There were some comments earlier today complaining about the Global Game Jam’s decision not to allow remote teams that can’t get to a jam location. After debating the issue with David Gallant on Twitter I felt like I needed to collect my thoughts on the subject with a few more than 140 characters. First off, I consider Global Game Jam a location jam; it may have many locations, but its interest is in creating location jam experiences in many places. If you don’t consider GGJ a location jam, this isn’t likely to sway your opinion much on that issue, but this is still relevant for other location-based jams.

Because it’s really awkward to repeat “location jam” over and over, I’m just going to say “jam” for the rest of this post. I mean location jams.

I haven’t attended any jams other than our local TOJam, but there are a set of special qualities it has that just follow from the nature of the beast. There’s a set of rituals and experiences that go along with stuffing a bunch of creative people into a box for a weekend. Everyone comes together and forms a kind of pop-up community. It’s not the same thing as being in on an overcrowded hashtag, or posting in a forum. It’s more like attending a weekend-long concert.

Hanging around the perimeter fence listening to the music doesn’t mean you went to the concert. Sending in a game that you made while the jam was going on doesn’t mean you attended the jam. It’s not the same thing, and it never can be. You can’t subscribe remotely to an experience that has such a powerful physical community component. Even if you could officially be recognized as being a part of the community, you wouldn’t actually get anything out of that. You can’t even communicate well with the people who are actually there; they are all communicating in meatspace first and foremost.

Even when it comes to putting the jam label on the game, how much sense does that really make? Why can’t I put a TOJam label on a game I make in a weekend in the middle of September? The whole idea of labelling a game with the game jam that created it is that the game came about from the environment that the jam created. There’s nothing inherently better about games made in the jam environment. That’s not my point. The games made at a jam are the product of the atmosphere and the community that was there. All of the games have that in common, and that’s why they carry a common label.

Nothing that matters about a location jam can actually be shared with a remote team. I’m not even sure why people are so interested in the idea. If I couldn’t physically make it to TOJam, participating remotely would just remind me of what I was missing.