“You should do this.”
It began with a message from the Frag Dolls: a link to a design contest, plus a simple "You should do this." from Sabre. I really enjoyed helping out with their Extra Life streams on Twitch last year, and I have donated what I could to my favorite livestreamers over the last couple years. I wanted to do more this year, but what could I do? Don't laugh, but I’m really awful with competitive multiplayer games. Playing games on camera, typically just exacerbated the problem. (Apologies to those people that caught my embarrassing late night Bioshock and The Walking Dead streams). Give me an RPG/single-player/story-driven/exploration game any day. I can’t hit a thing with a console controller; a mouse and keyboard – fairly well. I can play Minecraft for days (and have). I am definitely one of those people who builds epic cities for just one person to walk through. I’m still that gamer who fires up the Playstation to shave a few more seconds off a Colossus time trial. I’m also that guy messaging his friends on Steam to see if anyone has a few dozen hours to spare for whole match of Civilization V. My streaming experience is not that much of an asset, so beyond keeping the chatroom lively and informed, what really could I do to help the Extra Life streams? When I received the link and read about the contest, I had my answer. I spent quite a few years doing graphic design, so what I COULD do was: design a cool t-shirt.
The design developed rather naturally. In fact, it was the first and only idea I came up with for the contest. With only four colors to work with, I knew it had to be a symbol: something iconic, something to rally gamers, a banner to get behind. Then I remembered the last time I joined gamers in a cause. #HoldTheLine was an initiative to urge the makers of Mass Effect to revisit their ending to their tale. Gamers were invested, connected, and inspired by Mass Effect’s sprawling epic. It was more than just a story, it was a reflection of who they were and the hero (or villain) they wanted to be. These loyal gamers wanted an ending that reflected that long adventure. What I liked about #HoldTheLine is that they didn't do this in a negative way, but celebrated the game and shared their stories of what made Mass Effect personal for them. They wanted to show the makers of the game, Bioware, why the game was so important and how much they cared about the saga the team made and the gamers participated in. It was less about demanding this or that, but inspiring the developers to come back and give it more. And surprisingly, it worked. I can think of few times where I saw so many gamers rallied together to bring about a positive change. That's when the idea came together. To me, that is what Extra Life is all about: gamers inspiring others to affect change. What could be better than the Paragon symbol? In the Mass Effect series, "Paragon" choices were typically the virtuous and just options. They were even marked in a light blue color. The Paragon choice represented the most diplomatic and honorable decision you could make in a particular moment. It was the perfect starting point for the theme of "being a HERO for kids." Even those unfamiliar with the game could recognize the "Extra Life" wing, or even excluding that wings themselves are famously indicative of freedom, virtue, and piety. The design universally evoked feelings of positivity, upward motion, heroism, and unity, all on its own. It didn’t surprise me to see that Extra Life chose the ascending wings in their own logo.
I was thrilled when the design was selected as one of the Top Five finalists. Then, came the quest for Facebook Likes... which was an adventure all its own. I vaguely remember it as a blur of sleepless nights, typing and clicking until my fingers fell asleep, and discovering just how far a social network could go. When the dust settled, the Paragon shirt won. In the aftermath, I recall writing a mountain of thank yous and then sleeping for two whole days. What began as a simple design became my whole life for one fateful week in March.
Fast forward to June and there I was, flying to Los Angeles with my buddy, Arthur. He supported the shirt from a sounding board in the design process, all the way to final hours of voting. Few did as much as Arthur to help me in this contest, so it was great to bring him along for the trip.
Not only was this my first time at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), but I think this was the first convention of any kind where I didn't have to work at all. I could just attend and experience the event, definitely more fun being on the other side of things. E3 is a carnival in every sense of the word. Bright lights, beauties, barkers, and bravado; all vying for your attention. Not that “experiencing your most-anticipated games before they land on your home system” needs that much help to capture your focus. E3 is the gaming industry showing off the best of what it has to offer, with all the marketing might it can muster. It is simply the biggest and best video game playground you can imagine. I went in with Tom Clancy’s The Division as my most anticipated game, and left resolute in that belief. Everything: the look, the setting, the co-op gameplay, and the ferocious attention to details, makes it my kind of game. It's as if someone went in your head, plucked out your wishes for a dream game, and made it for you. I still have piles of LastGen and pre-LastGens I'm trying to finish, but The Division is far and away the NextGen game I want to play.
I saw a lot of cool stuff at E3, and there was certainly even more cool stuff I did NOT get to see. There is just THAT much going on. If I had to pick one memorable experience, it would be trying out the Oculus Rift. Depending on what kind of gamer you are, playing horror games on an Oculus Rift is either the best or the worst thing you could do. I played the Alien: Isolation demo and it is relentlessly immersive. VR as a concept does not seem to have changed much over the decades, but the technology is definitely higher-resolution and higher-powered packed in a tinier space. Normally when you play a horror game, you have the option to look away or enjoy a comfortable disconnect by being on the couch or have a desk and a keyboard between you and the action. Not so much with VR. There's no looking away, and no stepping back. When the alien takes you down, as it will, climbs over your soon-to-be corpse to get up close and personal with you, and smiles its death-smile at you with both terrifying mouths... you can only stare helplessly in its eyeless face as it ends you. This is immersion on a level you might regret. Moreover, if you ever wondered what would happen if you had to fight an alien from the movie, well, you might not like the answer. It was definitely the most unforgettable game experience I had at E3.
