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Interview with Josh Jordan: 100 first-time game designers in nine days

Jonas (he/him)
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In its nomination for the Diana Jones Award in 2006, the Game Chef design contest is praised highly:
Each year the competition has spawned a number of powerful, widely diverse RPGs and semi-RPGs and is now one of the best break-in points for new game designers and small press publishers. One of its strongest features is its development of a community of review and interest in one another’s projects. Game Chef now serves, effectively, as a grass-roots equivalent of the Origins Awards.

That was in 2006. Since then, the competition has evolved, spread into new communities (and indeed, continents), and generally grown better. Game Chef 2015 will start on June 13, so I took the opportunity to interview one of the global coordinators of Game Chef (the other being Rachael Storey Burke). Let's welcome Josh Jordan on stage!



Josh, please tell us a bit about yourself!

Many years ago I lived in Japan: a pet of my master Yoshi, mimicking his movements from my cage and learning the mysterious art of Ninjitsu, for Yoshi was one of Japan's finest shadow warriors.
Now, I'm a talking mutant rat who is raising four turtles. But to the untrained eye, I look like a high school English teacher in rural Texas.

How did you get into gaming?

My parents and grandparents play boardgames and card games. I’ve been playing those since before I could hold my own cards.
In junior high, my brother and I started playing Palladiums' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness with some neighbor kids. We quickly added superhero roleplaying games and the occasional D&D. I’ve been roleplaying ever since.


About organizing Game Chef, Josh wrote:
I like the opportunity to inspire new and unusual
games about a particular theme. I like being able to
observe hundreds of talented designers as they work.

It’s as if I have a backstage pass to several geniuses’ desks.


What does gaming mean to you? What role does it play for you?

Gaming in general is a great way to spend time with friends and family. Roleplaying gaming is one of my favorite kinds of storytelling. It has the added benefit that it is collaborative. It is storytelling you do together with friends.



You’ve designed a few games (e.g. Heroine, Doll, or the recent No Longer With Us, co-designed with Dymphna Coy and published in Worlds Without Master #8). Why do you design games?

I design games because it is a fun creative outlet. But more importantly, I design games to help people play stories they haven't played before. I've also designed some of my games, like Heroine, to suit the play styles of specific friends or family members.

For Heroine, your game for telling the story of a young heroine visiting another world, you’ve chosen a stunning visual design by using photos from J. R. Blackwell. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen photography used for illustrations in fantasy gaming (apart from bigger IP brands like e.g. the Lord of the Rings). What inspired you to go for photographs?

I love art. I love creating new and beautiful things. It makes sense to me that game books should be as beautiful as the stories they help us create. At least the bigger budget ones should be. I have nothing against a cheap, simple layout when a designer feels that is the best format for her game.
JR Blackwell is a friend. I love her work. Her beautiful portraits of people with diverse body types, especially her portraits of women, is a great fit to the theme of Heroine. She does a lot of storytelling through the scenes she creates in her photos. I am very happy to have worked with her. I love the way the photos turned out for Heroine and for Shoshana Kessock’s Dangers Untold, which I edited and published.


How did you get into game design, and what were and are your biggest struggles?

Let me tell you a secret. My back story is the least interesting part of my games. I'm a middle class, white, American man. There's nothing about my personal history that isn't true of a dozen other game designers, (except that I'm a licensed Baptist preacher, I guess.) My biggest struggle has always been to complete a project without getting distracted by the next great idea. I love starting projects. I love editing them. I love releasing them. But I tend to get distracted when my projects are about 40% finished. That’s when I start to have ideas for the next big project. Curse my brain!

Is there a common theme underlying your game designs, a shared topic linking them?

Yes. I dare you to play my games and figure out what it is!



What made you decide to become a publisher? And why did you choose the name Ginger Goat?

Ginger Goat is a bit of a pun. I have brown hair, but I have a naturally red (ginger) goatee.
I became a publisher in order to share my games with more people (and to break even or make a profit while doing so).



You run a podcast, Tell Me Another. It is “about all kinds of storytellers and the stories they tell”. That sounds pretty broad, but looking at the names of recent guests, it seems as if storytelling as it relates to gaming features prominently in the show, doesn’t it?

I would say that my interest is in all kinds of collaborative storytelling. I believe game designers can learn from comedians and poets can learn from preachers. Novelists can learn from radio drama scriptwriters. Etc. Many of the collaborative storytellers we have had on the show have been game designers, partly because they are my heroes and partly because I know several of them.

Quote:
One of my goals for Game Chef this year is
to have over a hundred participants who are
first-time designers. Of those, I sincerely hope
that many are women, that many are people
of color, and that many are not from the US.


Storytelling and gaming is also an academic interest of yours, is that right? Do you have a research project related to these topics?

