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Video editor Jason Oestreicher live-streamed a video feed and ran a chat room for gamers and fans as part of a 24-hour charity marathon Saturday.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Let the video games begin

  • Article by: JEAN HOPFENSPERGER
  • Star Tribune
  • October 20, 2012 - 7:32 PM

Taylor Anderson was prepared for his marathon Saturday. He had raised money for the cause, lined up decent snacks and enlisted a friend for support. And at 8 a.m., he clicked on his Xbox and hit the starting line -- of a 24-hour video-game blitz.

Anderson was among about 230 Minnesotans, and thousands of gamers across the nation, who spent the past 24 hours staring at video screens and chugging caffeine to raise money for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals across the country. In Minnesota, that meant Gillette Children's Hospital of St. Paul.

The "Extra Life" marathon has become one of the gaming industry's biggest annual charity events, raising more than $1.2 million last year for hospitals and shifting public perception of video game addicts.

"The perception of gamers out there is that they are socially awkward and loners,'' said Anderson, of Apple Valley, who has participated in the gaming blitz for four years.

"This is a way to show that we're willing to come together for a cause, that we're no different than anyone else when it comes to giving back.''

The event started five years ago, launched by a group of unlikely supporters -- the folks at a website called Sarcastic Gamer, and member Jeromy Adams in particular. He was inspired by the plight of a 15-year-old girl who had battled leukemia at a Houston hospital, receiving hundreds of video games to play as she underwent treatment. After she died in 2008, he decided to honor her by starting a fundraiser for that hospital.

That grew into a broader fundraiser for all the hospitals in the Children's Miracle Network.

Unlike a car wash or fancy gala event, this fundraiser is practically invisible to people not connected to the gaming community. Folks played in their living rooms, in friends' basements, in college dorms. Or in the case of the staff at Game Informer magazine, inside its Minneapolis office.

Six young men sat in front of TV monitors for what must have been a dream charity assignment. One gamer held a microphone, live-streaming the event to supporters across the country. There was a live chat.

People who made particularly hefty donations had the option of telling the marathoners what games they had to play.

The goal was to raise $8,888. But by 3 p.m., the gaming pros had already surpassed it. Fortified by pizza, snacks, coffee and "energy drinks,'' the team was ready to do some serious fundraising through the night.

"We're no strangers to sitting around and playing video games, but this is the first time we're doing it for charity,'' said Tim Turi, associate editor at the magazine, which has 8 million paid subscribers.

While gamers typically aren't associated with philanthropy, Turi thinks that will change as the industry grows and matures. The Extra Life event is putting that tradition on track, he said.

In the meantime, Turi and the crew -- who were engrossed in games ranging from "Banjo-Kazooie" to "Shadow of the Colossus" -- were looking forward to the long night ahead.

"There's nothing greater than having an undisturbed chunk of time to play new games and old favorites, especially with friends,'' he said. "It's the best.''

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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