“Train Jam”
A playful train ride through South Africa

On the train through South Africa developing games
On the train through South Africa developing games | Photo: Hankyeol Lee

A flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town takes a good two hours. A train ride? At least 27 hours, without air conditioning. This is part of the concept of the "Train Jam" supported by the Goethe-Institut, which connects game design students and game designers.

By Judit Hoffkamp, Sören Jonsson and Jonas Radunz

“Trains force your brain to slow down. With no internet access and the knowledge you’ll be on a train for an entire day, you have to mine your creative resources.” What Lucas Peterson wrote for the New York Times can be seen as inspiring the invention of the Train Jam: game developers use the creative atmosphere of a train ride to conceptualize and implement games. What normally takes months happens in hours.

Following an idea from the USA, the Goethe-Institut South Africa and the A Maze Festival from Berlin have launched the South African Train Jam. The special thing about this Train Jam: the Goethe-Institut covers the entire costs of 20 young game design students, while the A Maze Festival with its contacts around the world ensures that international, professional game designers are on board. This creates a unique opportunity for everyone involved to network while traveling and making games. That same week, the results will be presented at the Playtopia Indie Games & Immersive Arts Festival in Cape Town.

Photo: © Goethe-Institut
Impressions from “Train Jam”

The gaming industry and how it works

Thorsten Wiedemann, the founder and creative director of A Maze, emphasizes the beginner-friendliness of the project: "We want to appeal especially to newcomers who study game design. Thanks to the 20 places of the Goethe-Institut, we can implement that, although we had a hard time picking the right ones from all the applications - we would of course like to take everyone with us!"

One of the participants who was able to get a ticket is Sherilynne Herb, a game design student from Wits University in Johannesburg. She's in her first semester and was particularly excited about how much she could learn: "I met a lot of really interesting, great people. Everyone brings something different with us, we were a bunch of different personalities and yet we got along pretty well. I learned a lot about the industry and how it works. It was a great experience!"

The participants of the "Train Jam"
The participants of the "Train Jam" | Photo: Hankyeol Lee

11 games in 36 hours

While the timetable actually envisages 27 hours for the route, it ended up being 36 hours, as unscheduled stops in the desert landscape of the South African interior are not uncommon on this route. The heatwave which had kept the country under control and caused the temperatures in some places to rise to over 50 °C, made the task even more difficult. Nonetheless, the game designers worked to the last moment, conceptualizing and designing a total of eleven games.

Stefanie Kastner, Regional Director Information for Sub-Saharan Africa, finally emphasized the special power of intercultural cooperation: "As the Goethe-Institut, we work to connect cultures and create dialogue. Here at the Train Jam we see again how Connecting and creating together is the answer to so many conflicts in our world ".