Experience, Play, Imagine, Create: Young people making games with cultural heritage  

EPIC-WE Cultural Game Jam #3 brought together young minds in Hilversum, The Netherlands, igniting a creative fusion of cultural heritage and game-making. Over two intense days in April 2024, 17 diverse young people set out to make games inspired by the cultural heritage collections and spaces of Sound & Vision, Hilversum’s renowned media museum and archive.

The Game Jam was a whirlwind of creativity and fun, fuelled by the motivation and enthusiasm of the participants. The students were fully committed, working tirelessly through the night to turn their game concepts into reality. Engaging discussions between industry experts and the youth participants sparked new connections and ideas that helped the students to refine their game prototypes. Teamwork was key, creating an atmosphere of camaraderie and collaboration, as everyone worked together to achieve their common goals.

Enthusiasm filled the air throughout the event, especially when the expert council was present to provide feedback, and the final jury came together to assess the prototypes, offering awards to different teams on their work. Testing out each other’s games was a great way for the students to show their achievements and hard work. The scene of Sound & Vision was a perfect venue for digging into the intensive sprint programme with cultural heritage materials as inspiration just at the fingertips and provided different spaces depending on what the participants needed: a busy workroom, a quiet studio for focused collaboration, or a chill out space with snacks. 

The Game Jam focused on addressing societal topics, allowing the participants to select urgent issues they were most passionate about, resulting in four games tackling crucial subjects. Two games addressed the pressing concerns of the climate emergency, while the other two delved into the complexities of mental health, reflecting issues at the forefront of the lives of today’s youth. 

Four games for culture created through culture 

In “Nijntje goes back to school”, participants were inspired by Nijntje, a famous fictional rabbit from a series of children’s books. In the game, Nijntje’s, having a though week at school, so her pals Snuffy and Boris step in to help. Players take on the roles of Snuffy or Boris, rolling dice to move along the board and doing tasks to assist Nijntje. But there’s a twist! Nijnte might not always want their help, which affects how the game plays out. The game aims to spark conversations about mental health, empathy and emotional resilience among teenagers and parents. 

In “Climate Politician” players have to steer the Netherlands through a climate crisis by implementing policies and addressing polluting industries to meet EU climate goals. But you can choose different priorities, such as going green, making money, or keeping people happy. The gameplay involves managing provinces, constructing buildings, and progressing through turns to see the effects of decisions on money, pollution, and citizen happiness. The game wants to show real-world debates on climate change, fostering an understanding of its complexities and getting people to talk about what we can do. 

Make it…!!!” aims to engage players in discussions about mental health by navigating life events through a narrative lens. Players choose a character and background for their game, starting with 100 points of sanity. The red player’s goal is to create conflict and situations causing mental health issues, while the blue player’s goal is to maintain balanced mental health despite difficulties caused by the red team. This way, the game provides a way to talk about mental health struggles and the importance of open conversations about it.

Team “404 World not Found” is all about taking action against climate change with their game called “CAT-a-strophic Climate”. In this game, players control cats on a mission to combat plastic pollution in the ocean. Each cat has a Boost card for a special advantage and aims to collect five pieces of trash to exchange for Fish Tokens and win the game. With its blend of humour and education, the game highlights the importance of environmental care. By challenging the Rule of Law, the team questions existing policies on environmental protection, advocating for more proactive measures to address pollution and protect our planet. 

Forging Futures: Exploring Cultural Heritage through Game Development 

The first EPIC-WE Hilversum Hub Game Jam was an exciting blend of youthful creativity and cultural heritage exploration. Over two thrilling days, 17 diverse participants immersed themselves in the world of game development against the inspiring backdrop of Sound & Vision. The atmosphere was electric as the participants poured their hearts into crafting their ideas into tangible gaming experiences. Expert advice and teamwork further enriched the creative process, resulting in prototypes that tackled important societal issues. Playtesting sessions provided opportunities for participants to showcase their achievements and sparked discussions on topics ranging from climate change to mental health, highlighting the event’s dedication to addressing contemporary concerns through game development. 

Moving forward, we’re thrilled to keep exploring the potential of game-making as a tool for cultural participation and empowerment among young people. We look forward to upcoming iterations of the Cultural Game Jam format, confident that they will empower youth to engage with their cultural heritage in innovative ways. The future looks bright for young creators as they use game development to forge connections and inspire change. 

Check out the results of the first Cultural Game Jam in Hilversum here: https://itch.io/jam/epic-we-01-hilversum  

The photos in this post are credited to the Game Jam participants, Laura Schotte (Sound & Vision) and René van Engelenburg (Dropstuff Media).

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