UCI’s Record-Breaking Global Game Jam

February 5, 2019

Doubling the number of participants from last year, 304 people packed into Donald Bren Hall the last weekend of January to participate in the 2019 Global Game Jam (GGJ) — the world’s largest hackathon for game development. The GGJ UC Irvine site was one of the largest in the U.S., second only to New York’s Times Square site. Out of the 860 sites in 113 different countries totaling 47,044 jammers, UCI ranked an impressive eighth in size.

Theresa Jean Tanenbaum is excited to host UCI’s fifth — and largest — Global Game Jam.

“This year, it felt like our jam site hit an inflection point,” says Informatics Professor Theresa Jean Tanenbaum, the site organizer. “It was the fifth year of the jam at UCI — the 11th year of the larger GGJ organization — and we set some pretty exciting records for the Irvine site.” In addition to being the largest of the UCI GGJ events, with students from UCI, UC Riverside, CSU Long Beach, Chapman University, Laguna College of Art and Design, and more, the participants set a new record with 55 games, doubling the numbers of games created in 2018.

According to Tanenbaum, they’ll be looking for a larger venue next year. “Our group was too large to fit into room 6011 for our opening and closing ceremonies, so for the end of the jam, we set up simulcasting to every floor of Donald Bren Hall so people could pitch their games back to the community.”

Those games were built around this year’s GGJ theme of “What Home Means to Me,” announced at the start of the event. “The theme invited a lot of reflection and exploration of autobiographical and personal game design,” says Tanenbaum. A variety of games were created — from a kidnapping story in “A Stranger’s Home” to a story of making wherever you are feel like home with “Terra Luna” — by a diverse group of jammers. “We had LGBTQ participants, disabled participants, participants from different socioeconomic backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, and different religious communities,” notes Tanenbaum. And almost all of them were thankful for the Red Bull sponsorship, which supplied caffeine to help the jammers power through on Saturday afternoon! Other industry participants included Blizzard Entertainment and Infinity Ward, and other local games companies, with additional support from UCI Illuminations, the International Game Developers Association of Orange County (IGDA-OC), and UCI’s Video Game Development Club (VGDC).

“As exhausted as I am following the event, I’m also energized,” says Tanenbaum. “300+ people all working on a creative project together is a powerful thing to experience, and it is a credit to the community that we’ve been building here that we had so many different people working together happily to make games over the weekend.”

Shani Murray