment with new ideas in a risk-free environment. Some – like Super TIME Force and Mount Your Friends – will prove to have legs that carry them beyond the jam. Most will be forgettable, but at least you’ll know that before the end of the weekend. That’s true regardless of the theme or the circumstances surrounding the jam. After all, there’s only so much that can be accomplished in three days.

But TOJam is as much a social weekend as a business venture, and the casual atmosphere is also what makes it fun. Tradition takes on such significance because it ensures there are plenty of ways to feel like a participant even when you’re not working on a game. Your platformer isn’t turning out as well as you hoped? At least TOJam still provides pizza and a twice-daily candy stand, as well as morning bagels, evening Red Bull, and more lemon-battered chicken than you could possibly stomach.

 

tojam-winners-drugs
LST-Rex (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

 

That’s why so many people keep coming back year after year after year, and why enthusiasm seems stronger than ever after a full decade of jamming. TOJam is the kind memory that parents want to share with their children, a legacy that’s become increasingly important now that many jammers (including co-founders Jim and Em McGinley) have started bringing families.

So why is TOJam different from all other Jams?

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Simply put, TOJam matters because we collectively decided that it matters, and we continue to invest it with that meaning. It’s an event forged by the creative Toronto community that participates, and it will remain special as long as the attendees treat the event as something worthy of celebration. TOJam consistently showcases a vibrant community at its best. Here’s hoping the first decade was only the beginning.

 

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