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Playing video games to raise millions for charity

This year, video gamers doing the Extra Life marathon will play for 25 hours as clocks roll back for fall.
This year, video gamers doing the Extra Life marathon will play for 25 hours as clocks roll back for fall.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gamers can raise money by playing for more than 24 hours on November 2
  • Extra Life has raised more than $4 million since its start in 2008
  • The charity Child's Play marks 10 years of gamers giving back.
  • Humble Bundle gives gamers the choice to pay more to help charities

(CNN) -- On November 2 you can help raise millions of dollars for sick children by sitting on the sofa and playing video games.

Just like the weekend athletes who collect donations from family and friends for every mile they race in a charity run, thousands of gamers will be enlisting their networks to support them in a marathon of a completely different sort.

This novel fund raising idea is sponsored by Extra Life, which is now a part of the nonprofit Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. Players can sign up to play for this charity at any time throughout the year. But November 2 is Extra Life's annual game day.

And because this year the day ends with clocks falling back an hour, they have upped the challenge from a 24- to a 25-hour marathon of gaming.

Would anyone really support gamers spending an entire day just playing? And would gamers sign up for such a thing? Even Extra Life founder Jeromy Adams was unsure.

Back in 2007, he reached out to a gaming community called Sarcastic Gamer to see whether they would donate a few games to Tori Enmon, a young girl who was going through cancer treatment in his local hospital.

Jeromy Adams hoped video games would help Tori Enmon through her cancer treatments.
Jeromy Adams hoped video games would help Tori Enmon through her cancer treatments.
Jeromy Adams started Extra Life in honor of Tori Enmon, who passed away in 2008.
Jeromy Adams started Extra Life in honor of Tori Enmon, who passed away in 2008.

He received such an overwhelming response from gamers all over the world that he and Tori had to spend the next few months trying to find enough hospitalized kids to take all the games. Adams says he realized that gamers were the ideal audience for a good cause. Here, he thought, is a group that loves trying to save the day and be the hero.

"Gamers are not the stereotype of the angry pale kid in mom and dad's basement," he said. "They are more likely to be the mom and the dad.

"We are some of the most connected people on the planet. We communicate more efficiently, and we want to make a difference. Despite these expert qualifications, nobody really asks us for our help."

Tori succumbed to her cancer in 2008, and Adams started Extra Life that year in her honor. Since then, his faith in gamers has been more than proven. Every year thousands of new players sign up, and to date they have raised more than $4 million.

Are gamers really the giving type?

The argument could be made that some gamers might be signing up so they finally have an excuse to spend a whole day playing without the guilt that they're wasting time.

But other charities have started to tap into this audience, and they have also found a giving community. The charity Child's Play is celebrating its 10th anniversary of gamers giving back, and in 2012 it received more than $5 million in contributions. And then there is the philanthropy, Humble Bundle.

Humble Bundle is a unique online store that sells a rotating collection of games at a price determined by the purchaser. The buyer also gets to select what percentage of that price will go to the game's developer, the Humble Bundle team, and how much goes to a selected charity.

Humble Bundle's Will Turnbull and his team were nervous when they offered their first bundle in 2010. What would gamers do? If they were just trying to get the lowest price possible for these games, the model would never work.

The team hoped to raise $200,000 with that first offering. Instead, they brought in more than $1.2 million, with about $350,000 of that going to charity.

"We were totally floored to see that people were willing to give more than the minimum," Turnbull said. "It changes the message that this is just a discount ... We really trust the consumer to do the right thing, and they have proven that trust, and the charity part is incredibly integral to that."

On Humble Bundle purchases, the default portion that goes to charity is 20%. In most cases, Turnbull said, buyers slide that percentage up to give more to charities like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, charity:water and the American Red Cross.

To date, Humble Bundles has raised more than $25 million for charities.

Adams keeps a picture of Tori Enmon at his desk at work as he prepares for their big marathon.

This year he is looking to expand his gaming audience. Extra Life is inviting everyone who plays any type of game, whether it is sports, board games, even live-action role-playing.

He says he believes the generous spirit he found in video gamers is a universal trait that just needs an opportunity, and perhaps the incentive to have some fun.

That, he says, is what Tori showed him, from a hospital bed full of games and a determination to find a child for each one.

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