A marathon online event using a mind-numbing simulation of a bus driving across the desert gets enough buzz to fuel four days of fundraising. But your results may vary.
Marathons can still work as fundraisers. Out on Vancouver Island, Canada, a comedy video troop known as LoadingReadyRun far exceeded their expectations by raising over $20,000 for charity by playing a video game for four days running. The game was something called Desert Bus, a tongue in cheek real-time simulation of a bus trip from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada (maximum speed 45 miles an hour/72 kilometers per hour) that takes eight hours to play (and it can't be paused). It was originally part of an unreleased Sega CD video game package hosted by the comedy magicians Penn & Teller. (Here's the story in a weirdly unsync'ed video from CHEK-TV, Victoria, BC.)
The charity beneficiary was Child's Play (EIN 20-3584556 Form 990), which raises money to donate game consoles (and other electronic entertainment devices) to a network of forty hospitals in the US, Canada, plus a handful in Australia, Egypt, New Zealand, and the UK. The charity was founded by Mike Krahulik & Jerry Holkins, who are artist and author respectively of the influential thrice-weekly video-game themed comic Penny Arcade (which despite its influence is nigh incomprehensible to non-gamers due to Mr. Holkins' use of gamer jargon, a florid writing style, and oblique references). Wired magazine profiled the pair last summer, but only the Form 990 for the charity provides the information that Mr. Krahulik draws a salary of $221,726 and Mr. Holkins $209,509 (from Penny Arcade, NOT from the charity).
This fundraiser suggests good reasons why a not every charity will be able to match this level of Internet fund raising:
- LoadingReadyRun already have an established, if modest, audience from their ambitious web site, which releases a new sketch comedy video weekly. The group has experience and infrastructure to both promote and support an Internet marathon.
- The Penny Arcade connection provided another helpful promotional lead (it's where I found out about it—don't ask me why I read a comic that I don't understand most of the time.)
- The Penn & Teller card didn't hurt either.
And while $20,000 is impressive, it's hardly enough to support even a medium-scale charity with paid staff. Child's Play is still an all-volunteer effort.
And, like the Imus Ranch, this is another charity that promotes helping sick kids who aren't that sick, and as with the McDonald's pull tab fundraiser, I'm concerned that this type of event tends to trivialize charity and draws attention away from serious causes and remedies. Since homicide is the second leading cause of death for persons aged 1-19 (behind unintentional injury), reducing real-world violence seems to me like a more relevant cause for the gaming community to embrace.