Every year for the last five years, video game designer Jóhannes G. Þorsteinsson has opened his home in Vesturádalur in Northeast Iceland to designers from around the world for an “isolation jam,” where they spend a weekend enjoying each other’s company and the lack of distractions in the countryside while designing new games to try out with one another. This year’s jam, which was visited by the RÚV television program Landinn saw designers from Iceland, Serbia, Romania, and The Netherlands gather over a weekend, at least two of whose games were directly inspired by their rural environment.
“It’s very nice when you can go to a place and be inspired by the landscape and say, ‘oh, I want to make a game about exactly this,” said participant Ivan Noraros from Serbia. “I would never think of making a sheep farming game, but then I came here. It’s great inspiration.”
“The idea is that you’re trying to defend your field of crops from your opponent and you’re trying to prevent them from growing their crops,” Hein-Peter van Braam from The Netherlands explained about his game-in-progress. “And you do that by shooting tiny sheep into their field which will grow up and then eat the other person’s crop. It’s just pure silliness, really, I’m not making a statement with this game, other than it’s fun to do something non-violent with a gun, I guess?”
Jóhannes was raised in the area, but lived for a while in Reykjavík and Sweden before moving back out to the country a few years ago. “When I came back, I was so lonely,” he explained. “I like being alone, but I was missing people who were into the same thing as me. Naturally, I have a lot of friends here, but it’s maybe difficult to talk about computer games with sheep farmers...So I became a bit isolated. So I came up with this plan to trick people to come to my place, to play with me.”
“It’s so similar to musicians “jamming” together,” Jóhannes continued. “...You get to try out ideas that you haven’t before, something new.” Sometimes, the experiments come to nothing, of course, but other times, they develop into bigger games.
Although, his “isolation jam” has been successful, Jóhannes is not looking to expand it into a larger event, however. “If I invited more people, in a bigger house, it wouldn’t be as cozy any more.”