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Inside the disintegration of a game jam reality show

Inside the disintegration of a game jam reality show

March 31, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

Recently, Maker Studios' Polaris unit attempted to produce a reality show for YouTube called GAME_JAM, in which teams of independent game developers would jam for four days, pitted against each other in a format compared by its participants to Top Chef or Iron Chef.

In the end, production was cancelled when the game developers walked off the set after the first day due to the behavior of one of the show's producers, Gamasutra has learned.

"It crumbled because we, the developers, killed it," writes Robin Arnott (SoundSelf) in his blog post about GAME_JAM.

Alongside Arnott, Zoe Quinn (Depression Quest) and Adriel Wallick (organizer of Train Jam) have also shared their stories of the experience.

"I love game jams. I think that participating in a game jam is one of the greatest parts of game development culture and a wonderful way to truly foster creativity," Wallick writes. However, that's not how things ended up, she says: "the 'GAME_JAM' embodied everything that I find to be wrong and abhorrent about how people view us as game developers."

"I came into this event expecting to make a game, show people a glimpse into game development, and possibly have some fun. Instead, my intelligence, my legitimacy, and my integrity were all pushed and questioned. We, as developers, were being treated as desperate stereotypes, and we, as women, were treated worse than that," writes Wallick.

The flame-out of GAME_JAM is also extensively covered in a story written for Indie Statik by Jared Rosen, a contractor for the production company behind the web reality show.

"Every side was pulling for what they wanted, and in the end the side that mattered most got burned. We can’t have that," Rosen writes, in a post that details the behind-the-scenes evolution of a modest game jam into a "terrifyingly enormous spectacle."

While Arnott acknowledges that he was "prepared to make compromises for showmanship," there came a time when four participants were unable to continue with the production.

Where things went wrong

While aggressive Mountain Dew branding and the competitive, reality show production style of GAME_JAM were roundly criticized by the participants and observer in their individual blogs, a more insidious problem with GAME_JAM is alleged.

The lion's share of blame for the crash-and-burn scenario is laid at the feet of marketing consultant Matti Leshem, who is mentioned by name in Arnott's, Wallick's, and Rosen's posts. Leshem allegedly fostered a hostile environment for participants in general, and in specific created an aggressively sexist atmosphere by asking participants on-camera if teams with women "were at a disadvantage" in the competition. Leshem allegedly asked Quinn and Wallick similar questions directly, according to the posts.

"You can literally trace back the entire crumbling of this show to one individual -- Matti Leshem," Wallick writes. "Multiple central figures in multiple departments complained privately to me both before and after GAME_JAM about his conduct," writes Rosen.

Though Leshem was removed from the production, Wallick writes that there was no way to regain the trust of the participants even then, and the developers did not return to GAME_JAM.

A silver lining?

Quinn's post doesn't touch on Leshem's behavior, but it does end on an up note: "My most tangible takeaway is probably this: I want to run a game jam," she writes. "Capture the inspiration, the hard work, the 3am delirium and the dumb jokes that come with it. Show people how we all band together and support each other through the deadline. That’s what I want to show the world about game jams. That's the ambassador I’d rather be."

The participants' posts

This news post can't help to capture anything but the most general sense of the discussion around GAME_JAM. To understand the full story, you must read the posts linked below:

Adriel Wallick - Let's talk about accountability
Robin Arnott - "GAME_JAM" and the Power of Integrity
Zoe Quinn - Unreality: My Takeaways After Being On and Subsequently Walking Off a Reality Show About Game Jams
Jared Rosen - How The Most Expensive Game Jam In History Crashed And Burned In A Single Day

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