Home Editorial Gamers need to keep giving back, and not just to Child’s Play

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.


13 replies to this post
  1. I know of This quite a bit. I used to be a volunteer at a homeless shelter.
    Those poor hobos, while they lived on the street, collecting bottles for their next meal, I played videogames. Arggh.
    I also helped build a house once. If only it was as easy as minecraft led to believe.
    Backontopic- Help out. If you don’t, when you need help (and you will), noone will help. Go to a homeless center. Volunteer at a local school to be a tutor . SOMETHING. Get off your ass and help a person who’s had real bad luck out. Just. Do it. Or don’t. Then you’ll feel bad after reading this.

  2. I tend to not give to charities unless I know how much of my money actually goes to the people who need it and I can see the results. Child’s Play is one of the first charities that I’ve been able to do this with and I tend to donate regularly. That’s not to say it’s the only place I donate money too, however. Remember the charity hats in TF2? I bought them. All of them. Including the $100 one. I had the money and, as it turns out, I didn’t need it anywhere near as much as the people I gave it too. Even if I got nothing in return, I would have still gladly donated over $100.

    • I used to play it back in my school years; when the computer lab lessons were boring. It was fun until we realised that the quickest way to donate the most amount of rice was to constantly click any answer, before even reading the question. The game never penalised wrong answers. Dunno if they’ve fixed that by now.

      That was more than a couple years ago now; it’s good to see it’s still going strong.

  3. Maybe if you spent less time pondering altruism and a bit more time pondering tactics, you’d have more to write about without having to count on readers to give you material.

    You assume that we will agree or approve of your morals. I do not. I only help people I care about and only those who are responsible and rational. If more people took the time to think and project and plan for their lives, maybe they wouldn’t need help. If their social systems result in poverty, maybe they need to stage a revolution. In any case, it’s none of your damn business how much money I send to the third world or not.

    If you want to keep writing bleeding heart about charity, just let me know and I’ll go read elsewhere.

    • Francis,

      I don’t assume you will agree with my morals any more than I assume my readers will agree with my strategies. I don’t feel I’m trampling on your individualism any more suggesting a donation than telling you that Carriers are bad or that you’re a fool to equip a Razorback.

      While I applaud your commitment to rational thought and objective argument analysis, I fundamentally disagree with the idea that rational thought alone will solve people’s problems. It won’t help a child who starves to death before he reaches the age of reason, and it seems to me a cop-out argument to basically wash one’s hands of the problems of others, indefinitely.

      Yes, personal responsibility is important. And yes, perhaps this is bleeding heart. Regardless, I can’t say I feel bad for discussing charity as a topic in less than 1% of my hundreds of posts on this blog, or that the time I spent “pondering altruism” took up 1 hour out of my life. My kingdom for a DeLorean.

      Also, I would like to formally apologize to my readers for attempting to connect with them in the latest Tactical Tuesday post. I hope none of them were too offended by my terrible actions.

      • WiNG,

        Thanks for taking the time to respond. This is an important discussion and I thank you for taking my response seriously. I’d like to take up the major point of your reply in the form of a hypothetical:

        Are you suggesting that any time a child anywhere in the world starves to death, you bear the responsibility for it unless you give some money (or time) to some kind of charity? That no matter what else you do in your life, you are guilty if you do not “give something back”? This is the main question I will explore.

        Here’s a counter hypothetical for contrast. Consider a person like Steve Jobs. He probably put himself through some amount of school to learn. He probably spent a lot of time dickering around with electronic things that didn’t help any homeless people. He probably saved every cent that he made, diverting none of it to charity, to start his own business out of his garage. And in the process of pursuing his dreams about gadgets made products of uncompromising integrity and vision, employing thousands of people who are able to be productive and creative and live lives of purpose. Is he to be considered a worthless human being if a child anywhere in the world dies of hunger? No.

        Charity is a personal choice – not a personal responsibility. We are responsible for our choices, but only to ourselves and what those choices mean for our lives and our goals. We are always responsible for our actions and the contents of our character. No one else can be.

        Charity is not an unqualified good. An easy counter example is the act of giving money to an alcoholic. In that case, you are merely enabling his self-destructive behavior. If you send money to help a person living in a dictatorship, your help will only be siphoned off to enrich the dictator.

        Whatever the case, you can’t just act blindly and promiscuously because you believe your intentions are noble. Outcomes matter. And the reasons why poverty exist matter. And it doesn’t come down to people not giving enough away for nothing in return.

        The poor in the world are poor because they lack liberty – because they lack any kind of protection of their individual rights. And much as I might feel for their plight, there is little I can do to help them unless they already have the right ideas on the ethical principles on which to structure society to enable their flourishing as living beings. Those people, empowered by a rational ethical ideology, might be able to stage a revolt and make the next America as our founding fathers did here.

        I don’t feel bad for saying that I’m too busy fighting for the right kind of ideas here in America to preserve our liberty, which is eroding year over year, to be concerned about the poor in Manila. And the core of what is eating away at our premises of liberty is Altruism. The idea that man has no right to live for himself. That self-sacrifice to others is his moral purpose and the basis of all virtue.

