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Gaming For the Greater Good: ingenious charity projects which have changed our world

It feels like the video game industry – and, more importantly, its consumers – have just about cast off the shackles of social stigma. Mainly owing to the explosion of mainstream gaming, it’s no longer commonly seen as a pursuit of the lonely nerd (or violent psychopath in the making).

The act of making a good game is finally being considered the art that it is. Not only are more people enjoying them, but it’s no longer a niche pipe dream to study it for career purposes, as evidenced by the increased enrolment at NYFA’s game design school.

Of course, we’ve still got a long way to go to address gender inequality and representation within the industry, but for the most part it’s finally being recognized as no less innocuous than enjoying movies. With the rise of MMO gaming in particular, it has even grown to become a hyper-social art form.

But what the diminishing number of detractors fail to acknowledge is that gamers, on the whole, are a very charitable lot. Not only is this industry an economic behemoth, but it also generates a hell of a lot of money for good causes around the world…

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… and here are some of the (frankly ingenious) ways are going about it. There are many others, of course, which we may not have heard of; do let us know of your favorite fundraising ideas or projects in the comments below if you don’t see them covered here.

Taking a Very Long Walk

Did you know that one in every three videos uploaded to YouTube feature footage of people playing Minecraft?

Okay, that was entirely made up but it certainly seems that way sometimes. Minecraft videos have become such a large genre in their own right that some of the more charming and eclectic personalities have managed to turn it into a full-time job.

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One person who wasn’t expecting such success was Kurtjmac. He set out walking West towards the edge of the Minecraft map; while practically infinite in every direction, there is a point at which a natural barrier springs up as physics break down. These ‘Far Lands’ are so far away that it’ll take Kurt roughly twenty years (at current video upload rate) to reach them.

He started out unknown, and became a hero. After two years of walking, Kurt has amassed over 200,000 subscribers – early into the series, Far Lands or Bust, he capitalized on the growing popularity to solicit donations for Child’s Play charity.

He has now reached well over $100,000 in donations. He continues to walk as you read this.

App Developers Join the Movement

The founder of the Global Gaming Initiative, itself a fine cause, started up a self-funded app game studio two years ago regardless of having no prior development expertise.

Its debut title, Sidekick Cycle, is due for release any day now. The game is a downhill racer, with the protagonists delivering bicycles to African children who otherwise have to walk hours in order to attend school…

… and the kicker is, 50% of all sales from the $0.99 game will go to buying bicycles for real-life African children in the same situation. For every 387 copies sold, a new bicycle is purchased.

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It’s a smart way of helping a great cause, and before anyone balks at the 50% figure, consider that Apple will take 30% of the iOS sales and what little is left probably won’t even cover development expenditure.

Virtual Economy Comes Good

While developers CCP could be arguably accused of getting the most out of their paying subscribers, it’s undeniable that EVE: Online is a damned good space MMO.

They also can’t be faulted for their fundraising efforts over the years.

While the in-game economy of EVE can be dauntingly complex for the beginner, the PLEX for Good initiative is very straight-forward: players are able to purchase a PLEX license (a tradable item good for 30 days of game time) and assigns it to the designated charity player account, run by CCP. The developers then convert the fee paid for the license into real money and give it directly to the Red Cross while shouldering all fees (such as VAT and payment processing) themselves.

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To date the scheme has raised over $108,000 through virtual charitable donations, with $44,000 alone being raised for those affected by the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan when the scheme was first unveiled.

Its’a Me!

The idea behind Mario Marathon is a simple one – a team of folk play through every game in the Super Mario canon, livestreaming as they go and not stopping until all the games are done or the donations dry up.

Marathon-style play is not a unique concept, but what makes this annual fundraiser notable is the level of support it has garnered.

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As of 2012, the team have raised over a quarter of a million dollars for Child’s Play. Just think about that: $348,207 over the just four events, going to help sick kids around the world. At the time of writing, the 2013 event is just about to start and since every year tops the last it’s anyone’s guess how much more will be added to the running total this time around.

Turning Rage into Aid

Just over a year ago, you couldn’t go anywhere in the gaming community without seeing indignant rage over the conclusion of the Mass Effect franchise. Quite rightly, too, since it did amount to a short-changing over what was otherwise a compelling series.

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Some clever fans saw this as their opportunity to do a world of good, and the ‘Retake Mass Effect’ charity drive was formed. Not only did it raise $80,000 for Child’s Play by similarly displeased fans, but it also became one of the driving forces behind BioWare getting their act together and addressing the issue with the Extended Cut release.

The only sad note to the tale is that the Retake Mass Effect campaign was forcibly closed due to fan confusion (who thought their donations were in part funding a re-release). Who knows how much it would have ultimately risen if the drive were handled better.

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