Games that Give Back

“We're not good people, we just do good things,” the words of David Maher, one of three Goodwill Gaming members who NL Gamer had the privilege to interview last Wednesday. At its core, the statement gets down to what makes the non-profit organization so inspiring and so radical. Whether or not David, Jeff Smyth, John Michael Bennett, or any of GG's many other dedicated volunteers consider themselves good people, what they do represent are ordinary people who do amazing things.

For those who've never encountered the organization before (of which I was one), Goodwill Gaming is an officially recognized non-profit organization that raises money for children in need. They were founded in 2010 by John Michael Bennett, Donald Reid and Scott Whelan, who saw an opportunity to turn their passion for gaming into something practical, useful and moving. Since its founding, the organization has managed to raise thousands of dollars to support community efforts and underprivileged kids, has been interviewed by the CBC, and now looks to the future to expand what has already been an ambitious and work-heavy project.

All this and more you can find out on their own website at http://www.goodwillgaming.org , which includes a more detailed history of the organization, as well as volunteer bios and additional information about specific events.

Most intriguing to me was their mission statement of clearing the name 'gamer', which tends to evoke images of lazy slobs and insular homebodies in the minds of the general public. Increasingly the media harps on the ill effects of gaming (and video gaming in particular); its abuse; and its creation of obsessiveness, and perpetual bachelorhood in its defenders. To counter that, GG wanted to show Newfoundland that gamers could give back, that one's gaming talents could be helpful, and that gaming does have the power to create a sense of community and inclusiveness that has long been ignored. If you've spent any amount of time chatting with the staff at NL Gamer, you'll probably recognize some similarities in our desire to achieve that same sense of community.

How does it all work? According to John, Jeff, and David, friendship has been key in keeping the organization functional. Not only does a good relationship with each other help diffuse potential conflicts, but it also allows the team a detailed knowledge of each other's gaming specialities, as well as which tasks suit which team members best. Even better, the pool of friends is growing, as it isn't very hard to find new volunteers. It would seem, given the organization's success, that it's not just a small percentage of gamers who'd like to show the world we aren't the stereotypes they think us. Indeed, GG has even drawn national and international attention, with shout-outs on Montréal radio, and gamers visiting their forums all the way from Sweden and Australia.

The road wasn't all peaches and cream, with a few early naysayers and occasional technical issues that needed to be worked out on the fly, but the team was quick to express thanks at the enormous generosity and support they've received from family and friends since the beginning, as well as the attitude changes that took place once their detractors realized their crazy scheme was actually doing something. David glibly jokes that his mom still asks pointed, practical questions: “You're going to be able to put this on your resumé though, right? But you're getting a real job, right?”, but overall there has been an outpouring of understanding and enthusiasm.

Of course, when dealing with gaming marathons, tiredness is another problem that comes up (GG's record for staying up the longest goes to Sarah Boyd, who clocked in a whopping forty-five hours of game-time!). Not only are efforts on the job exhausting, but there's a lot of preparation that goes into GG's marathons, including playing hours of one's chosen game to make sure one can see it through to the end. For the members of GG, there is such thing as a “work-game” and a “game-game.”


Though the team would ultimately like to expand their efforts, they're realistic about taking it slowly and don't want to overextend themselves. Right now, GG is focused on gaining an office, as well as being able to offer paid positions. Relatively new is their involvement in helping kids from lower-income families afford self-improvement classes and activities, such as dance and baseball. This latest endeavour is called the R.E.A.L. Program, and seeks to support families in need by providing hobbies and entertainment for their children. If any organization sees the value in hobbies and the good they can do, it's GG, whose members' faces light up every time they discuss the results of what their doing, as well as the life-changing effects it can have on the children they're there to help.

If you'd like to take part in GG's events but are worried about fitting in, or your skill level at certain games, the team stressed they have a policy of openness and inclusiveness. All skill levels are welcome; and friendly, unscheduled tournaments often spring up alongside planned ones. Additionally, though their focus tends to be on console gaming, popular card games and boardgames have also found homes at GG events, with low-pressure Magic games taking place at their last marathon.

The next planned event is a game carnival scheduled for November 9th. The entry fee is $5, and proceeds go towards buying new equipment and other maintenance costs. Prizes will be awarded for tournaments, and GG promises that the experience will be “ten hours of fun!”. For more about the event, check out: http://www.goodwillgaming.org/event-listings.html

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