World Jam inspires hope for youth

Have you ever wanted to fly to another country, or maybe even another planet? It might seem out of reach, but for a child in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy, fantasy feels like the farthest thing in the world.

But the on-campus Flying Mollusk World Jam, which begins Friday and runs through the end of the weekend, is attempting to fix that. The event fosters collaboration between developers to create visual worlds that help ease the procedural and chronic pain of kids and teens undergoing medical treatment.

“The purpose behind this event is to get together a lot of people from different backgrounds,” said Marientina Gotsis, director of the Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center. “We imagine most of them will probably be artists and programmers to develop a virtual world that can be used by patients at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. In this particular Jam, we’re not necessarily expecting that people will make games, or they might, but we’re looking for very interesting places that you can experience. We’re in need of an environment that people can use for 5-15 minutes in order to not focus on painful procedures that they’re going through.”

USC students with both technical and creative skills will work as the developers, as well as collaborate with Flying Mollusk — the producer of the event — and graduates who are now in the industry are able to guide students with less experience through the process.

“Groups of people come together organically, and they sort of coalesce on the concept they want to explore,” Gotsis said. “Some of them may come in ready to make something someone else wants, and others might have an idea and they’re looking to pitch other people to make their idea happen.”

Friday will serve as an introduction to the event, with guest speaker Dr. Jeffrey Gold from the hospital, where teams can mix and mingle and toss around some preliminary ideas. Teams will then work all day Saturday, a half-day Sunday and unveil their creations Sunday evening.

The second phase of the philanthropic project will involve visiting the Children’s Hospital and meeting with patients and doctors one on one.

“We’ll figure out when [the games] are appropriate for different types of procedures and get feedback,” Gotsis said. “Hopefully this will create a first cycle that we can repeat so that we can do this more frequently and get to a point where we can get the patients to submit a wish, like, ‘I would like to have this.’ Maybe in the next cycle someone will actually choose to make it.”

Though Gotsis said that the technology is already there to support such innovations, it isn’t being taken advantage of.

“There’s really very little, in this case, that’s used for pediatric patients,” Gotsis said. “At this point in time, the technology is really available and easy to use … It doesn’t take too much to make, and [patients] could sure use a lot of variety … It’s not that experimental. It’s off the shelf. But it hasn’t been used to this purpose, on the DIY scale.”

The concept of jams is also something that has been around for some time, gaining popularity with game jams, 48-hour film festivals, 24-hour theater challenges and other similar events that spur creative expression in high-energy, quick turnaround periods.

“We’ve done many, many game jams, so this is modeled after the traditional global game jam, which is truly global,” Gotsis said. “It happens all over the world … lots of gamers come together and make stuff together.”

Yet this upcoming World Jam is the first of its kind, with the trend taking a turn toward the benevolent and recently focusing on making a social impact or raising awareness for a cause.

“Two months ago, we had an LGBTQ one that was created,” Gotsis said. “So now we’re branching off of that and saying, ‘OK, why don’t we expand it and do something very specific for the mission that we serve?’ When I say ‘we,’ I’m talking about the Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center, and my collaborators at Children’s Hospital.”

Gotsis said she emphasizes the fact that she wants students to get excited about doing something with a specific purpose that’s not for a class or a job.

“It’s doing things for other people, and creating places for other people to experience,” Gotsis said. “It’s not just games — it’s fictional worlds. What if there was a place that you wanted to go that you could never go to … either for financial or health reasons?”

Gotsis said she is interested in targeting students who are pursuing a path in medicine, as the endeavor is as much a form of healing as it is a techie creation

“This is also something that we hope to generate more interest in from a lot of students who may be interested in integrative medicine,” Gotsis said. “A lot of people may think it’s a distraction, but it can be a very transformative experience. It’s not about forgetting the pain — it’s about transforming it into something else.”

As for what the future  holds for World Jam, Gotsis said she remains optimistic.

“It would be nice if one day, we have a World Jam that is actually global,” Gotsis said. “We have multiple groups of people in multiple locations all making virtual worlds and virtual environments for this purpose, for people who are in a medical setting, for patients who need to get their minds off whatever is happening and rethink their perspective and feel good and feel better.”