SAAM Arcade 2021: What Is a Game Jam?

SAAM Arcade is back with a new virtual program format, the museum’s first-ever Game Jam. Learn more about what a game jam is in this blog post!

SAAM Arcade is back August 2-7 with a brand new virtual program format. But first, what is a game jam?

Back of boy's head that is looking at a TV screen with video game on it.
Photo by Darren Milligan

If you’re an avid gamer or aspiring developer, you are probably already familiar with the concept of a game jam—but what about the rest of us? For the casual Solitaire player or nostalgic Frogger fan, a game jam might be a completely unknown entity.

So what is a game jam? Much like musicians might get together and “jam,” a game jam is an event where game developers gather to create something new within a short period of time. According to the founders of Global Game Jam, the world’s largest game creation event, jams invite participants to “explore new technology tools, [try] on new roles in development and [test] their skills to do something that requires them to design, develop, create, test and make a new game.” Working alone or in teams, jam participants get a chance to flex their creative muscles by building something within the unique rules of that particular event. Jams can be as short as 24 hours, have themes, or require particular elements in the building process. Some jams are judged like contests, but others are more focused on building community and connection by bringing developers together around a shared goal. The games made during a jam are unique to that event. While participants might choose to use outside artwork or audio for their game, jams are about exploring what is possible within a limited timeframe and with limited resources. In some ways, the more that a developer or team can do exclusively within the jam’s rules, the more amazing and powerful the resulting work can be.

This year, SAAM is proud to host our very first game jam as part of our annual celebration of innovation in gaming, SAAM Arcade. The theme of the SAAM Arcade 2021 Game Jam is Building Community, Embracing Individuality and it is open to all. From multi-player online role-playing games to walking simulators, games offer a vast array of experiences for both individual players and larger communities. Just as a work of art can touch thousands of people, a game can bring together people across the globe regardless of age, location, lifestyle, or background. Even within the world of a game, the experience of play can be affected by how a player chooses to participate; for example, games with “dialogue trees” or branching options for narrative choices can change how the story of a game unfolds. Being kind to non-playable characters—building a community within the story of the game—might trigger a better ending or different cutscenes.

The SAAM Arcade 2021 Game Jam opens on August 2, 2021, at 11 a.m. ET, and submissions will be open until August 7, 2021, at 7 p.m. ET.  Interested developers, artists, and creators will be given one week to create a brand-new game centered around our theme of Building Community, Embracing Individuality. The jam will be hosted on with a dedicated Discord server hosted by IGDA DC. Rules and guidelines for entry are available on