Industry Expert Leads “Game Jam” for Fords

James Seetal, who has worked on popular titles like Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Elder Scrolls: Legends, led a Haverford Innovations Program-sponsored workshop that culminated in student prototypes of tabletop games.

Games bring us together. From summer camp staples like Mafia and Werewolf to pop-culture classics like Settlers of Catan and Dungeons & Dragons, old favorites like Chess and Othello and digital behemoths like Super Mario Bros. and Pokemon, whether tabletop or digital, engaging in a bit of friendly competition with pals is a universal experience. 

On February 24, game designer James Seetal (they/them) visited Haverford to share their expertise with students during a three-hour “Game Jam,” a sort of hack-a-thon for game development. They also led a session for Visiting Assistant Professor of Visual Studies Jennifer Pranolo’s “Cinematic Games” course. 

Seetal, who has developed games and licensed properties for companies like Spike TV, The History Channel, Star Wars, Nickelodeon, and AMC Network, is the founder and owner of Plausible Studios. Their most recent analog creation, Saturday Morning Games, is a battle-style table-top game based off of popular cartoons from the 1980s and 1990s that was nominated for Tabletop Game of the Year at the 2019 Bit Awards.

The Game Jam was sponsored by Haverford Innovations Program (HIP) run by Shayna Nickel, and Maker Arts Space Technician, Kent Watson. Nickel, a longtime friend of Seetal, helped bring them to campus for this event. 

“A Game Jam is an event where people collaborate and design a game within set parameters—time, theme, medium, etc.” said Nickel. “A game jam is also a space to work creatively, practice soft skills, make new connections, and engage in the concept of lo-fi prototyping—a quick way to make a concept tangible and testable.”

After a quick presentation from Seetal that explained potential game mechanics, the role of prototyping, crowdfunding a creative project, and the importance of inclusivity in gaming communities, students divided up into teams to create their games. Attendees ranged from gaming newcomers to experienced and passionate competitors. 

“A Game Jam is for everyone, from experienced gamer to a gaming newbie,” said Nickel. “It’s an event for anyone that loves gaming, is curious about game mechanics, or wants to creatively engage. James Seetal did a wonderful job of unpacking various game genres and mechanics to give context and a vocabulary to the world of gaming.” 

Each team was randomly assigned three game mechanics (e.g., dice rolling, hidden traitor, bribery, resource management, tile laying or worker placement with dice) and was given materials to design their prototype. 

The “Professor Inlet” team, who chose their name by pointing randomly at three words (“professor,” “in,” and “let”) from a copy of the Bi-College News, consisted of Blien Habtu ’21, Steve Lee ’21, and Jacob Valero ’22. Their game, a traitor game which included betting/bluffing and worker placement with dice, is called Let Me In. In this game, a player tries to earn a good grade on a group project by cooperating with and rising above their teammates. 

Where personalities and unknown work ethics collide, we present to you: Let Me In,” said Habtu. “As a game where players take on the personas of students, the objective is to work with and against one another to receive a ‘satisfying’ grade. From a stack of personality cards, each player draws the persona they will embody and a secret die roll will determine their work ethic. Each player then has to give a 90 second pitch to convince others to let them into their team. Once teams are selected, a certain combination of events will determine who wins.”

Habtu and her teammates plan to continue prototyping and developing their game into a more polished product after spring break. Other teams produced Identity Theft, a hidden-traitor game where players work to secure assets from theft and assist the bank in finding the thief, and Rebels vs. Conservatives, a multi-part game whereby players compete against one another to determine the outcome of military skirmishes to advance their cause. 

The Haverford Game Jam was a welcoming, engaging, well-attended workshop, and Seetal and Nickel hope to facilitate future iterations of the creative process.

From hearing feedback from students after the event, this is something that Innovations would love to offer again,” said Nickel. “If there are any students or student groups involved in our active gaming community who would like to be involved they should get in touch.”