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Gamers Raise Funds for Children's Miracle Network

on Tue, 10/29/2013 - 00:00

Extra Life
“Gamers are not the stereotype of the angry pale kid in mom and dad’s basement,” Jeromy Adams told CNN in October 2013. “They are more likely to be the mom and dad. We are some of the most connected people on the planet. We communicate more efficiently, and we want to make a difference. Despite these expert qualifications, nobody really asks us for help.”

In 2007, however, Adams did exactly that, asking the online Sarcastic Gamer Community to donate video games and gifts for a young girl named Victoria “Tori” Enmon, who was fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Texas Children’s Hospital. The Sarcastic Gamer Community not only answered the call, but helped raise over $300,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network after Tori succumbed to cancer in late 2007.

The effort has expanded in the years since, becoming an annual charity event that now takes place in cities across the United States. Called Extra Life, the fundraiser works similar to walkathons, where participants collect donations from sponsors and then “walk” for a particular cause. In the case of Extra Life, gamers throughout the country likewise collect donations but then play video games for 24 straight hours to help raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network hospital of their choice.

“There’s no specific location or games they have to play, and the date and amount of hours played is even flexible,” Pittsburgh participant James South explained of Extra Life. “The full details are on the site, but the idea is basically to raise money for a good cause while having fun and playing games.”

In 2013, Extra Life targeted four specific cities and establishing “guilds” in those regions with the hope of raising awareness for the project. Pittsburgh was one of them, and James South served as the initial lead volunteer coordinator for the local guild. “Essentially, I try to coordinate and motivate the volunteers, as well as try to find opportunities for the volunteers to go out and spread awareness in the community,” he said at the time. “As volunteers, we have been going to events like Pittsburgh Comicon and the Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses, as well as gaming stores and game release events to pass out information, talk to people about the marathon, and sign up new gamers.”

The additional effort inevitably paid off. “I’m very happy with the reaction to Extra Life that we have seen in Pittsburgh,” South added. “As an event, it’s a little confusing at first and it’s not immediately apparent what it’s all about or how it works, but once we are able to talk to people and explain what it is, nearly everyone becomes very excited about it. Last year, by the end of the marathon, about $40,000 had been raised for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh by about 190 gamers. This year, the marathon hasn’t even started yet and we are at nearly $60,000 raised and almost 500 registered gamers. We’ve also been talking to local gaming businesses and organizations about Extra Life and they have all been very excited and receptive to working with us.”

One of those local businesses was the South Side-based Schell Games, the largest video game developer in the state of Pennsylvania. “The official Extra Life sponsor for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is Schell Games,” James South explained. “They have provided not only monetary support for the hospital to assist with our and their efforts, but also meeting space and food during some of our meetings. Additionally, some of their employees have helped out by volunteering with the guild. I’m really thankful for their sponsorship and, as a hobbyist game developer, the founder of Schell Games—Jesse Schell—is a bit of an idol of mine.”

Although James South served as the 2013 lead volunteer coordinator in Pittsburgh for Extra Life, it was only the second year that he has participated in the annual fundraiser overall. “I originally became involved in October of 2012 just as a gamer doing the marathon,” he said. “A friend of mine, Samantha Berg, found out about it through a friend of hers, I believe. She told myself and some of our other friends and we all decided to do the marathon as a big LAN party. With only a month of preparation and no real plan, our small group of friends raised over $2,000 during last year’s marathon just by playing video games.”

It was because of efforts like that of James South and his colleagues that Pittsburgh was selected as one of only four cities for Extra Life’s new guild format. “I think Pittsburgh was chosen because we were the only city in which the number of registered players dropped between 2011 to 2012—from about 240 to about 190—but the money raised increased, from about $15,000 to about $40,000,” he explained. “So they saw there were a lot of generous gamers who were most likely just unaware of the marathon.”

That generosity corresponds with Extra Life founder Jeromy Adams’ comments on CNN about the willingness of gamers to make a difference. “Many people, when describing why Extra Life is important to them, will get teary-eyed and tell a story about a child they know who is or was receiving treatment at a children’s hospital and how that changed their life,” James South said. “That is incredibly touching and beautiful, and I think that’s a wonderful reason to support Extra Life. However, and thankfully so, the children I know and love personally have been mostly healthy and not had to go through those types of experiences. So while raising money for children’s hospitals is a great cause, to me Extra Life is also about the gaming.”

Which likewise goes back to the original observations of Jeromy Adams. “Throughout most of my life, gaming has been associated with negative stereotypes,” South continued. “People like Jesse Schell and Jane McGonigal, and many others, are doing their part to use games to make the world a better place and destroy those stereotypes. Extra Life is another way that we as gamers can do that. Not only are we raising money for an excellent and deserving cause, but we’re accomplishing it by simply doing something we love—playing games.”

What can be better than that?

Anthony Letizia

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