26 October 2015

You know, gamers sometimes get the short end of the stick in the mainstream media. Since they’re not part of that mainstream for a variety of reasons, they generally can’t defend themselves properly when someone comes looking for a decent scapegoat. Thankfully, some gamers decided to take the matters into their own hands and do something good for the world.

The Philanthropic Singularity

All over the world, there a numerous events thrown regularly by gamers to gather money for charities. One of the biggest examples of that is the Games Done Quick group, which organizes two speed running marathons a year: Awesome Games Done Quick in January, and Summer Games Done Quick in July. They now manage to grab more than one million dollars per event, and stand proud as a testament of the dedication of gamers worlwide.

But really, why are so many people eager to give money to great causes? My personal opinion is that it’s the union of a variety of factors. First, gaming is a rather expensive hobby, which implies that those who partake in it are probably in the middle class or above, and as such gamers are probably more likely to have some excess disposable income to throw at such causes. Gamers have also been conditionned to act as a tightly knit community, which helps drive hype. And finally, there’s the whole competitive aspect: after all, raising money is a game, and we’re in it to win it. All of those things add up to create an immense industry of aggressively generous people.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of charities as a way to fix systemic issues. As a social democrat, I think it’s the government’s job to address problems that affect all of society, in areas such as education, healthcare, utilities, etc. I really think the welfare state is a positive thing that can, when implemented properly, end up raising the standard of living of everyone. Asking people to donate to charities in such domains is, as we call in software development, a hack. It’s a short term solution to a complex problem that is not meant to hold for long. But, just like hacks quite often end up in production, some critical sectors of society end up requiring donations to operate as our governments do not invest enough money in them.

So, that’s why I give. Because it’s not like the people in need have any other option. I donate to Greenpeace, to Doctors Without Borders, to the Canadian Red Cross, and a variety of other organizations and groups. And sometimes, I don’t just share some of my money. I also share some of my time.

Extra Life 2014 with Team Ze: the post-mortem

Extra Life is a yearly gaming marathon that started in 2008. The concept is simple: at a specific date, usually in fall, people from all over the world (but mostly in Canada and the United States) start playing video games for 24 hours straight. The goal? To goad your friends and relatives into donating money to the charity of your choice. The name comes from the fact that all of those charities are related to child healthcare, so participants are playing for the kids (roll credits)!

I learned about the existence of Extra Life last year, about two weeks before the event. I talked about it to an old friend of mine, and we decided to try it out, with little to no preparation. We created “Team Ze”, so named because our respective gaming handles at the time were ZeSmith and ZeSum, we created a Facebook event, invited our friends, and on the day of the event, we opened our respective Twitch streams and, for 24 hours, we played games like Diablo 3, Battlefield 3, Dead Space 3 or League of Legends, amongst other titles. We had very low expectation, so we set our team goal to 200$ and managed to reach 340$, which is nice.

In the end, it was a pretty fun experiences, although things got really difficult near the end. But on we marched, and we ended the streaming with a great feeling of accomplishment. It was far from perfect, however. The lack of real preparation really hurt the whole thing, and having more than one stream to watch probably confused some viewer.

But since we’re not the kind of people who quit, we’re doing it again this year. And we’re going bigger.

Onward to victory!

You see, we got more ambitious this time. Firstly, two other guys are going to join us, so we’re gonna be a 4-man team. One of them mentionned that it would be an infinitely superior experience if, instead of being each on our own like last time, we were all sitting in the same room and doing it LAN-style. We agreed, so expect to see four men on a couch or in front of PCs, shouting idiocies and trying a bit too hard to be funny. We’re planning to stream many more games than before, and some of them might even be console games. And our streaming setup is going to be slightly more elaborate, so that you can get all you the content you need by watching a single stream. In the end, we’re hoping to reach a sufficient amount of hype to get donations, all in the benefit of Opération Enfant Soleil.

Our hope is to make an even greater event and get people talking excitedly about it. Having all the participants in the same room will probably help with that, in the sense that it’ll make the entire event more interesting and entertaining.

Want to participate? Here’s a few tips: treat it as an actual marathon. Drink plenty of water, take breaks often, and don’t burn yourself out at the start by playing challenging games. While you’ll be indeed sitting on your ass for 24 hours, playing so many games for so long can be incredibly taxing for your brain, so even though your body isn’t really tired, you’re going to feel a bit brain dead at the end of it all. So sleep well beforehand, don’t overexert yourself, and stay focused. Don’t forget, your goal is not just to stay awake, you have to stay entertaining in order to drive up hype. If someone connects at 23:00 and sees a half-zombie droning through some random game, they probably won’t be really interested unless they personally know you, in which case they would probably have given some money to you anyway. Make sure you can get moral support from friends, and streaming as a team will make everything much smoother in that regard.

So, on November 7th, whether you play, donate or even just watch, get the word out! We won’t go far without the support of others. And if you want to support us, check out our team page. We’ll update it somewhere before now and the start of the event with all the info you need to follow and support us.

For the kids!