This week I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to Ben Verschoor, the host of the game jam “Jamesis.”
Last week, I had written an article about the patenting of the lauded Nemesis system from the hit game series “Middle-Earth” by Warner Brothers Studio. During my research, I came across something that rather fascinated me. Someone was hosting a game jam to encourage people to make use of the Nemesis system on the website Itch.io. A game jam is an event where participating members create a game with a set of rules, often with incredibly short timespans.
Jamesis, as it was called, was hosted by indie game developer, playwright and filmmaker Ben Verschoor and piqued my interest. After getting in touch with Verschoor, I was able to ask him some questions in regards to him hosting this game jam and general thoughts about the patent itself.
How long have you been making games?
“I took an introductory game studio elective course in early 2018 while I was getting my MFA in playwriting and screenwriting at Northwestern University. I was blown away by the possibilities of branching narrative — “Lake News” was the first project I did for that class — and I ended up spending more time teaching myself Unity and C Sharp for projects in that class than I did on my writing homework! After I graduated the following year, I spent most of my free time working on game projects. I’ve really only been making games for a couple years, and while I’ve learned a lot in that time, there’s much, much more for me to learn.”
What inspires you to develop games?
“I tend to get ideas from the real world, whether that’s something that’s going on in my own life or something more national in the news. Games are great at entertainment and escapism, but I think they also have a lot of potential for exploring ideas and scenarios that are more grounded, and that’s where I tend to go creatively. I have a lot of ideas and opinions, and so I use games as a vehicle for them. It’s actually really hard for me to try to come up with an idea for a genre game that isn’t some weird deconstruction or parody!”
What encouraged you to create Jamesis?
“Intellectual property laws in general make me angry. So much of our culture is built on taking ideas that already existed and finding new ways to innovate or combine them. Nowadays, IP laws, which ideally allow creators to profit from their creations, are written and used by enormous companies to maintain market dominance. Warner Bros. getting a patent on the Nemesis system — not just the system as it’s implemented in “Shadow of Mordor/War,” but the concept of a system where NPCs remember your interactions and develop alliances or rivalries over the course of a game, which affects the story — making that off limits to everyone else is just so bad for the industry and the culture and sets a terrible precedent. I immediately thought that since the patent wouldn’t go into effect for a couple weeks someone should make a game with the Nemesis system out of spite. At first I thought I would just try something myself, but then I thought it would be much better to turn into a jam. It would let others share in that same frustration I had and also generate some ideas that, who knows, could develop into innovations of their own.”
Are you participating in your game jam?
“I’m working on a game, though I’m not sure it will completely come together in time. It turns out procedural systems are quite complicated! Even if it ends up not quite panning out, I think it still will have been useful as an exercise in thinking about design.”
Events like this very game jam prove that there is not only interest from developers to further refine and modify the system, but also that Warner Brother’s patent is completely unwarranted. The evidence of the potential of the game jam lies in the enthusiasm in people to create games based on it and for others to admonish Warner Brothers for their, let’s say, charitably speaking, leech-like behavior as it sucks potentially good ideas out of the creative pool with the potential threat of legal consequences.
If you are interested in the Game Jam here is a link to it here.
This is only a fraction of the questions I have asked Ben Verschoor. If you’d like to know what else I asked him, here is a full transcript.
Edward Park is a third year student with a BsED writings track. EP909767@wcupa.edu