Aside from being the day after Star Wars Day (with Mark Hamill taking advantage of the excitement to promote the #ForceForChange campaign, benefiting the Starlight Children’s Foundation), May 5 is known for a few different things. In the Mexico and in the USA, it is Cinco de Mayo (which, you may be surprised to know, does not commemorate Mexican Independence Day, but Mexico’s victory over a French invasion force), but in Korea and Japan, home to some of the most talented gamers in the world, it is Children’s Day, a holiday dedicated to the happiness of all children.
That last bit is particularly relevant because it is also the mid-point in the Extra Life calendar.
For those who haven’t heard of Extra Life, it is a grassroots gaming charity that unites thousands of players to raise money for hospitalized children. Since its inception in 2008 as a 24-hour charity gaming marathon, Extra Life has grown by leaps and bounds, until today, it is the best-cited example of the power of gaming communities, having raised more than $30 million for sick kids being treated at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals all over North America.
The event began as a way to honor Victoria Enmon, a young girl whose four-year struggle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) struck the community of the Sarcastic Gamer site in a way that is hard to describe.
During her fight against the disease, they cheered for her, encouraged her, sent her gifts to keep her spirits up, because her courage was an inspiration. To them, if she could face something like cancer, one of the true monsters the world had to offer, without fear, they felt that they could certainly face the smaller problems in their lives.
And then, she died.
Far from breaking the community, her death galvanized them, with a movement being sparked in her memory. Gamers from around the world began talking about what they could do to help kids suffering from terrible diseases, hospitalized for months on end with little to do and no one to talk to. Remembering how Victoria had been cheered by the gifts of games, they thought : “Why not the power of play?”
And that’s what they did.
The first Extra Life event was focused on helping kids at the hospital Victoria had been at, with hundreds of gamers raising $88,000 in the course of a weekend. The next year’s was bigger, with thousands of gamers helping kids at several hospitals. The year after that, tens of thousands helping kids at dozens, and so on until Extra Life grew into something that benefited not just children at one hospital, but those at all 170 of the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals around North America.
In 2016, Extra Life raised $9.6 million, without having to spend a cent on mass marketing or overhead, as most charities do. And this year, they are looking to break the $10 million mark, as more and more flock to the banner of Extra Life, coming together #ForTheKids online, over livestreams, in virtual worlds, on message boards, and even at game jams and tournaments, because they believe that they can make a difference.
For a number of reasons, there’s been a lot of attention given to the state of healthcare in the US this week, with the debate over the budget (and funding to the NIH), the vote on the American Health Care Act, and Jimmy Kimmel’s his passionate appeal that “No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life.”
Whatever else people may agree or disagree with, no one wants to see children suffer and die – not if they can do something to do it.
Extra Life was started because of that very sentiment, and today, the money it raises helps families with zero financial resources get world-class care for their children, funds research into deadly diseases, and provides games or other entertainment to relieve the suffering of a long hospital stay.
In games, miracles are commonplace and suffering is easily fixed with healing magic or a good night’s sleep. In the real world, miracles are rare and precious, and illness and injury are oh-so-much harder to cure, with treatment having its own set of perils.
Faced with this harsh reality, the gamers of Extra Life push harder, do more each year. And this May, they’re hard at work, coming up with creative ways to grow their numbers and raise money#For TheKids.
Some are hosting gaming tournaments or charity livestreams.
Some are attending gaming conventions, volunteering their time manning a booth and spreading the word about the movement.
And some are planning events, with the San Francisco Guild of Extra Life and the San Francisco branch of Playcrafting coming together to put on the Playcrafting + Extra Life Game Jam and Game Fest. The Game Jam is happening this weekend at the Google Launchpad (with remote participants more than welcome to join in and submit games), with theme of the jam being the power of play. The organizers want to see participants make games that heal – games that can help kids in hospitals, and to show these games to the world, at the 24 Game Fest happening May 13-14 (RSVP on the Eventbrite – Free!).
This weekend, with so much controversy and in the world, consider getting involved in something positive. Consider joining a movement about using the power of play and the passion of gamers to help heal kids. Consider Extra Life.