WE PUT FUN AND INCLUSION BACK INTO THE LIVES OF PEOPLE WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES BY HELPING THEM TO PLAY VIDEOGAMES
Schall says. “But actually we’re a really passionate and active force – be that developers, publishers or fans. Perhaps that negative perception is something we all subconsciously push against. If you do charity content right, it’s a win for everyone – it’s not the same as putting a few coins in a bucket. With some projects, the donator, the charity and the game can all receive something tangible and valuable.”
It’s a viewpoint shared by many of the industry’s videogame-focused charities. Take Child’s Play, which aims to improve the lives of children in hospitals and domestic-violence shelters by providing consoles and games, and was founded in 2003 by Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. The charity gifts games and hardware, donated by players, to facilities annually, but in the past two years has also begun educating staff on games’ therapeutic uses.
“When Child’s Play started there was just a ton of bad press out there about videogames, “Travis Eriksen, who oversees partner relations, tells us. “You know: videogames make people violent, videogames are resulting in kids being antisocial, and all that stuff. But Mike and Jerry knew who their fans were, and that gamers were generally nice people. So they put those two things together and said, ‘We hate seeing that this is how the media portrays us. Let’s see if we can collect toys and help Seattle Children’s Hospital.’ They ended up filling the garage they had, and had to rent a storage unit just to cope. They were just overwhelmed by all the donations from fans of Penny Arcade who said, ‘Yeah, cool, I’m going to buy one toy and send it off to the children’s hospital.’ When all their readers did that it was this huge thing, and that became this huge charity that we’ve been running for a long time. We’ve raised over $40 million since we started, and it’s all from gamers and the game industry that are working to partner with us.”
The donations that Child’s Play receives span the gamut from huge lump sums to smaller, more personal contributions. This year’s internet-based fundraiser event Desert Bus For Hope – in which members of sketch comedy group LoadingReadyRun streamed themselves playing Penn and Teller’s infamously terrible eight-hour driving minigame repeatedly for a week – raised $700,000. A cheque for $321, meanwhile, was sent in by a six-year-old girl after she decided to forego birthday presents in favour of getting her friends to donate to the charity.
“We have a really active group,” Eriksen continues. “We have a lot of people who grew up with Nintendo or whatever, and now we’re at the point where we have kids. I’m thankful that both of my sons are super-healthy and haven’t had anything other than minor doctor’s trips, but it’s really easy to empathise with families in that situation and to know how important and powerful games were for us growing up, and how much more prominent they are in the culture today. To be able to share that is a no-brainer. Nobody looks at that and thinks, ‘I don’t really know if that’s important or helpful.’ It’s just, ‘Yeah, I totally get this.’”
GamesAid is another charity whose endeavours have been driven by a desire to show what the videogame industry is capable of. The umbrella charity supports several smaller UK charities each year – voted for by its game-industry members – and has so far raised and distributed over £2.5 million since it was set up in 2008. The ripple effects of its work reach well beyond the videogame community.
“We can say, ‘Actually, as an industry, we’re able to do so much good through videogames – when we work together, look at all these people we can support,’” GamesAid trustee Tracey McGarrigan says, echoing Eriksen’s sentiment. “Being very active and visible while doing that is really powerful, and the effect we can have is what attracts people to the industry, I think. Hopefully some of these young people we’re supporting will join the game industry; we’re making them aware that we’re here, and we’re here to help them. Whatever difficult time you’re going through, the game industry is one of the most welcoming, creative, and fascinating industries that you can work in.”
“AS AN INDUSTRY, WE’RE ABLE TO DO SO MUCH GOOD THROUGH VIDEOGAMES. LOOK AT ALL THE PEOPLE WE CAN SUPPORT”
Child’s Play’s Travis Eriksen (top) and GamesAid’s Tracey McGarrigan