Beyond the game jams: Facing social challenges through a gameLab conception


Game jams and hackathons all over the world are a reality as a trend and the benefits are contrasted and supported by the public acceptance and research bodies. But, in the meantime, they are often considered as an end themselves instead of a powerful tool aiming broader objectives. This research and practice, through learning by doing angle, is explaining the experience in creating a gameLab conception to promote, through community building, informal learning and facing societal challenges from a game perspective among a region of more than 8 million inhabitants.

Why this project? GameLAB aims real territory transformation; raise awareness, spark vocations, increase the informal education spectrum, promote creative thinking and community development.

Which is the main outcome? The “participant’s narrative”: the creative and digital competences itinerary spinning around the local communities.

Who is taking part in this project? GameLAB is composed by the local communities, Guadalinfo Living Lab network, organizers (public-private-associative), other networks cooperating in the initiative, etc.

How is the project being managed?  The annual budget is executed in the initiatives defined in the communities’ workshop and/or assembly, always in the above defined framework, objectives and participant’s competences narrative.

The development of apps and applied games during a weekend competition is not new. The availability and growth of hackathons, game jams and other high intensity events is vast, facing challenges as ambiguity in the definition [5] and lack of a meaningful purpose. Although there are various discussions about the potential of game jams for engaging young learners, e.g. in STEM subjects [2], they are often considered as an end themselves instead of a powerful tool to a broader objective. From a wider perspective our experience aims sparking creativity, design and new training models as a mean to open new innovation tracks on young people, through building the “narrative” of the initiative based on the pillar of the local communities.

In the early beginning, the GameLab conception emerged from the organization of Gamejams based upon a methodology supported by an European initiative ‘JamToday’ [1]. Although the GameLab initiative has evolved through a strong local and regional contextualization, joining the JamToday community and being supported by the methodology and the toolset was and is crucial.  Engaging with local communities and stakeholders, private and public sponsors, participants during the organization of the game jams and, more important, taking advantage of the Guadalinfo Living Lab network [2] appeared the opportunity to merge both concepts, applied game jams ‘for good’ and the citizen driven lab concept, aiming to create this “living lab to face societal challenges, create awareness, awake vocations and develop digital competences through games and in community”, i.e. through creativity, open innovation, open science and being open to the communities [3].

This Living Lab [4] conception spins around the innovation model of the quadruple helix, i.e., the GameLab conception is co-created involving and engaging these key actors:

  • End users
  • Companies
  • Regional Government
  • Research and maker communities


The first step in the creation of the GameLab was engaging with the main developer and maker associations among Andalusia (South Spain). Making the different local communities visible on the definition of the common strategy, discussing the shared values and respecting their unique features, helps in building the community of communities aiming to provide innovative solutions through games angle. Once the community’s commitment is ensured, ten associations enrolled representing 5 out of 8 provinces of the region, the triple pillar is completed by the private support and cooperation. One of the key factors is that the action is based on the triple pillar: Public-Private-Associative.

At this point, we ensured the participation of the end users through the game and maker communities, but not in a broad concept as they are mainly presenting a high tech profile, lacking from diversity in terms of age, gender and socioeconomic perspective. And this weakness became our opportunity of being different taking advantage of the capillarity of the Guadalinfo Living Lab network, nearly 800 telecentres located in all municipalities under 20.000 inhabitants and in deprived urban neighbourhoods all over the 87.268 km2 of Andalucía, with direct access to all profile of end users.

Thus, this is the way the ‘narrative’ of the project is traced: low skilled users are trained in basic game (creativity, narrative, graphic design) and videogame (Scratch [5]) skills and prepared to share game jams with creative, professional developers and experts. We are experiencing that users participating as novel users have the opportunity to create synergies, contacts and competences to spark motivations and evolve to a professional career in the game and videogame sector. And this is what we use to name as: “the narrative of the participant”:


Figure. Participant’s narrative


At this point, we can introduce the main objectives of the GameLab:

  • Develop professional competences among end users. Participant’s narrative
  • Cohesion among the local communities aiming region development in this sector
  • Boost different and innovative solutions to tackle societal challenges. Incentivize creative approach
  • Raise awareness in the Andalusian population about local products/games emerging from the local communities, entrepreneurs and/or independent studios.
  • Raise awareness and influence at the policy level. Boosting cohesion among the associative movement spinning on the game and videogame sector and its capitalization in terms of productive development, we aim to have the opportunity to influence in the regional policy making.
  • Incentivize participants to meet the local communities and to join them, as the perfect environment for the professional and personal development. Making a strong local community will be the basis of the cities development

