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When Jeromy Adams started the Extra Life video game marathon, he had no idea it would grow into one of the gaming industry’s biggest annual charity events.
“It was one of those things where we were just in the moment and doing it, and all of a sudden we looked up and looked around that first year and 1,200 people were doing it with us. And we were just blown away,” Adams told GamesBeat.
Now in its fifth year, Extra Life began as a way to honor a 15-year-old girl with acute lymphoblastic leukemia named Victoria Enmon (pictured). Adams, along with members of the Sarcastic Gamer community, sent video games and other gifts to help keep her spirits up during hospital stays. But it wasn’t until after Victoria tragically lost her battle with cancer in January 2008 that Adams suggested a 24-hour video game marathon to raise money for the hospital that treated her, Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
Extra Life raised $120,000 that first year and has grown ever since. The event reached a milestone in 2011, when gamers and their sponsors raised an estimated $1.2 million for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals across the country. Adams is hoping to double that amount this year. “Extra Life has never not doubled itself,” he said. “If we don’t double ourselves, it’ll be the first year.”
“It’s funny,” Adams added. “The first year that we did this as a full-blown national/international effort, the response we got from a lot of hospitals was, ‘Why am I getting this check?’ Now, the response from hospitals is, ‘Where can I find more gamers where I live? How do I find people who like video games where I live?’ and my response to them is, ‘Look around your office. They’re everywhere. It’s the most popular form of entertainment on the planet.’ Gamers are in every office, in every building, in every school, in every town. So, it’s very exciting to watch the hospitals come alive and realize that … they’re surrounded by these people who love them and will help them, and love to play games.”
Adams said gaming-related charity events are becoming more and more commonplace as the hobby becomes more socially acceptable. “When we started Extra Life, some of my friends and family who didn’t play video games, who didn’t know anything about them, were kind of skeptical. Like, ‘Who’s going to sponsor you to play games?’ A few years later, they were sponsoring me to play games. So, once people realize that this is a pretty legitimate, real, very popular pastime, I think it’ll become more successful and a better way to tap into people’s passion to make a humongous social impact.”
No matter how big Extra Life gets, however, Adams will never forget why he started it all.
“Victoria … has really changed the trajectory of my life for the better. Any chance I get to tell her story, the more people who know about her, for me that’s the payoff. I love that we’re raising so much money for these hospitals, but my personal payoff is knowing that this little girl who had to lose her life at 15 years old is getting to live on through this program, and through the deeds, the words, the tweets, the Facebook posts, and the Reddit comments that people do in her favor, in her memory.”
(photo credit: Luke Hayfield Photography via photopin cc)