Ricky Simmons (L) along with Zane Pendleton (R) and the Out Of Our System podcast started Cheat Codes for Charity to pass on the positivity that video games have brought into their lives. Photo courtesy: Zane Pendleton
Started in 2003, Child's Play is a charity that has outdone itself year after year for a decade, growing exponentially well past its roots as a pet project by the Seattle-based team behind the Penny Arcade webcomic. Now a global gamer-built movement dedicated to donating gamer gear and other entertainment to children's hospitals, Child's Play is relentless, inspiring geeks everywhere to give back. Utah's own local gamer geek, Ricky Simmons, decided it was his turn to take up the mantle and enlisted the help of local geek- and pop-culture podcast Out of Our System to start Cheat Codes For Charity. Now a fully-sponsored 24-hour gaming marathon in full support of the Child's Play charity, Cheat Codes For Charity begins on February 22, streaming gameplay from Simmons and the guys for 24 full hours of donation-fueled digital bliss. SLUG sat down with Simmons and Zane Pendleton from Out of Our System to discuss the origins of the project and why it's so important for gamers to give back to the community.
SLUG: When did you first hear about Child's Play and when did you decide to do your own charity marathon?
Pendleton: I initially heard about Child's Play just online. I knew that it was a charity that was commonly donated to by gamers, that [it] was kind of the charity of choice for gamers.
Simmons: Every year for my birthday, we always do some LAN gaming. We go for 12–14 hours, and it's just a bunch of our guys that I know, all these guys from high school and guys we met through video games, through Halo or Halo LANs and different things. When I came around to it, I was like, “You know, we've heard about these gaming marathons, and we already do 12 hours anyway so why not just tack on another 12 and go for 24 hours straight?” And then maybe we can give back to this Child's Play charity we've heard about from PAX and through the guys at Penny Arcade that started this, and so we just [wondered], “Can we do it in a month?” So last month, we were just like, “Yeah, let's start planning this.” So that's kind of how we heard about it and we just started going down that road of planning out all the things that we need to do and get everyone to sign on. We started talking to people and the responses we were getting were amazing. I reached out to [Out of Our System]: I'm like, “Hey, you guys are used to talking for long periods of time, that'd be great for entertainment during the whole 24 hours.” And then they reached out to Graywhale and Graywhale is like, 'Yeah, let's do this.' I reached out to my employment, HireVue, and they're like, 'Yeah, we'll totally sponsor location and food.' So we've gotten a lot of responses, a lot of local businesses, some local comic book shops, that sort of thing.
Pendleton: Child's Play is kind of the charity of choice when it comes to the gaming type stuff. They have a calendar of gaming events and things like that for people to donate.
Simmons: We reached out to them, and they gave us as much support as possible. Just like, “This is what you should do,” got me in touch with other marathoners so that we could learn more about it.
SLUG: What are the plans for the marathon itself? What games are you playing, who is playing them and how can people donate?
Simmons: What we'll be doing is starting February 22 at 6 P.M. and we'll probably be doing six hour blocks of genres. The first six hours is going to be Halo, just throwback classic of what we've always played together. We'll probably play the next six hours of League of Legends. We're going to do six hours of kind of miscellaneous, more fighting games and some other things. Then the last six hour block is going to be an indie block so we'll have things like Don't Starve and FTL: Faster Than Light, which are some nice really cool indie games that we really enjoy and we love playing and so we'd just love to show that to people and talk about those.
Pendleton: We'll stream everything that's being played, and as it streams, people can donate on the website that Ricky and Devin, our producer, built for the event. Donations online will enter people into a raffle for different prizes depending on the block of time that we're doing.
Simmons: The earlier that you donate, the more entries that you'll get for every prize. It's five dollars per entry, and we throw in an extra [entry] if you donate 24 dollars since we're going for 24 hours. We haven't announced the prizes yet but there'll be big prize packs. Things like Riot Point cards for League of Legends, different things like packages from Graywhale.
Pendleton: I've worked for Graywhale for five years, so they've been a huge help when it comes to the podcast to use them as a resource, and they've offered to give help as far as prizes and raffling off stuff like that too.
Simmons: The donations all go through PayPal, so it's secure that way. We don't actually touch any of the money, it goes directly to Child's Play. [We're] forking our own money to set this up, buy gear that we need—everything is all out of pocket and all the proceeds are going to them.
