One year ago, the Team Fortress 2 community did something pretty impressive. It took a few minutes (collectively thousands of hours) to stop playing a videogame and stop bickering over the value of a worthless, digital representation of gold to help people who had nothing to offer back. Those people were sick, even terminally sick children, whose pain and loneliness could be ameliorated or ignored for just a little while thanks to the generous donation of gamers like you.
The result wasn’t only monetary; it was something that brought the TF2 community together during a divisive time.
Though this site may have been the catalyst for that event, the drive to do good was something inborn in each person who donated to Child’s Play charity. While hundreds of trolls and general scum spent their time deriding our fundraiser, others gave generously from money that, most likely, would have eventually been spent on digital entertainment. This was a sign that the community could recognize its privileges in the world, in comparison to those for whom even the hope of another day does not exist.
One year later, the world is essentially the same, except for the fact that I don’t have a Golden Wrench to throw into a simulated fire. I don’t have the means to capture the attention of the community or incense it over something petty. All I have is an audience and, hopefully, its time.
To some extent, the naysayers of yesteryear were right. There is no real association between virtual actions and real-life change. This is true. Instead, fundraisers seek to raise awareness through what is essentially a publicity stunt. It’s effective, which is why thousands of people use them to reach their charitable goals.
In the absence of a grandiose action, however, there is nothing to compel our empathy. Empathy for those who, while suffering, remain largely invisible to us on a daily basis. Sure, you might step over a hobo during your commute, or perhaps your taxes have paid for a few food stamps redeemed in a shopping center down the street. But otherwise, your life marches on day by day as you worry about normal life problems like landing a date or earning a fucking achievement.
Take a second and zoom in on the featured image in this article up at the top. According to the site from which I stole the picture, it’s from Manila, and nobody in that image is playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution tonight. Or any game for that matter. Unless you count things like “how many of my siblings died this week” as a game.
The world is, by many measures, improving. But the change is gradual, and the flow of resources in our society isn’t exactly designed to bring prosperity, health, and education to the least privileged members of the global citizenry.
In other words, it needs your help. And not just children dying in first world hospitals. Adults. Senior citizens. The poor. The mentally ill. The abused. The abusers. People with no direction and no hope, and nobody to talk to or rely on.
What the fuck does this have to do with gaming? Well, perhaps it speaks to my own life to explain my rationale, but I believe every gamer can, in one way or another, understand what it’s like to feel alone in the world – even if it was just some emo teen bullshit. They understand what it’s like to ostracized or, worse, forgotten by the ever-accelerating societal river. And they’ve seen all manners of reality, from idealized utopias free of suffering, to post-apocalyptic nightmares where compassion is as scarce as ammunition and safe drinking water. Videogame players have intense imagination, and are pretty damn good at saving imaginary worlds from serious trouble… why not the real one?
Gaming is, as a hobby, many things. It’s frustrating and competitive. It’s masturbatory and lavish. It’s imaginative and frightening. It’s challenging and self-fulfilling. While we set goals for ourselves that have little real value in the outside world – unlocking digital costumes, breaking high scores, defeating anonymous internet opponents – we should set aside time in our lives to accomplish goals that matter. Being there for a dying loved one. Helping someone on the fringes of society get back on his or her feet. Or, yes, giving the money you saved for the next Steam sale to someone whose daily life doesn’t include guaranteed meals or, for that matter, guaranteed safety from violence and mental anguish.
The next time you pick up a controller, or flip on your 3DS, or start up Farmville (God help you), take a second and think about what an opulent luxury you have at your disposal. Video entertainment depicting nearly anything imaginable, on demand. Think about how much it would mean to someone who’s alone, scared, or simply suffering, to have your time and attention for just five minutes. It might not be fun, and it will probably require skills other than circle strafing, but it will make a lasting change for at least one person for whom it matters.
If you have more money than time and are looking for a worthy cause, watchdog sites like the AIP rate charities based on their efficiency and general background. If you’re strapped for cash but still want to help, there are always local community groups that need a helping hand.