Child's Play: Where Gamers Give Back

In 2003, Gabe and Tycho, the cartoonists behind the immensely popular "Penny Arcade" webcomic launched a toy drive for the Seattle Children's Hospital. What began as a single event for a lone hospital has since turned into Child's Play, a charity that raises more than one million dollars each year for more than seventy hospitals in six countries. A number of corporations, including Amazon, Microsoft and Ubisoft, are major sponsors. Bioware, another sponsor, has a free facebook application called "Gift of the Yeti" and makes a donation every time the game is played. Many community groups and volunteers organize events and programs every year to raise money, among them Desert Bus for Hope.

After another sold out dinner auction at the Washington convention center, CBR News spoke with Kristin Lindsay, the Foundation Coordinator of Child's Play, about the charity's origin, its mission and shattering last year's event in the face of a down economy.

CBR News: Kristin, for people who might not know, what exactly is Child's Play and why did Gabe and Tycho start it?

Kristin Lindsay: We were founded back in November of 2003 by Mike "Gabe" Krahulik and Jerry "Tycho" Holkins, who are the artist and writer of the most popular internet-based webcomic in the world, Penny Arcade. Penny Arcade itself is based on video games and video game culture.

They were inspired at the time by a mainstream media news article that painted video gamers in a violent light, something that Mike and Jerry knew was a very unfair stereotype.  They decided on the spur-of-the-moment to hold a Christmas toy drive for their local pediatric hospital, Seattle Children's.  In a mere three weeks, they collected an overwhelming $250,000 worth of toys, mailed to them by the video game community.  Based on that success, they committed to making the drive an annual event, expanding to other hospitals.

There are a lot of corporations listed as sponsors. How easy has it been to recruit them to this cause and how receptive have they been about getting behind a project like this?

The game industry has been extraordinarily supportive of Child's Play, we've been very lucky to have everyone step up.  Most of them get in touch with us first, asking how they can help out each year.

How did Amazon come onboard with the charity and how instrumental have they been with helping make this possible?

Amazon's wish list system was the obvious solution to the problem of dealing with shipping.  They had the right tools already in place, so when we got in touch with our contacts there, they were eager to help.  Without Amazon, we wouldn't have the Child's Play network we have today.

When you decide to expand the network of hospitals, how much of it is you trying to grow and how much of it is people reaching out to you?

Almost all of our current partner hospitals came on board after hearing about us through their contacts at other hospitals, or after being referred by supporters who wanted to see their local facilities on the Child's Play map.  When we look at a new partner hospital, we are looking for non-profit pediatric facilities in areas where we don't already have regional representation.

It was announced last week before the auction that you reached one million dollars earlier than ever. Last year, Child's Play raised 1.4 million dollars. Has this been the hope for the past few years, to keep expanding and growing like this?

We make a point of not setting goals.  The generosity of the gaming community has always exceeded our wildest expectations, so the one thing we count on now is that it's best not to have any.  We certainly hope that we can continue to expand our network and help as many kids as possible.

The Charity Dinner Auction at the Washington Convention Center has a silent auction and live auction. What was the impetus behind this particular event in the first place, and what role does it play as far as raising money for Child's Play and as a community event?

Our annual dinner auction was something we started during our second year.  The Child's Play program is an online initiative, so we thought it would be fun to bring in a physical component, where we could actually meet and have a great time with supporters.  It's a very hands-on event, hosted by Gabe and Tycho and supported by the immense generosity of the gaming industry.  They donate thousands of dollars worth of auction items every year, and we see amazing support from the bidders every year. 

Are there any plans to move to different venues considering it keeps selling out?

We don't have any firm plans to move to a larger venue at this time.  Part of the charm of the evening is how intimate it is.

How much of the total raised each year comes from the auction?

The auction this year raised just under $200,000, so it's a fair chunk of our annual total.

Of the money that's raised, how much of it is spent on administration and overhead?

We're very proud that only 2-3% of our donations are spent on overhead.

Surely there are a number of people who are reading this interview and are excited and interested and want to help in some small way. How can people get involved?

Donating to Child's Play can be very simple, and very fun, depending on how you chose to support us!  Buying a favorite toy or game through Amazon for a local facility really does make a big impact for all the children who will be able to play it in the future.

If you want to do something more involved, staging a Child's Play fundraiser can be a rewarding experience.  Supporters have worked with their schools, guilds and clubs to power group efforts such as LANs, video game marathons and movie nights.  These events have raised considerable donations, as well as being lots of fun for the participants.  We really suggest that people do what they love to do!  Donate your favorite game, and have a great time!  When gamers give back, it makes a big difference.

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