Other returns:

  • Awareness of design thinking and co-creation methods is a must
  • Awareness of what is already available to make sure game prototypes made are filling a need in the sector
  • Share lessons learned with each other
  • Design Requirement: it is useful and helpful to align the goal/activity within a practical context. This ensures that knowledge is embedded in a specific context.
  • Make sure to embed designs in a bigger context (virtuous ecosystem approach: home, free time, school, social circle)
  • Type of Learning: Combining formal and informal learning methods can increase effectiveness.
  • Motivation: think of ways to increase intrinsic motivation and decrease fear of failure
  • Engage end users into constructive trial and error gameplay
  • Situate collaborative learning

Currently, the GameLAB conception is running three main set of activities (called JAM-brella) to address the defined objectives and purposes

  • training of low skilled end users in basic coding (Scratch)
  • running game jams in every province
  • “community of communities” building. Iterative design of the “JAM-brella” set of activities and common strategy revision. All the local communities are entitled and motivated to commonly define and redefine the strategic planning. Grassroots communities are the basis of the transformative mechanic and objective of the project



Once introduced the overall concept of the GameLAB project, the game jams appear as one of the tools to address the main objectives described above. What are the main features? How do we address the challenging objectives?. To answer these questions, we are going to introduce the usual timeline when organizing our “contextualized” game jam event:

Searching for new local communities and stakeholders

Once defined the location of the event, it is necessary to look forward new associations, stakeholders, sponsors, and key references at a local level.

Selecting an Educational venue to run the Jamtoday

Indeed this is a main feature. As the learning background of the action is evident, it was clear since the early beginning that it was necessary to involve the formal Education System in the action. This way, we proceed to identify the educational centre (Primary or High School) which is a reference in the gaming and maker trends, proceeding to engage the professors and directors in the organization of the event.

Selecting the challenge and creating the experts group

It is the moment to select the thematic, i.e., the social challenge to address through developing innovative solutions based on applied games. E.g. the last challenges: learning Mathematics, health, circular economy (recycle, reuse and reduce), digital addictions, fake news…. Once selected the thematic (secret until the starting day), it’s the moment to find experts and/or professionals on the topic.

Next, a workshop is run with the selected group of experts in the thematic: teachers, professionals, influencers, etc. are brought together to define the “local” challenges in the selected thematic. Through a design thinking dynamic, a set up to 10-15 specific challenges to tackle and a bunch of useful resources are defined to serve as guidance to participants. That information will be provided to the participants at the beginning of the event.

Jamtoday event

The event consists of 3 days. First day is focused on training and networking aiming to contextualize the action and create synergies: inspiration speech and workshops on Unity, Scratch, narrative, storytelling, python, marketing in videogames and board games. Next two days are dedicated to development, presentation and evaluation.

Nowadays, three categories are considered to reach all the desired profiles: Advanced (Unity, Godot and other advanced game engines), amateur (Scratch) and creative (board games). A gamification process is designed to run in parallel with the development hours aiming to boost networking and experiences sharing among the different groups and the different categories. This way, professionals help and mentor amateurs, graphics designers create characters for others, creative share ideas in other’s games, music composers create songs in various games, etc.


Assessing the impact is not easy in this kind of informal education, as its final purpose is to transform the territory and not to obtain certain outcomes, but let’s share some figures of the second edition: 91 participants, 20 experts, 6 Unity games, 4 Scratch games, 5 board games [6] [7]. Broad impact in social media. Among all the editions more than 90 games have been generated, 120 experts from different subjects have been involved, more than 100 people from different fields have been hired, specific workshops have been run training more than 560 users and 6 magisterial presentations and round tables with successful professionals referring to the game and videogame sector have been organized.

Authors and contacts:

Ana Mª Salas;

Rafael Javier Sacristán;

Luis Navarro;

The article was shared with us by: Álvaro Molina


[1] European Network of Living Labs.

[2] Fowler, Pirker, Pollock, Campagnola de Paula, Echeveste, Gómez, “Understanding the benefits of Game Jams”, ITiCSE ’16 Arequipa, Peru

[3] Guadalinfo Living Lab network.

[4] JamToday European project;

[5] Lindsay Grace, “Deciphering Hackathons and Game Jams through Play”, GJH&GC ’16, March 13 2016, San Francisco, CA, USA

[6] Responding to the 3Os strategy: a co-creation workshop (ENoLL)

[7] Scratch website

[8] #JamtodayAL #JamtodayAL2 #JamtodayAL3

[9] #JamtodayGR


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