Child’s Play Charity Brings 1.8M Needed Smiles This Christmas

If you’re a gamer, you may enjoy web-comics such as Penny-Arcade.  And if you’re a fan of Penny-Arcade, you probably know about the Child’s Play Charity.  If you don’t, then sit down, enjoy your hot cocoa, and let Uncle Will tell you a little story.

In late November of 2003, Bill France, a columnist for the Herald in Everett, Washington, had written a story entitled, “Violent video games are training children to kill“.  Like many writers before him, Mr. France focused on the concerns regarding the effect of ultra-violent video games on youngsters, and brought to light the fact that children could easily purchase violent video games in local stores.  The article referred to reports made by Mothers Against Violence, a group that had conducted an experiment by sending children under the age of twelve into game retailers to buy violent video games.  The children were able to purchase these ultra-violent video games in 15 of the 17 stores.

At the beginning of the article, Mr. France had drawn parallels between the acts in some video games to the acts committed by an actual murderer named Gary Ridgeway.  Mr France’s point was that these were not simply games, but rather simulations of atrocities.  Many notable people followed this view, such as the attorney Jack Thompson, whom was famed in using such an argument.

The article was read by a follower of Penny-Arcade, a web-comic dedicated to video games and video game culture.  The follower forwarded the article to Penny-Arcade’s co-authors, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik.  Upon reading the article, Gabe (Mike Krahulik’s Penny Arcade alter-ego) made a post on their news blog stating:

“If you are like me, every time you see an article like this one, where the author claims that video games are training our [nation’s] youth to kill you get angry. The media seems intent on perpetuating the myth that gamers are ticking time bombs just waiting to go off. I know for a fact that gamers are good people. I have had the opportunity on multiple occasions to meet hundreds of you at conventions all over the country. We are just regular people who happen to love video games.

With that in mind we have put together a little something we like to call “Child’s Play”. Penny Arcade is working with the Seattle Children’s Hospital and to make this Christmas really special for a lot of very sick kids. With the help of the Children’s Hospital we have created an Amazon Wish List for the kids. It’s full of video games, movies and toys. Some of these kids are in pretty bad shape and just having a Game Boy would really raise their spirits.”

Thus, Child’s Play was born.  Within a month, Child’s Play had managed to take in and donate over $250,000 to the Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, Washington.

A few months later in January 2004, Mr. France wrote an article for the Herald entitled, “Video gamers go out of their way for ill children“.  In it, Mr. France stated, “This is some combination of a celebration and an apology. First, the celebration.
A week before Thanksgiving, The Herald printed my first column on ultra-violent video games, and then put it on the Web site, The most important reaction I saw came right after Thanksgiving through a Web site called”  He speaks of Gabe’s initial post regarding his article, and further says, “Certainly many gamers read my column as a statement that I believe that they are bad people. For that impression I am sorry. I did not and do not believe that.
In any case, the Penny-arcade Web site and many of their readers, who are apparently gamers, demonstrated that they have big hearts and generous instincts.”

“Perhaps the most surprising part of this experience, and it was invisible to me before, is the speed and power with which this network of gamers mobilized their effort on behalf of children and Children’s Hospital.
If your children play video games, and even if they don’t for that matter, I encourage you to know about If you contact them, thank them for their effort for children and for a hospital that does miracles.”

Over the last seven years, the Child’s Play charity has managed to expand its efforts to other cities across the United States, and to countries beyond its borders, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and even Cairo, Egypt.  Events are held by Child’s Play directly, such as the annual charity auction and dinner, where geeks, gamers, and members of the gaming industry can sit together, enjoy a dinner, and bid for games or game related items donated by many partners and sponsors.

Other events related to Child’s Play are held by groups such as RvBCanWest, a Red Vs. Blue fan related event in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where auctions are held with all proceeds going to Child’s Play.  There’s also Humble Bundle, a charity that allows donors to purchase a package of downloadable games for whatever they can afford, and splits the proceeds between Child’s Play, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (a non-profit digital rights advocacy group), the game developers and the Humble Bundle organization.  Their donation scheme actually allows the user to determine what percentage of their donation they would like to give to each group, or select a single group to donate all of their money to.