        Under Altruism, what right does Steve Jobs have to keep pursuing Apple corporation and NeXT and Pixar? The capital invested there would be much better if it went to the people with the greatest need, right? Investing in hokey pokey technologies to make interfaces and images prettier seems like a petty concern compared to a child who is starving to death. His investment capital would have been sacrificed and we would never have experienced the good things that Apple has brought to the world.

        We thrive in this country because our founding principles aim to leave us free from arbitrary force. Each man has a right to his life and to pursue his happiness. That’s in the Declaration of Independence and it stands in the face of Altruism, which says the opposite. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never help other people, but it doesn’t make it virtuous or important either.

        The less we recognize and acknowledge the importance and the goodness of individuals using their independent judgment to act on goals of their choosing and not feeling bad if they make a profit while doing so, the poorer we all will be. Those profits may be reinvested into productive efforts, or spent on rest on relaxation so that the creativity and productiveness can continue. In any case, those profits are noble and good. The vision of what you want to do with your life and bring into the world and trade with others comes first.

        WiNG: If you’ve read this far, I thank you for your patience and interest. I come back to your blog because you have found a very good niche that I hope that you continue to explore and refine and make into what it ought to be. I consider gaming to be one of *my* chosen forms of rest and relaxation which serves to recharge me for my productive activities and I am glad for your previous postings. This one just seems like a horribly indulgent and digression and one which compromises *your* vision.

      • I am actually interested that you chose Steve Jobs as your example, since it is fairly well known that his business career has included, at many turns, stealing, lying, and cheating.

        He famously conned his close friend and business partner early in their careers out of a large percentage of their joint profits. He closed the nonprofit subdivisions of Apple in order to maximize profits at a time when other tech companies were expanding theirs (Apple never re-opened those divisions).

        And while his unfettered pursuit of fancy consumer products may have created jobs, I question if those jobs wouldn’t simply exist at another company like IBM, HP, etc if Apple didn’t own that set of the market share.

        Outside of the first world, Apple’s impact has not been so glamorous. Chinese officials and activists are currently investigating Apple for violation of both environmental and human rights/labor regulations at a large number of the its under-the-radar production facilities in Asia. In these areas, it is highly likely Apple’s existence is perpetuating sweatshop conditions.

        It may be argued sweatshop workers choose to work there. I can’t speak to either side of that argument. However, nobody chooses to breathe in mercury vapor or drink water that’s been compromised by chemical runoff miles upstream. In a country like the US, information about these chemicals might be available. In China, perhaps not.

        And what, really, has the world gained from Steve Jobs’ accomplishments? We have shiny computers that look better than other computers that do the same thing. We have MP3 players that look great, but have few functional advantages over those of their competitors. And all Apple products promote waste, since by their very nature they are designed to be used until any component breaks, then the whole unit is replaced, instead of the single component.

        In that regard, Steve Jobs has provided little value to the world. Few peoples’ lives are better in ways outside of the fulfillment of a need for conspicuous consumption. Whether or not he gave employees a fulfilling job full of imagination is not something on which I have any information, and I would claim it as speculation based on the PR image of Apple it chooses to portray, in comparison to companies like Google or Wegman’s which are regularly voted, by employees, as fulfilling places to work.

        I am not going to speculate on all of the causes of poverty, for there are many, and tenfold as many theories as to solve each one. It is your opinion that the lack of individual rights or rational thought is what holds these people back. You should, however, recognize that in the worst situations on the planet, there exist vicious cycles that siphon power, collaboration, and information from the disadvantaged to those who already have an advantage. In such circumstances, I believe external intervention is a much more LIKELY catalyst for change than simply hoping an aberration will change things for the better. And while we wait for such an aberration, while we toy with extra-shiny app icons and devices literally built at the cost of the health of those people, the situation continues to disintegrate.

        My primary challenge to your assertions, other than that Steve Jobs has not actually contributed anything of lasting importance, is that your statement “those profits are noble and good” is not justified. It is as much an opinion as saying altruism is inherently noble. There is no objective fact that profit, or “thriving” (as opposed to, say, “sustaining”) has a moral value.

        A bully thrives because he intimidates and presses natural advantages against his prey. He sits atop the social pyramid of his peers, with money literally stolen from them, health literally beaten from them, and free thought scared from their minds. Is such a child, or any such person, noble, simply because he has accumulated more wealth and has “earned” a life of ease and rest after taking or scaring his concurrents into submission?

        You cite the Declaration of Independence as a herald of an era free from the influence of others’ ideals. Yet by merit of making that declaration, its writers forced their ideals on tens of thousands of colonists who were still loyal to the British flag. That tiny minority of people made a declaration that pit many, many unwilling people into a war against those they considered their friends and family. There is a bitter irony that these men chose to impose on their peers, that their peers’ children would not be imposed upon.

        On a lighter note, are you a fan of Bioshock? haha

  4. Whoa. If you didn’t already have my complete respect, watching you logically ker-pwn that misguided ethnocentric Libertarian cemented it.

    Great article, too. To tie this into tactics, it’s similar to working for the benefit of the team instead of just topping the scoreboard or making cool frag videos.

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