I am interested in pursuing a PhD in collaborative storytelling, but I am still trying to find the right program. I need to make sure I can take care of my family at the same time. There are some tempting programs in Denmark and Wales, and I'm always open to suggestion.
In other words, there’s a potential doctorate in this area, one or two years from now.
Meanwhile, I have a day job. I teach English Literature to high school students. My interest in storytelling serves me well as we talk about short stories and novels. It also serves me surprisingly well when I teach my students how to write persuasive essays.

How are your experiences regarding gaming and designing shaped by your race and gender?

As a white man, I feel that my race and gender are over-represented in games and in game design. One of my design goals is to make stories about other kinds of people. I love stories about women. I love stories about cultures other than my own, (as long as they aren’t exploitative or exoticizing.)
As a member of the gaming community, one of my goals is to encourage under-represented people to get into the hobby, as players and as designers. One of my goals for Game Chef this year is to have over a hundred participants who are first-time designers. Of those, I sincerely hope that many are women, that many are people of color, and that many are not from the US. In fact, if you are a participant in Game Chef who is a first-time designer, I encourage you to contact me personally so that I can tell you how awesome you are. (If you are participating in a language-community other than English, I may not be able to give you very specific feedback, but I’ll sure try!) First-time designers who participate in Game Chef can contact me on Twitter as @joshtjordan or on Google+ as +JoshTJordan if you would like a little encouragement or hand-holding.



You’ve recently taken on the global organization of Game Chef. That game design contest has grown from a comparatively small event and is now spanning across continents. Can you tell us a bit about the contest and its goals?

Game Chef is an annual game design competition. Each year, the coordinators select one theme and four ingredients. Participants get nine days to create a brand-new tabletop roleplaying game, board or card game, or other analog game.


What does it take to participate?

Everyone can participate in Game Chef, whether you’re a seasoned game designer or have never designed a game before. We welcome designers of all experience levels from all walks of life. I personally encourage first-time game designers to give Game Chef a try. As global coordinator, I’m most excited with helping people who have never designed a game.
Participants design and submit a playable draft of an analog (non-video) game by June 21st, inspired by the theme and ingredients announced on June 13th. Historically most Game Chef games have been tabletop roleplaying games or live action games, but participants should feel free to push the boundaries of what counts as a roleplaying game, an analog game, or a game.
Each participant will also review four games that others submit, and this peer-review process will determine finalists. A winner for each language that Game Chef runs in will be declared, though the real victory is completing a game in the first place.

Quote:
I design games to help people play stories they haven't played before.

What appeals to you about organizing the Game Chef? What activities fall to you?

Together with my co-coordinator, Rachael Storey Burke, I’m responsible for selecting the theme and ingredients that will inspire this year’s participants to create their games. Rachael and I are also responsible for organizing the various language-community coordinators. This year, Game Chef runs simultaneously in the following language communities: Brazilian Portuguese, English, French, Italian, Korean, Polish, and Russian.
Several things appeal to me about organizing Game Chef. I like the opportunity to inspire new and unusual games about a particular theme. I like being able to observe hundreds of talented designers as they work. It’s as if I have a backstage pass to several geniuses’ desks. I like working with Rachael and the language community coordinators in order to build a sense of community among the participants. And finally, as I’ve mentioned before, I really like encouraging people to try their hand at designing a game for the first time. New designers come up with some of the most interesting games, because no one has told them that their idea is impossible.

Are you still looking for help? How can people willing to support the contest do so?

That’s a great question. There are three good ways to help.
First, join the online Game Chef community in your language. It may be a Google+ community or a Facebook group. It probably also has a presence on Twitter and through email. Make friends and encourage other people, especially new designers.
Second, spread the word about Game Chef. Post about it online, tell your friends, and talk to your local gaming group about it. Point them to http://game-chef.com or to @game_chef on Twitter for more information.
Third, when you participate in Game Chef, make sure you give other participants feedback on their games. Even before the peer-review process, many participants post early drafts of their games. Give encouraging feedback on those drafts and answer the specific questions that the designers are asking about their games. They don’t need you to design their game for them but they probably have specific areas where they want your input.


Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Josh! Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you, Jonas. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you.
The only thing I’ll add is that Rachael and I are very friendly. I promise we don’t bite. People shouldn’t be afraid to reach out online or to stop us at a convention to say hello.


Game Chef
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Visit http://game-chef.com/game-chef-2015/ to find links to the GC communities in several languages. You can contact Josh via the social media links given above, or send a geekmail to his RPGGeek account.
You can also contact Rachael through
gamechefglobalmbgmail.com

Josh has been interviewed for RPGGeek by Steve less than two years ago, but while there may be some overlap, I believe both our interviews are interesting and worth your time.
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