A full list of Child’s Play related events can be found here.

This year marks seven years of Child’s Play, with the 8th annual end of year drive.  Every year, Child’s Play has managed to raise more money than the previous, with this year being no exception.  As of the time of this writing, they have raised over $1.85 million dollars for the children’s hospitals around the world, and a running total of over $8.5 million dollars since its first drive.  In a time where the economy is still in recovery, and console and game sales are down from last year, it’s heartening to see that gamers and industry groups are still willing to give more than they have previously.

I recently had the opportunity to correspond with Bill France, asking him what he thought about Child’s Play’s progress, and how it felt to be one of the key motivating factors in the creation of such a movement.

“I was stunned by the number and style of reactions to my initial column,” Bill responded.  “After reading the first 20 or so, I stopped just deleting them and began reading them for substance.  Soon, I began seeing both structural patterns in the e mails and some thoughts and opinions that I could relate to and began answering those with a thought or question of my own.  A handful of those responses developed into relationships that lasted a half a dozen transactions or more.”

“What I learned inside those relationships has informed me a great deal about the role of the Internet in people’s life.   One of those people sort of explained and maybe even apologized in a caring way for the [overall] tone of the penny-arcade responses and urged me to go to penny arcade and see what [was] happening.  That’s how I learned there was an organized response of some kind.  Frankly, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as gaming sites.”

Bill was in disbelief of the figures that he was seeing on Penny Arcade’s website: “At first, I didn’t know whether to believe the kinds of figures I was seeing, so I talked with the people at Seattle Children’s Hospital, who confirmed it.  In the end, I realized that from a standing start at the time of my column to a week before Christmas or so, Child’s Play had been born and raised $40,000 in gifts for the hospital. I was amazed at this speed and power for good.”

“Since then I have read the one article in New York Times about Child’s Play and then just a few days ago saw some TV coverage of Child’s Play and the off shoots.  I love it.”

Child’s Play tries to ensure that as much of the money as possible is given to the children’s hospitals.  Per their website: “We try our best to have every dollar that comes in go right back to the hospitals, but there is a slight administrative cost that does get paid for with donations (for example, shipping $200,000 worth of Nintendo DS’ to dozens of hospitals worldwide is not free, sadly). Historically, these charges have not exceeded 2-3%. It’s true that we’re a non-profit, but unlike most non-profits, we’re not in it to create a self-sustainable entity. We do it to give.”

Since the inception of Child’s Play, many other groups have been formed to benefit not only the needs of children, but for many other causes such as breast cancer research.  The annual FLAG (Fight Like A Girl) charity tournament pits gamers against each other in the popular Halo franchise as well as against members of Bungie, the creator of the Halo games.

However, despite these charitable efforts, video games have come under strict scrutiny of the press and public regarding the graphic detail and violence depicted in them.  Currently, laws banning the sale of “ultra-violent” video games are being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court, and studies on the effects of these games on children are regularly released to the public.

But for one moment, let’s take a step back and reflect on some of the good things that games and gamers can bring to the community.  Let’s celebrate the smiles and laughter that we, through a fantastic organization called Child’s Play, have brought to those kids that may not have had much to smile about this Christmas.

After all, isn’t laughter the best medicine?


Special Thanks to Bill France for taking the time to correspond with me on this article.

You can give year round to a Child’s Play hospital in your area here, or make a general donation to their PayPal fund on the same page.

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  • Connor

    I wasn’t actually aware of the history of Child’s Play, so thanks for the explanation. I’m really surprised by the poor manner in which games censorship and legislature has been handled; the fact that people like Bill France know so little about games and gamers stands testament to the fact that there’s a lot of misinformation out there. The guys at Penny Arcade have done a fantastic thing in creating their charity, and I’m planning on making a donation tomorrow.

  • joseph

    like me

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