Games have that power to immerse us into imagination. Movies and TV, even music and fiction, they all are mostly directed by someone else. But, a great game is largely directed by you. This is what I love about games and why they are so important in our culture today. Sure, I can list all the financial figures, usage numbers, games sold, logins online; but statistics aren't what make games special. It's not what makes games live and breathe. Unlike movies, television, or spectating sports, to REALLY experience a game, YOU play it. It requires your participation to make it work. You make the decisions, you live through the character, and you make the events happen. Even the most linear game is not played the same way by any two people. We all find and face our own struggles in the course of a game. We find our own ways to the solutions. That's the link that ties us together. We all have the stories of the first time we watched that movie scene, or saw that winning play, or finished that chapter. Ask a gamer the story of how they took down Metal Gear Rex, solved the Water Temple, finally made it to the end of Champion's Road, or missed a day of work because you had to beat that Colossus (we won't talk about that stuff you did to the village of Whiterun after you saved your game). You will get very different stories that are told with more passion and very unique perspectives. Same game, different players, one community. That's what makes games special. It's the shared experience of adventure we all felt being a hero, a villain, a detective, a mastermind, or a hedgehog. This is what makes gamers loyal to characters, franchises, even to consoles (or if you are lucky, PCs) Games unite us because they part of our past and defined ourselves on our own adventures.
Many stories. One community.
Even though we all have our own stories, the games themselves and the collective imagination link our experiences together. Other countries, other languages, different backgrounds, different genders, different ages - games are the part of us we all share. This is what keeps me with a community like Extra Life. The media is fond of suggesting gaming makes some people loners or worse. But spend time at an Extra Life event and you'll see the best of what gamers can be. The gaming community is so passionate about what they do and shares that passion with others. Every generation has games that unite them. No matter who or where you are, you can put a controller in someone's hand and they can live a part of your 'life', too. The dragons you have slain become their dragons. Your puzzles become their puzzles. Your victories become their victories, and your achievements become their achievements (whoa, ok, log in your own account and get your own achievements, pal!)
Sharing games with kids, especially kids away from home in hospitals can bring that feeling of adventure and build those memories wherever and whenever they are. This is the seldom-celebrated power of gaming. Though we may be different people in different places at different times, we all start at the same level, and with some time and some effort, we determine just how far we go. There is something fair and inspiring about that. Whether its board games, browser games, console games, or online games, we all participate in the struggles, learn from the defeats, and grow from the victories. You would think all the competition and allegiances would put gamers at odds with each other, but when you join Extra Life, you find the challenge unites gamers more than anything. Opening the lid of that box or hitting start on a controller, you remember games were there for you. Games took you where you needed to be, showed you something you never saw before, and brought out something in yourself you may not have known was there. I think this is what brings Extra Lifers together and what drives them to help others: Remembering where you started and helping others find their way.
It was an honor and privilege to work with the Extra Life team. If you have ever designed anything, you know how inspiring it can be to see something tangible made from what was once just an idea in your head. Somehow the pixels you pushed around, or a sketch on a piece of paper became a symbol. At E3, I saw this amazing Extra Life group rocking the shirt as a team. Suddenly it was not just a JPG that I made. Now it stood for something. While most people at E3 were there trying to sell you on their latest product, Extra Life was there to encourage gamers to give back and grow the community. Every year Extra Life gets bigger and bigger. Maybe a few years ago, most gamers would have asked, "What IS Extra Life?" but today it has grown into a cause that the industry recognizes and champions. The question now is, "You're with Extra Life? What can we do to help?" At the end of the day, what makes Extra Life work is you. You can sign up right now and pledge to raise funds to help kids and hospitals. I chose the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. I spent most of my adult life in Philly and saw a lot of friends with siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, and later even kids of their own, turn to CHoP to when they had no place left to turn. As part of Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, CHoP treats hundreds of children each year, regardless of their family's ability to pay. The hospital also houses a research institute that searches to find cures for the diseases and disorders that affect children. CHoP is that beacon when the parents and kids of Philadelphia need help. When I joined Extra Life this year, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia was easily my first and best choice of which hospital I wanted help. Every dollar you raise goes to the local member hospital you choose. Extra Life starts with helping your community. The gaming community is a sleeping giant, and Extra Life invites gamers to be a part of its vision. Join the team this year and be a hero for kids.
I do want to take a moment to say thank you, especially to Jeromy, Mike, and Julie of Extra Life; friends, Arthur and the Frag Dolls: Siren, Daze, Esper, Seltzer, Pixxel, and Sabre who all their support and who made that first E3 so much fun.
Thank you to everyone who voted for my design, and those who got their friends and coworkers to vote. Seeing the gaming community, my friends, my family, strangers, people I look up to, and people I don't even know come together do this crazy thing with me. I could NOT have imagined anything like that. You don't get a lot of "It's a Wonderful Life"-moments in your life, but I'm beyond proud and grateful to have this one. The team at Extra Life was so great to meet and work with. They are gamers like you and me who are united through the simple mission: to help gamers help hospitals help kids. Because in the end, it’s not about E3, or a shirt, or a livestream, or a game. It’s about a community. One that can do amazing things when we join together to make things happen. Let’s do it again this October 25th and change the world one more time.