Gaming For An Extra Life

I didn’t think that playing video games all day could make me so miserable, but make such a difference.

On November 7th, 2015 myself and a plethora of my Algonquin College journalism colleagues decided to join the global phenomenon and participate in the Extra Life charity livestream event. The event consists of people from all over the world, either as individuals or in teams, streaming in the style of a telethon where watchers are encouraged to donate on behalf of the streamer to the chosen Childrens Miracle Network hospital.

Being in Ottawa, when prompted to choose our hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) was the natural fit. We also set a bit of what we thought was a lofty goal for ourselves, raising over $500.

Olenka Reshitnyk, the Development Officer for CHEO, estimated that this year gamers will bring in upwards of $50,000 in donations.

“Year over year, this program proves to be strengthening within our gaming community and we hope it continues to grow,” said Reshitnyk.

There were six core members of our team, which we dubbed the ‘Lakebats’. Myself, my girlfriend Kendra-Leigh Carter, Marc Shaw, Trevor Alain, Mitchell Newton and Orlando Blacksmith. We had other visitors throughout the evening but we were the six that were committed to stay. The stream would be hosted on my page, where I hosted regular livestreams and fans from around the world would be stopping in.

We decided that it would be fun to set up our base of operations on the college campus, right in the Glue Magazine office in N-building at Algonquin College

After an hour of setup, and some technical issues, Team Lakebats were up and live at 12:35 p.m., ready to make the best mistake of our lives.

Everything started off smoothly, playing some Super Smash Bros. to pass the early hours as we all got settled in. Before long though, we were right in the swing of it, and our donations were climbing steadily. Friends, family and subscribers from Twitch had our donation total above $100 before the stream even went live. We even soared past the $250 milestone before sunset.

I had to step out for a few hours to celebrate my girlfriends birthday, but upon returning to the office after dinner around 10 p.m. the place was packed. Students from our program who had heard about the stream through our tireless social media promotion felt inclined to stop by and hang out with us. Whether they were jealous of all the fun we were having or just wanted to come out to support the cause, we were a dozen strong as we broke the midnight barrier.

We had set donation goals that included incentives that might coax our viewers into coughing up an extra few dollars. I ended up having to kiss my roommate, Orlando, on the mouth and had to do the cinnamon challenge right afterward. I can still feel cinnamon burns down my throat to this day.

It was also at this peak of excitement that we realized we weren’t alone. Another group of gamers representing the Extra Life Ottawa guild were posted up in the building next door.

Frankie Chaloner, the captain of the Extra Life team Save State One, was heading up a much larger group in P-building.

Chaloner, a graduate of the aboriginal studies program at Algonquin College, is no stranger to Extra Life. She is the vice-president of the Ottawa Extra Life Guild and has participated in the charity event for four years.

“I first heard about it through friends in the Game Dev program, who were doing it as a class,” said Chaloner.

“Many of my friends have been treated at CHEO, some in life-threatening situations and I thought this was a great way to turn something I’m passionate about into helping the hospital.”

It wasn’t until 4 a.m. or so that the Lakebats really started to struggle. Caffeine and energy drinks could only keep us energetic for so long. Our live stream chat went quiet and were we. Some of us even resorted to power naps on piles of newspapers to try and spark some life into the stream, but it was futile.

By the time the sun came up, we’d completely lost our minds. I was falling asleep mid-game in Call of Duty, and Shaw was rapping about spaghetti. It was getting difficult to even form sentences at this point in the day. Your brain tends to do weird things when it’s deprived of sleep.

It was at this point we kept asking ourselves why. Why would we make ourselves so miserable? Well, it felt right. We got to do something we loved to do – play video games – and make a difference.

“Extra Life Gamers in eastern Ontario and western Quebec have made a huge difference in the lives of the children, youth and families who need CHEO. The money they raised will be used to purchase specialized medical equipment that the doctors and nurses need to care for the tiniest babies to the tallest teens,” said Reshitnyk. She also told us that the funds we helped raise would go to support the life-saving research being done at the CHEO Research institute, and that when it was said and done the donations received from Extra Life would touch 500,000 lives.

It was hell, but we did it. Haggard and exhausted, we raised upwards of $600 for CHEO and sick kids in the Ottawa area. I can’t speak for my teammates, but I came home and slept for a full day after packing up our portable stream station and making the short drive home.

Save State One had also had an incredibly successful event, and their fundraising numbers reflected. When all was said and done, the group had raised had raised $1500 U.S. with Chaloner raising $440 U.S. on game day.

I had an absolute blast. Between chatting with my viewers on Twitch and playing multiplayer games with the Extra Lifers at my event, there was never a dull moment,” said Chaloner.

The fun of the event wasn’t all she was excited about, though.

“Extra Life is my chance to give back to the community. I’m always happy knowing that I’ve been able to help kids who are receiving life-changing treatment at CHEO,” Chaloner added.

After recovering from the weekend, I felt great. I still feel great. We raised a bunch of money for kids, had a lot of fun for the most part, and I feel like I genuinely made a difference. I guess that’s what it’s all about. That and throwing up cinnamon of course.