DonateGames turns used video-games into funding for medical research to help kids
November 25, 2009
DonateGames turns used video-games into funding for medical research to help
By Michael Lafferty
“There is so much goodness coming with what we are doing”
Nothing touches the heart so much as children in need. Jim Carol knows that agony personally. In 2007 his 11-year-old son was diagnosed with Philadelphia Chromosome, a rare form of leukemia. The Carol family did what any family would do – they moved their family from California to Seattle and to a place where their son, Taylor, could get the best care, beginning with a bone marrow transplant.
As Jim wrote on the DonateGames Web site: “We ended up living in Seattle Children's Hospital for almost a year during his chemotherapy. Taylor and the other kids at the hospital were terribly sick, scared and isolated, but video-games played a big part in helping them get better.”
Ralf (right) is Taylor's bone marrow donor from Germany
It was from that experience that the idea for DonateGames was born. The idea is a simple one – games donated to the organization are resold and the proceeds are fed back to fund research. Here’s how it all works (as stated on the web site):
“By donating a game, you can receive credit on your taxes equal to or greater than the value you would have received by trading it in and know that your game went to help a good cause. By buying a game from Donate Games, you can get a game at a good price and know that your money will go to help a good cause, too.”
Operating with a volunteer staff, the proceeds from every sale “will go to support those suffering from orphan diseases around the world, searching for cures, providing caring networks and easing suffering.”
Video-game publishers like EA, Paradox Interactive, Telltale Games, Valve and NCsoft are partnered to the program as are other entities, such as public relations firms. There are more than 240 titles listed in the Web site’s store and more titles are ready to be scanned into the store’s inventory.
Volunteers at DonateGames
It keeps the Carol family hopping, but Jim took time to chat about the way the charity started and where he sees it going ...
“When we were up there (in Seattle) is when I really saw how important video-games are to kids when they are isolated and sick,” he said. ”Being around and seeing when kids are isolated and stuck in a hospital for months on end – especially when they are having immune system challenges from their cancer treatment, they can’t hang out with anybody, they can’t do anything and video-games mean so much to the kids when they are in the hospital. I think that was the first thing.
“The second thing that happened was I found the video-game Re-mission. It turns out I had old friends that were working there and that’s a charity that is using video-game technology to help children who have cancer. They found that it helps with the chemo uptake, and so we became good friends with the people over at HopeLab, who make Re-mission and again, just fortifying how good video-games really are. And then the way the whole thing came together, Taylor had radiation (therapy) and couldn’t be around anybody and we had to live in a Ronald McDonald house because they have special buildings up there for kids who have no immune system. And when we were at the Ronald McDonald house it was startling to me how hard it is for most families, especially if the child has a rare and neglected disease. We all know about breast cancer, colon cancer and leukemia, but about 20 million Americans end up suffering from these rare and neglected diseases where you don’t have support groups. When we were living at the Ronald McDonald house, we weren’t looking at the menu anymore, we were eating the meal. We saw how hard it was on most families and how most families are just fighting for their kids’ lives.
“And it was a rainy, sad day in Seattle, which many are during the winter, very depressing and I was sitting in my car when a bus pulled up next to me with a huge donate-your-car sticker on the side of the bus. And that was the moment when I thought we can’t let that happen with video-games, we can’t let it become fractured and disjointed. We need to create a charity that is going to be trusted, that’s going to have a lot of discipline, that’s going to make sure that all of the money from the sale of used video-games goes to help sick kids.”
Josh (right) has a rare form of brain cancer. He is pictured here with Taylor at the Carol's house in California
Too often people complain about video-games and point at them as though they were behind the ills of the world. Jim has an entirely different perspective.
“I’m part of that generation that created that stigma,” Jim said. “I’m a 50-year-old pop and I wasn’t a gamer. But I do believe in video-games, I don’t think they are bad, I think they are wonderful for education. My contemporaries jump to conclusions right away and think they (video-games) caused Columbine, and that’s just not the case. You will see, this year, a big part of what I’m going to be talking about in the media is that we need to change that opinion. Video-games are good and gamers are good, and they are benevolent, and they are kind and they are giving, caring people. And to be honest, 94% of the kids play video-games now so it won’t be an issue, probably, in 10 more years. But right now I think the general perception of a lot of people is incorrect.”
Jim cited the game Re-mission, which was financed by eBay founders Pierre and Pam Omidyar, that was proven to improve recovery time and scientifically proved to have positive results. Taylor, Jim’s son, was actually a spokesperson at the TED Conference where scientific facts were presented to support the findings that playing video-games – like Re-mission – was of value.
“You can affect your outcome with your mind,” said Jim. “If you can see the chemotherapy as your friend, not as your enemy and if you can embrace it, and if you can use your brain it is only going to help you get better.”
DonateGames' volunteers and cancer survivors
Taylor is doing well. He has to be tested all the time, but he is doing his part. He has been on the cover of the Make-a-Wish magazine, and he continues to speak about the charity. In fact he has spoken on behalf of 12 different charities.
“There is so much goodness coming with what we are doing,” Jim said. “I was the CEO of a global software company, I’ve run big companies, I retired young and I’ve never been around anything like this. I’ve never had people so willing to help, so kind and generous – it’s humbling. I have to tell you, this is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life and I’m just humbled. As long as we stay pure at this charity and make sure all the money goes to help the kids and help fight disease, this is going to be the next Make-a-Wish.
“The kids – the 17 to 33-year olds - all these charities that are out there, a lot of them are from their grandfather’s generation. Most of the big iconic charities were started after World War II – the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society. It’s time for a new charity to pop up for this new generation to get involved with that they can feel is their own. And I’m praying that we can start this, get all the infrastructure built up and that this is a charity … we are not saying ‘give us your money.’ We are saying ‘let’s recycle these idle used video-games.’ You are not buying from us, you are buying a game from a gamer.”
Donations are coming in from a lot of different sources. The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences has made a donation. A donation to the charity came in from the embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan and another from Dubai.
“I think if we just continue to keep our eye on the prize,” Jim said, “to communicate what we really stand for and to create a brand that people know can be trusted that almost every single penny that is raised is going to go to help sick kids, their families or to help find a cure for a rare disease. If we do that, we’re going to be Ok.”