SLUG: Do you have any long-term goals or dreams for Cheat Codes For Charity?
Simmons: This is our first gaming marathon and we just want to keep it going. At least once a year—probably twice a year—we'll do a marathon: one in early February, one in the Fall. We'll have maybe one game oriented—play all the Final Fantasies as we can, or the God of War series or something like that. We all play games anyways, might as well do it for a cause, right? Child's Play donates toys and games and consoles and stuff to kids in hospitals. Primary Children's [Medical Center] is one that has been a beneficiary of the donations from Child's Play. There's a couple stories on their website from Child's Play, testimonies [from] people from Salt Lake that have gotten it. We have a friend that received an iPad that was donated. I don't know if it was from Child's Play, but the mom can attest that it really helped the kid out.
Pendleton: The kind of help that Child's Play gives to these kids, it helps these kids distract themselves from the fact that they're maybe long-term inpatients, [who have] been in hospitals for months on end. It helps them feel normal; it helps them communicate with their parents if their parents can't visit them otherwise. When their brothers and sisters visit them or their friends, they can actually have an activity to do that feels like stuff that normal kids do. So, they don't focus on their treatment so much, and it helps with their recovery.
SLUG: Video game violence has really never stopped being condemned for corrupting culture, and Child's Play itself was started to battle the accusations against that. What are your opinions on the issue of violence in gaming, especially now that there's a renewed movement of censorship against games?
Pendleton: One of the side effects of doing this charity and one of the things that I think is really cool about it is the fact that, with all that unfair negativity and animosity directed towards video games because they’re an easy scapegoat and they're harder to defend than other forms of media, we're showing that you can do something positive that deals with video gaming with hardcore gamers that have been gaming since they were young—personally I've been gaming since I've been eight, so we can do something positive that contributes to society and helps people and help combat the stereotype that gamers are, the stereotypical gamer that's selfish, the teenager that doesn't care about anybody and glorifies violence, loves violent videos, video games, movies, things like that. As far as video game violence and what it does, I don't believe that there is any direct correlation between video game violence and people becoming violent in real life. I think that if somebody already has mental issues or disabilities, they don't help necessarily, but I don't think that they cause violence in any way. I used the example the other day: I told somebody that I had just finished playing Resistance 2 on the Playstation 3 and I think my total kill count at the end of the game was like, 117 thousand things, and that's one game! And I've been playing games for almost 20 years, so it's like, I'm not a killer, and I know a lot of people who aren't, and this is to help combat that [stereotype].
Simmons: Like we said, we met through games. We met through Halo. I have a brother who really doesn't talk to a lot of people unless he meets them through games. He builds his entire friend circle all from just people he played with online. It really promotes teamwork, being more outgoing and working with other people. We just believe that games really help kids to be able to talk to other people and get to know each-other and work together and have fun together. They get out of that comfort zone.
SLUG: Is there anything else that you guys would like to add?
Pendleton: Everybody has been touched at least secondarily by somebody that has cancer or has a serious illness and has been stuck in a hospital—everyone can sympathize with that. So, aside from helping that, I also think that it's important for us to do something positive dealing with video games when there is so much negativity and animosity directed towards them, especially in mainstream media, especially right now. I think that, to me, is the crucial element of it. I want it to be a big deal, I want people to contribute, I want them to help, and I want them to realize that gaming can be a good thing and it's not a waste of time. It doesn't turn people, warp their minds.
Simmons: I totally agree with that. A few of us, either the cast or myself, we're just now starting to become fathers. We started seeing that we're going to have our kids growing up playing video games, and we don't believe that there's this violence aspect. When they're sick and they're at home, they're going to be playing video games while they're at home from school because it's going to help them keep their minds off of stuff, so we just want to help give that to other kids with sicknesses, and help contribute to the overall well-being. We had a quote from the Primary Children's hospital that basically said that when these kids get these toys and games, it really helps their overall healing. They can heal faster if they're not thinking about the sickness, if they have a positive outlook. When you achieve or beat a game, you have that sense of victory, and that can kind of carry through into your own personal life. “I can beat this sickness,” or, “I can beat that disease.”
Visit cheatcodesforcharity.com to learn more about the event, and make sure to visit on Feb. 22 to see the marathon in action and donate to a worthy cause.