In conference room one, there are jammers.

A novelty is at the heart of the game jam phenomenon. Many of the 101 participants at Splash Jam, from 21 different nations ranging from North America to Iran, work for big video game studios. Telltale Games, Creative Assembly, and EA are all represented. This is a chance to work on a project for 48 hours without the usual demands and limits of big game development in a low-stakes atmosphere. A game jam project, for example, does not have to be profitable. It isn’t necessary to polish it. It doesn’t have to pretend to be politically apolitical. It doesn’t even have to be completely intact. Myrlund, for example, works at the Norwegian studio Framverk as a project manager. ‘Kim Jong-Corridor il’s Adventure,’ a game in which you play as manufacturing North Korean nuclear facility worker flees a metal-jawed donkey roaming in the halls, was created during her first game jam in 2009. (Jong-il gets angry as the donkey catches you.). Later, she tells me, “You may be as crazy as you want.” “You have the freedom to experiment and try new things. For those who work in larger studios, it can be a terrific way to unwind.”

Just after midnight, we board the ship. This isn’t the first game jam to take place on a ship – another one is supposedly taking place in Canada – but it is the first to take place on a cruise, as far as anyone knows. The corridors of the MS Finnmarken are a maze. A 35-car parking lot can be found somewhere deep within its bowels. There’s a faded luxury bar on the eighth level and, outdoors, a tiny swimming pool flanked by a pair of steaming hot tubs. There’s a sauna, a viewing deck, and an electric piano next to a sprung wooden dance floor on the fourth floor, near to the conference rooms, where the ‘jammers’ bury themselves among an instantaneous pop-up shantytown of headphones, laptops, and cables. On the top deck, there’s a wall-sized vent against which you may get a near-constant blast of warm air that smells vaguely of cigarette smoke.

The heat allows you to endure the bone-chilling cold for a longer period.

A moving ship, unlike a house at night, never settles. There’s a steady knocking that sounds like someone carelessly moving heavy furniture somewhere way down in the basement, thanks to the ship’s deadened acoustics. It isn’t easy to get a good night’s sleep because of it. The jammers, on the other hand, don’t require much sleep. At 3 a.m. on the first night, a few hours after we leave Troms, 20 or so game designers are still working in the conference room, experimenting with and discarding concepts, creating sound effects, sketching, and, in one case,, recording voice over.

The huge breakfast buffet, which includes reindeer burgers among its array of selections, is jam-packed the next morning despite the late night. For some of the destitute 20-somethings in attendance, who are trying to make a full-time income from independent games, Haukland adds that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to eat till they are satisfied. This may be the privileged dreamer’s poverty (Staff chastises some participants for showing up to breakfast in a sock and no shoes). Nonetheless, the yearning is palpable.

We’re separated from the few dozen people who aren’t cramming in a special space at the back of the dining room. (At dinner last night, two retired couples sit at a table adjacent to our cordoned-off eating area.) One of the men in the group holds a sore finger to his lips and issues a’shhh’ as they strain to hear an announcement on the ship’s tannoy over the sound of jammer conversation. When one of the older participants gives an impassioned speech thanking Haukland and Myrlund for organizing everything, the retirees boost their volume in retaliation; the jammers have the opportunity to repay the gift. Our server, a Norwegian with a severe haircut and, oddly, nine identical white pens in his breast pocket, no sides, takes no sides, instead of worrying unresolvedly about who has the dairy sensitivity and gluten allergy. At our table.)

On the first morning, at breakfast, Anders Uglund, the designer of Krillbite studios’ Among the Sleep, says, “Did you hear about the game someone’s producing that’s controlled via gyroscopes in a smartphone?” “It’s designed to be performed on boats using the ship’s shaking.” England bobs his blonde dreadlocks as he salts his egg. “I think game jams are a chance for a lot of people to let off steam, to develop something foolish that can fail, something where they can attempt everything,” says one participant.

This type of absurdist work, while entertaining, matches the stereotype of an indie developer, who is expected to generate ridiculous, frequently counter-cultural items with little commercial pressure. He says, “I’ve been there.” “But these days, I’m more interested in using game jams as a way to come up with a terrific and original idea that can be used outside of the game jam context. A wave-controlled game is an intriguing concept, but it’s really specific. It’s a sub-niche within a sub-niche within a sub-niche. I want to create things that are fantastic concepts in the real world, not only in the game jam’s microcosm.” Uglund is, at least in this sense, in the minority. “Game jams in America are a little more commercially orientated,” explains Myrlund. “People in Europe appear to be considerably more interested in exploring.”

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