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June 13, 2014

Not just playing around: Video game marathon benefits ailing children

— And your parents said staying inside all day and playing video games isn’t productive.

For dozens of Hiram G. Andrews students, their heroic efforts – and their endurance – will help ill children in hospitals across the country.

One student’s “Game-a-Thon” event kicked off at the center at 6 p.m. Friday. The objective? Kick back with friends and enjoy a round of “Mortal Kombat,” a “Dungeons and Dragons” session or a visit to the world of Skyrim – for 24 hours straight. The thon wraps at 6 p.m. today.

The giant, electronic sleepover is run by student Caleb McKee. It’s the third such bash, happening each term at the center. It caters to all genuses of gamer, with tabletop games, video games – console and PC, and board games.

“You name it, it’s here,” McKee said.

Each participant pays a $5 entrance fee, which is collected through game-oriented nonprofit charity Extra Life. Through Extra Life, similar gatherings of space marines and elven wizards happen all across the country. The fund benefits Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

“I did it because I want to make a difference in this world,” McKee said. “At first, (center administrators) thought I was crazy because no one ever stays up for 24 hours straight.”

The last two events raised about $900, McKee said. He expects another $200 to $250 this term.

What he didn’t expect are the logistical wrinkles that come with bringing together dozens of hardcore gamers and their expensive, self-made gaming PCs.

“My PC and my friend’s PC actually blew the circuits because we have (them) overclocked to as high as we can,” McKee said.

“Overclocking” is pushing the limits of a PC’s processor, thus drawing more power than normal.

Multi-sided dice, flat-screen monitors, foot-high stacks of console games old and new, pizza boxes and Mountain Dew bottles were prominent – all the calling cards of a good time. But the good cause makes attending the event a no-brainer.

The event is organized independently of the Hiram G. Andrews Center’s student organization. McKee said the next “Game-a-Thon” will take place during fall term, which starts in September.

Peter Hammes of Millersville, Lancaster County, has stuck it out for the other two events. He said it’s more than just a big gamer party.

“(McKee has) just done a splendid job to raise money,” Hammes said. “He puts his whole heart and soul into it, and that’s what makes it so awesome. It’s the fact that I’m helping a charity and doing something I love – it’s the best of both worlds.”

Justin Dennis covers gaming for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @JustinDennis.

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