"A game jam is a gathering of game developers for the purpose of planning, designing, and creating one or more games within a short span of time, usually ranging between 24 to 48 hours. Game developers are generally made up of programmers, game designers, artists, and others in game development-related fields."
So it's your first time participating in a game jam. How do you prepare? What do you bring? What do you need? What should you forget? Here's some pointers on what you should do in advance, and what to expect when you're there.
While this is largely dependent on the type of jam you're attending and where it's taking place, it's not a bad idea to bring your own gear with you. Typically this means a laptop, but if you don't have one see if you can bring your desktop rig to the event. As well as your computer, bring any other equipment you think you might need or might help others at the event. Anything from drawing tablets to VR gear, if it's something you think is worth sharing to try out, bring it!
Again depending on where the jam you're attending takes place and what sort of rules the location might have, bringing food/drinks isn't a bad idea either. Working on an empty stomach is a horrible experience, and usually a bit of caffeine doesn't hurt things either.
A game jam is meant to be a chance for you to do something new and exciting. Sometimes (in fact, most of the time) it means stepping outside your comfort zone, be it in terms of what it is you're actually working on, the tools you're using, or even the kind of team you're working with. And that's a good thing! The only way anyone ever learns anything is by trying something different, and a jam is a great way to do just that.
Fail might be the wrong word here, but it'll be the first one that comes to mind when it does happen. And it probably will. Chances are good no matter what you create over the course of the jam, there'll be a million things "wrong" with it. The mechanics are broken, the sprites aren't correct, the audio sounds terrible, etc. Any one of these things might seem like a failure at first, but that's completely the wrong way to look at it. The whole point of a jam is to learn something. So when you "fail" at something, all you've done is learn one way to not do something, and that usually leads to new thoughts that might (and probably will be) more successful!
Most game jammers set out to complete a working prototype of some type of game within about 48 hours. 48 hours is not much time at all, especially to make a game in. With that in mind, get experimental! It's a perfect chance to try out an idea that some might say is completely crazy, or that can't be done. With it only being a short amount of time to hammer something out, if it doesn't work then no big deal! It was a weekend, and you learned that hey, maybe it wasn't such a great idea after all. OR, maybe, just maybe, you come out of the weekend with a functioning, playable prototype that not only proves your idea wasn't that crazy, but in fact show's it was pretty fantastic! So don't be afraid to take risks, because at the end of it you'll still come out with something.
You'd be amazed how encouraging livestreaming your work process can be if you've never done it before. Instead of it being the distraction you might think it could be, it pushes you to work harder and smarter, AND it gets you a bit of an audience, which can be kinda nice. And with services like Twitch, viewers can jump into a chatroom with you and each other, and provide valuable feedback and encouragement as well. It's definitely not a requirement, and I'm not sure it's something you would want to do all the time, but at least try it if you haven't before, just to see how you like it.
Some people say that jams should be spent filling your body with as much caffeine as possible, because sleep is for wimps. That's dumb. Nobody should ever do that. Yes, a weekend is not a lot of time to make something. But trying to push out a finished, decent game by the end of a weekend without getting any rest is even more difficult. I'm not saying you should sleep 12 hours a night (though, if that's your thing, awesome!), but pulling all-nighters usually just leads to headaches, body aches, achey aches, and a bad end result.
I'd make another blurb for hygiene as well, but that should be pretty common sense. I hope.
Seriously, the best part about participating in a game jam is it's a good time. Hang with old friends, make new ones, and just work together to make something awesome and have a good time doing it.