8 ways video games are trying to make the world a better place

A hero need not speak. When he is gone, the world will speak for him

Saving the world is something we do on a regular basis in video games; it's kind of our thing. Whether heroes are being resurrected to combat darkness, or theres a princess to be saved, righting wrongs is a major part of what makes games entertaining. This innate trait has inspired the creation of multiple charities, and theyre using games as their super power.

In a time the media will often paint games with a negative brush, the following charities are a good illustration that games aren't just fun--they can enrich lives and help change the planet.

Extra Life

Whats more gratifying than playing games? Playing video games and helping children at the same time! Thats the premise behind Extra Life, a 24-hour charity event that bands gamers together for a good cause. Gamers all over the world sign up and ask their friends and family for donations, sponsoring them to play games for 24 hours. Extra Life donates the proceeds to the Childrens Miracle Network to support cancer research, and provide hospital equipment and financial assistance to those in need.

The organization came to fruition in 2008 when one little girl named Victoria was going through some tough times after she was diagnosed with cancer. What started as one websites community sending gifts to a girl to lift her spirits eventually grew into a charitable effort to raise money for childrens hospitals worldwide. It's been active for five years and has raised over $8 million so far, with gamers everywhere playing, watching, and donating during the celebrated event. If youre interested, this years event takes place on October 25, 2014. You can sign up anytime and tell your friends you're helping kids from the comfort of your own couch!

Operation Supply Drop

Taking an oath to fight so "that others may live" is no small feat, but thousands do it everyday by becoming soldiers of the United States military. Combat is no joke, despite what all our hours in Call of Duty may attest to, and it can get pretty grim out there. That's why Operation Supply Drop was founded, to help soldiers cope with some of the tough situations they face.

Operation Supply Drop ships thousands of dollars worth of games overseas all year long, which is a feat in itself given how dicey the trek can be. The packages contain consoles, controllers, and a variety of games donated by publishers and developers, as well as those bought via donations received. The goal is to bolster troop morale, combat PTSD and depression, and aid injured veterans in hospitals. Many studies show the mental benefits of playing games, and soldiers are experiencing it first hand thanks to Operation Supply Drop: a name inspired by the "care package" killstreak bonus found in Modern Warfare 3.

Childs Play

Childs Play has been in the non-profit business since 2003, providing gifts for sick children in hospitals. Founded by the webcomic Penny Arcade, Childs Play raises funds to buy gifts for kids stuck in hospitals while they undergo treatment.

Childs Play purchases new consoles, games, and toys for hospital rooms and therapy facilities. It also collects tangible donations to hand down to children in need, all in the name of bringing a smile to a childs face (+100 EXP). It hosts everything from auction events to marathons. To put things in perspective, the charity has managed to raise a staggering $25,000,000+ in donations. Yeah, six zeros and climbing!

Humble Bundle

Selling games doesn't always have to be about profit. Humble Bundle is a platform that offers collections of games for whatever the buyer decides to pay. Things from indie games to AAA titles are up for grabs, Humble Bundle puts the power in the consumers hands by giving players the option to split how their purchases are divided among developers, publishers, and charities, with charities being the operative word here.

A few of the groups Humble Bundle donates its proceeds to include the American Red Cross, Child's Play, and Charity: Water. Money is distributed among all parties involved, while the customer gains access to a wonderful selection of games, all in an effort to show that different ecosystems can exist in the industry that benefit great causes. All that with the added benefit of broke gamers like me getting to enjoy a variety of titles without breaking the bank.

Take This

Do you remember that nice old man who offered pre-teen Link his first weapon at the beginning of The Legend of Zelda? If so, then you recall his iconic quote, Its dangerous to go alone! Take this. The sentiment behind the dialog is not lost on the organization Take This. Open to all but primarily focused on the gaming community, Take This was created by gamers to help others understand and cope with their emotional struggles.

Founded by Joystiq managing editor Susan Arendt and former Polygon features editor Russ Pitts, Take This is on a mission to enlighten communities about mental illness and help eradicate the stigma surrounding it. The organization posts real stories from people who have gone through tough situations themselves, hosts panels on various mental health subjects, and creates safe havens at conventions like PAX for those who need a helping hand. Its a wonderful, reminder that--no matter how it may feel sometimes--were not alone.

AbleGamers and Special Effect

Games are a gateway to wonderful worlds and stories: sometimes whimsical, sometimes action-packed, usually entertaining. Everyone should be able to experience these ventures, and thats what AbleGamers--a charitable organization founded in the United States--and Special Effect, a non-profit focused on the United Kingdom, are doing for the disabled community. Both companies are focused on improving the lives of disabled individuals with the power of video games.

AbleGamers has a mission to get people talking about how to cater to the disabled community. It also provides consultation to devs on how to create games that are all-inclusive. Special Effect has a similar goal, finding the best possible ways to help a disabled gamer enjoy their favorite pastime. Games are about becoming the hero you want to be, and charities like AbleGamers and Special Effect are making sure those who need it the most are accessing this potential.

Gamers Outreach

So many ways to help, so little time! Gamers Outreach is another charity that uses video games as its weapon, and it plays the role of jack-of-all-trades. First up is Gaming4Others, an online tournament and community game nights initiative to help raise money for good causes. Like Humble Bundle, the money raised through the Gaming4Others project goes to other charities like the American Red Cross and One World Food Program. In the same vein, Gamers Outreach also has a project called Games for Giving, which focuses more on the eSports community by streaming competitive tournaments.

Project Go Kart is all about mobility, essentially helping hospital staff members transport video games on kiosks to patients in need of a pick-me-up. These kiosks are available in childrens' and veterans' hospitals, giving any patient the ability to take a break from their current situation. Then theres Fun for Our Troops, helping all branches of the military relieve their stress by sending them care packages full of games.

Games for Change

Games for Change is a different type of charitable effort than the rest, but still equally important. This organization is about creating a movement; letting people know just how revolutionary games can be. Its informing the public that words like "education," "humanitarian," and "social impact" can be in the same sentence as "video games."

Its often on the lookout for games that promote discussion and social change, while also providing consultation and workshops for developers on how games can better embrace this way of design. Games for Change hosts a festival in New York City every year, showing the best the industry has to offer. This festival not only helps the industry learn from itself, but also gives the public more visibility on the range of video games available, not just the flashy ones what they might see in commercials.

It's super effective!

This is just the beginning! More charities will rise to proclaim loudly how video games make the world a better place; it's just a matter of time. Do you know of more charities out there making a difference with video games at the helm? Or do you have a personal story to share about one of the charities listed? Let me know in the comments!

And if you're looking for proof that games are good for your mental health, check out are video games good for your brain? Science says yes.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Esmeralda Portillo is a journalist who specializes in covering entertainment news and culture, primarily the video games community and YouTube space.
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