Party Like a Ninja

Go, ninja, go! Teenage Mutant Ninja GAAM will serve up heaping slices of ’80s- and ’90s-inspired fun at The Museum & Gardens on Dec. 7. For one night only, revelers will experience a wonderland of video games, art, music and fashion that will beckon memories of ninja days gone by. And there’s free beer.

Two years ago, GAAM founder and president Ryan Thompson and three friends — Derrick Nevado, Logan Zawacki and Edmund Dansart — got the idea to host a video-game-inspired art show. Before long, their plans had grown far beyond the simple concept. Rather than scale back, they decided to take the party to the expert level. And thus GAAM (Games Art and Music) was born.

Don’t come to Teenage Mutant Ninja GAAM (TMNG) expecting a dull cluster of stiffs doing a monkey-see-art, monkey-drink-cocktail, monkey-go-home routine. TMNG is a free-for-all for fun seekers. There will be surprises, activities and even a martial arts show.

“We try to make sure the show has as many surprises and is as full of energy as possible,” Thompson said.

“Legend of Zelda” is so much cooler than “Word Dojo” at the watering hole, so there will be casual gaming stations for partygoers to enjoy. But worry not, hardcore gamers, the Noobs won’t cramp your style; there’s a gaming tournament and stations where you can try to beat last night’s high score and/or the world record for the longest time spent without blinking. Indie game studios, including locals Invert Game Studios and Artific Games, as well as Smash Games, Martian Media, Immersed Games and others will also be there.

Sony Santa Monica Studios, Volition Studios and Iron Galaxy have donated artwork for the live charity art auction, which will benefit Child’s Play Charity. Local and international artists will be featured in an art installation and exhibit in tribute to TMNT.

“Getting into the charity art auction is kind of like getting into the Kumite,” Thompson said. Like the fighting competition in “Bloodsport,” the auction is invitation-only.

Fans of costume play (“cosplay”) should bring their wallets for the Fashion X Cosplay auction. With proceeds benefiting First Coast No More Homeless Pets, it showcases GAAM fashion and accessories from cosplay photo shoots and videos. TMNG might be the only place you’ll find the perfect accessory to complete that superhero costume hanging in the back of your closet since the ’80s.

Musicians and DJs — including On Guard, Angry Sons, DJ Nes, Galaxy Flowers and Nightswim — will keep the crowd of several hundred moving and grooving through the night. A GO Cosplay costume contest for individuals and couples/duos is an opportunity for cosplayers to win some sweet prizes and swag provided by Valve, Sony Santa Monica Studios, D3 Publishing, Her Interactive, Phoenix Online Studios and more. It’s a rare excuse to dig out that turtle costume your mom stayed up all night making out of papier-mâché and coat-hangers in ’92. Costumes are not required and need not be video-game inspired. But you’ll likely see at least a few Donatellos, Raphaels, Michelangelos and Leonardos. And Splinter! And Shredder!

A full cash bar will be available, and Aardwolf Brewing Company and Bold City Brewery provide free beer 6-9 p.m. “Free beer is really important to us,” Thompson said.

Happy Grilled Cheese Food Truck will be onsite to keep all those keg bellies, thumbs of steel and twerking hips going strong. When TMNG ends at 11 p.m., all are invited to Dive Bar for the After After Party.

Like the creators of One Spark, the four friends who dreamed up GAAM endeavor to help Jacksonville attract and keep talented, creative people. They envision a city where workers don’t have to choose between manual labor and crunching numbers in a power suit. Thompson, who now spends his days working outside his chosen field, once travelled back and forth to Los Angeles working as a web designer.

“It was a pain in the ass. … I really wanted there to be more of a gaming presence in Jacksonville,” he said.

He pointed out that the gaming industry isn’t a micromarket; it’s big, big business that rakes in billions of dollars every year. And why shouldn’t this city get some of that sweet green action?

Though this is only the third GAAM event, they’ve been so successful that others have tried to lure them away from our fair city, presumably with promises of unlimited World of Warcraft accounts. But fear not, Jacksonvillians.

“I love Jacksonville, which is why we’re trying so hard to keep it in Jacksonville,” Thompson said.

Cowabunga, baby.