For six days in early January, hundreds of young men and women in comfortable clothes gathered around television screens in a hotel outside of Washington, D.C. They had two objectives: to complete entire video games as quickly as possible and raise as much money as possible for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.
The small nonprofit collected $1.5-million in donations during the 165-hour event, the sixth annual Awesome Games Done Quick video-game marathon.
The gathering draws gamers from around the world to play favorites like the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Tetris: the Grand Master. Rather than simply progress through levels, gamers competed in "speedrunning," a style of play that requires advance planning and intimate knowledge of the details of each game.
Nearly 1,000 video-game fans took turns playing and watching in person, while 9.4 million viewers followed along via livestream on twitch.tv, a site that makes video gaming a spectator event and made donations through the Games Done Quick website.
Games Done Quick was founded six years ago by a group of game lovers interested in harnessing their passion for a worthy cause.
"When we were looking through charities to support a few years ago, cancer was something that affected almost everyone in our community one way or another," said Andrew Schroeder, event director for Games Done Quick. "There was a ton of emphasis already on finding a cure and not quite enough on prevention and detection, and we thought that was just as important as finding a cure."
Having never heard of a video-game fundraiser, Jan Bresch, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Prevent Cancer Foundation, said she was initially puzzled when Games Done Quick proposed a partnership.
"These guys and women were going to play video games and watch the superstars raise money. We weren’t sure how they were going to it," Ms. Bresch said. "We’ve been amazed; it’s been a tremendous learning process for us."
The foundation provides marketing and staff support for the marathons, plus food to fuel the speedrunning gamers.
"I feel like these guys are developing a very different culture of philanthropy," Ms. Bresch said. "They’re bringing a diverse group of people together, not only nationally but internationally, to benefit a cause."
Support Adds Up
Participants came from around the world, representing countries including Australia, England, Germany, Japan, Poland, and Sweden. Ms. Bresch encountered one group of online friends from far-flung countries who used the marathon as a way to finally meet in person.
The average donation— $39.90—was small, Ms. Bresch noted. But with 39,014 contributions made by 29,652 donors, the proceeds added up. To encourage viewers to donate, players participated in challenges like speedrunning while blindfolded, and the event offered prizes to top donors, such as a pinball machine, custom-designed Nintendo entertainment systems, and video-game art.
The marathon created opportunities for other partnerships that Ms. Bresch said would probably never happen otherwise. Video-game company TinyBuild donated $20,000 and agreed to sponsor the event, while game distributor Humble Bundle donated a portion of the sales it made during the marathon.
"These are young individuals that have found a really nice niche for themselves," Ms. Bresch said. "They’ve found a way to take what they love to do—and what thousands of people love to do—and do good with it. I’m so impressed with it."
Although the location for the next Games Done Quick event has not been selected, Mr. Schroeder said it will take place in July and will benefit Doctors Without Borders.