If you’ve ever been in a hospital, you know what a drag it is. When you’re a kid, it’s even worse. However as most of us know a good video game is a real boost – and Gamers Outreach makes accessing good games easier for kids in the hospital. However they don’t stop there – they also do marathons and send game care packages to the troops. I talked to Zach Wigal the founder who was happy enough to let me ask him about his attempts to make the world a better place.
1) Zach, this question always comes up – but how and why did Gamers Outreach get founded?
Gamers Outreach started while I was in high school. A group of friends and I wanted to host a Halo 2 tournament for our student body. We had around three hundred students signed up to participate. Long story short, a local police officer convinced our school’s administration that Halo wasn’t an appropriate game to be played in a high school environment. It was his opinion that kids were training themselves to kill playing violent video games, and that our event was a hazard to public safety. After having our tournament canceled, my friends and I wanted to disprove the negative stereotypes that surrounded games, and we wanted our event to have a positive impact on the local community. We hosted a new event called “Gamers for Giving,” and originally created the organization to help facilitate the event.
2) How did you organized something like this – and how did it grow over time?
When the organization began, we were very focused on hosting Gamers for Giving. The organization basically existed to help facilitate the event. We donated profits to charities of our choosing. With time, we began to take on initiatives of our own. Our main initiative, Project GO Kart, was actually born out of our work with Mott Children’s Hospital. As Gamers for Giving continued to grow, we wanted to do something for our local children’s hospital. We approached Mott with the idea of donating a large quantity of video games, but after volunteering for their staff, noticed the hospital would benefit from a way to transport video games around the facility. We came up with the idea to build portable gaming carts for the hospital. Gamers for Giving became the annual fundraiser we relied on to construct carts. Over time, we’ve become more focused on that initiative, which Gamers for Giving supports.
3) Do you partner with any gaming groups, companies, publications, or websites?
We have a variety of partners from across the industry, but we’re very much looking to expand our relationships moving forward. Astro Gaming has been a supporter of ours since we started, and we’ve been the beneficiary of fundraisers conducted by companies like NCompass International (responsible for Call of Duty Championships). Our partnerships vary depending on what our partners wish to provide.
4) Do you partner with any conventions or other events?
We’ve just started to attend large conventions. We recently sent a team to PAX Prime. Having a presence at larger shows is something we want to explore more in 2015. It’s just a matter of rounding up the resources and figuring out the most effective way to spread our message.
5) First let’s talk the GO Karts (Gamers Outreach Karts). Tell us a bit about them – and about what it’s like to design devices to help hospitalized kids game.
GO Karts (Gamers Outreach carts) are portable medical-grade video game kiosks designed to be used by children within the hospital environment. Over the years, video games have become a major resource for child life specialists & nurses within hospitals. They provide kids with entertainment and activities, and in many cases, act as a form of therapy. GO Karts are a tool child life specialists can use to make games easily accessible throughout the hospital. The carts are entirely self-contained, and they bedside activities to children who are unable to leave their rooms. Being a part of the process is nothing but fun. We’re proud to be able to provide kids with a source of relief, and the carts make working conditions much easier for hospital staff members.
6) Are there any legal/medical complications in providing the Karts?
Every hospital has its own set of guidelines. Prior to a cart’s delivery, we actually reach out to each hospital to ensure our carts will be of use and will also be acceptable for reception. In some cases, the hospitals have their engineering teams evaluate the carts before they’re able to become fixtures within the facility. Generally speaking, our carts are designed to be compatible in most hospital environments.
7) You also have Gamers Outreach for the troops. How does this work – and does it combine with your other efforts like the Karts?
Beginning in 2015, we decided to discontinue service to the Fun For Our Troops program, which distributed gaming care packages to U.S. service members overseas. During its tenure, Fun For Our Troops distributed more than 300 care packages to U.S. troops. As the U.S. military activity shifts towards peace time, we have decided to focus our efforts on Project GO Kart. However, we did once deliver a gaming cart to a veterans hospital in Dallas, Texas.
8) Do you ally with any other Gamer-based charities like Operation Supply Drop?
We’ve actually shared a panel alongside Child’s Play, which was incredibly fun. I see Child’s Play as a close neighbor, and I think our efforts actually compliment each other really well. Child’s Play is very concerned with fulfilling a hospital’s Amazon wishlist and providing gaming software. Our gaming carts are concerned with ensuring software is easily accessible. We both recruit our own resources to accomplish our objectives, but we’ve been pretty open about sharing learnings and insights with each other.
9) Finally, as if all that isn’t enough, you do fundraising for others with Gaming4Others. How does that tie into all your plans (beyond the obvious).
Gaming4Others was a stand-alone community site that merged with Gamers Outreach a couple years ago. Its intent was to host video game tournaments that raised money for charity. Similar to Fun For Our Troops, we’ll be stepping away from hosting activities through Gaming4Others in 2015. When it comes to gaming tournaments, we’d rather work with established partners. We also have our own LAN party, Gamers for Giving, which continues to be our primary fundraiser.
10) How has reception been to all your efforts?
Really positive. We’re just now starting to get the word out about Gamers Outreach outside of Michigan. Having the opportunity to go to PAX for the first time was really encouraging. Our biggest challenge is actually figuring out how we can enable more people to get involved.
11) How can people help you out – time, money, games, and what else?
We’ll be launching a new website in 2015 that will provide people with opportunities to fundraise for GO Karts and support the work of Gamers Outreach. People will be able to stream or fundraise in support of GO Karts for their local hospitals. We also accept video game donations! Games that are relatively new and appropriate for children are used with our GO Kart deliveries. Older games or mature titles are traded in / sold in support of our efforts. As for volunteer opportunities, the big chance people have to get involved with our efforts (at the moment) is through our annual fundraising event, Gamers for Giving.
12) You’ve done a lot – so what does the future hold for you?
Personally, I plan to start working on Gamers Outreach full-time this year. It’s something I’m passionate about, and the charity is at a point where we have the right guidance and resources to make a much larger impact. We’ve got big plans to grow in 2015!
13) Any other good gaming and geek related causes you want to recommend?
I’m partial to Gamers Outreach, but I think the work AbleGamers does is really important. It’s good to see a group of people advocating for gamers with disabilities. Their perspective should
14) Finally, any words of advice for doing good?
Taking the first step to actually GET INVOLVED with charity work is the hardest part. But once you’re in, it’s the most productive, fulfilling experience. As a personal belief: I think giving back is the highest calling for humanity. That said, charity is something that can be difficult to become involved with if you don’t have a personal connection to a cause, or you haven’t made the initial leap of faith to realize its importance. It’s important for people to be involved with causes that are relevant to them. If everyone took more time to get involved with a cause they felt was important, I think people would feel much more fulfilled, and the world would be better off for it.
Thanks Dave. As I say folks – you know what to do – get involved.