Last week, we brought you some information about the Extra Life charity. This marathon of gaming, from 8 a.m. (CST) that Saturday morning until the same time the following day, brings attention to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and the millions of children they help each year. From tabletop RPGs and board games, to video and computer games, participants have fun while raising money for an important cause.
While most people understand what the charity does and how participation works, less comprehend the experience itself. What is it like to game for 24 hours straight? What drives people to push themselves to these levels of mental and physical exhaustion? As someone who is entering his fourth year of participation, I hope to bring some insight into those questions.
I became an “Extra Lifer” in 2013 when my Star Wars: the Old Republic guildmates brought attention to the charity. As a father (one of many in a guild called “Old Republic Dads”), the cause struck a chord with me, and I knew it was a worthy one. Besides, the entire experience sounded fun: our guild would be running Operations all day and night, streaming them for people to watch. 24 hours of continuous gaming with my friends while raising money for sick children? Sign me up!
My first experience was mostly enjoyable, but also brought insight into many things… how many were along for our journey (whether directly participating or only supporting), how people held up under exhaustion, and just how old I am. That latter was the most evident, as I had assumed I’d be able to hold up like I did in my 20’s… a grave miscalculation, for sure. I made it to the end, no matter how bleary-eyed I was, and watched as we celebrated in-game with fireworks, silly dances, and delirious chatter.
That initial year I was simply a member of a larger team, joining in. I worked harder following years, creating a better donation page, advertising to friends and family, and starting my personal stream. I had become an advocate for the charity, joining a local guild and even spreading the word at events and conventions. This dedication to a cause I took personally, combined with a love of gaming, is what motivates me to participate.
But what is it like to participate? I suppose it’s best to use a timeline…
- 07:00 – 08:00: Although the event doesn’t begin until 8:00 a.m., I am already psyched and preparing everything. A good night’s sleep? Check. Fridge full of food and water? Check. Computer area cleaned and comfortable? Check. Games, streaming software, and websites working correctly? Check. I’m usually done a bit early, but I’m already in the zone and ready to activate my stream on the dot.
- 08:00 – 14:00: The first four hours before lunch are pretty good. I have a lot of energy, and I’m really in the game. I often chatter a lot more with viewers, happy to see anyone joining in my journey. In fact, I often get a little too into the experience, forgetting important things like stretching, snacking, or using the bathroom. By the time lunch rolls around, I’m a bit stiff and ready to do some stretches and feed a hungry belly.
- 14:00 – 20:00: The lack of proper care has taken a bit of a toll on the body, but my mind is fresh and ready to go. Still, I pause a bit more often for stretch breaks every hour or two, often accompanied by snacking. At this point my kids miss their father, so I often have them invade my camera stream or become distractions. My breaks grow a little longer, so I can give them the attention they need. By the end, they’re in bed as I begin to rub my eyes from 14 hours of gameplay.
- 20:00 – 02:00: Despite my stiff body and aching joints, I remain dedicated. The nighttime is when I’ve always been most awake, especially when everyone around me is asleep. The solitude is refreshing, and I get into the game once more, almost falling victim to my morning forgetfulness.
- 02:00 – 08:00: As the “witching hour” approaches, everything goes downhill. My gameplay suffers as my eyes become bleary and I have problems focusing. I often end up having to take breaks regularly, whether to stretch or even to take a step outside into the cold night air… anything to wake me up. I’ve been known to get real punchy with games and conversation, performing silly or nonsensical activities in-game. By the last two hours, I’m running on fumes, but the finish line is in sight. The bonus is my son often wakes up at this point, and joins me on camera for the end. What better way to celebrate a charity for children, eh?
- 08:00 – 09:00: Oh, you thought I was done? As the stream ends and everyone celebrates across multiple channels, my mind keeps going. It takes a while for me to wind down, thinking not only of the night but why we participated. By the time I drift off, I’ve been awake for more than 24 hours, and end up dreaming about the games I’ve played.
The entire experience is an incredible, yet taxing one, that many people choose not to attempt. Some prefer to split the day into two, or even three, smaller streams. For those that do participate in the 24-hour event, Extra Life provides a list of suggestions for health and comfort. Most of these I’ve mentioned above, including a good night’s sleep, staying hydrated and taking breaks. A few others are dependent on the person, such as eating healthy, using a bright environment, and socializing throughout. Interestingly, their final advice is what drives us most: remembering the cause.
Whether you wish to join in the 24-hour marathon, play when you can, or simply follow a participant on their journey, there is little that compares to the Extra Life Game Day event. Having fun all-night playing games with friends or pushing one’s self for a record is great, but doing so while raising awareness and funds brings things to a new level. I only hope this look into the motivations and experience of an Extra Lifer encourages more people to join us.
On Nov. 5th, join one of the most impressive and amazing charity events. Play games – heal kids. Whatever you do, do it for the children.