Get-Well Gamers Interview: Bringing Video Games To Hospitalized Kids
Like you said, video games are engaging on so many different levels. They are also rather immersive in social aspects as well. Do you ever see kids playing with other children in the hospitals or with their siblings and friends over things like Xbox Live or PSN?
There is [a social aspect] but only a small percentage of our hospitals are internet capable. But, what you do see a lot of is that they are used greatly as socialization tools in places with large migrant populations. Like in San Francisco, there is still a large population that only speaks Chinese, but what you will see is that, if you put two children in front of a soccer or football game, or any kind of sports game, it doesn't matter that they don't know the words. They just know it is the basic play of ‘I can get there before you can or I have a higher score.’ They don't need to understand each other; they can still socialize, play with each other, and like each other even though they don't know what the other person may be saying.
Like in New Mexico with the Spanish population or in some parts of Wisconsin or Illinois with the German and Polish populations. Even if these kids can't talk they can still play—and that is something that video games create a unique bridge to.
I totally agree. At E3 this year that is one thing I really noticed—just how massive the industry is. I met people from all over the world. It's amazing how a single passion can bring so many people together. That's also a huge thing for children stuck in hospitals, especially because social interaction is important in so many aspects, medically and psychologically. The online connectivity issue you mentioned brings up another question... obviously this was a big year for video games with the announcement of the next generation of consoles. How do you think this next generation will affect the way the foundation is fun in the future?
Well there was quite a bit of concern early on with the Xbox One announcement.
With the DRM and Online Connectivity issues?
Yeah. Like I said, only a small percentage of our hospitals have patient accessible internet. So if you needed to check online every 24 hours to make sure that you actually owned your game—well, that would completely ruin our ability to use that system for hospitals because they wouldn't be able to fulfill that.
Now, from what I understand, that is basically cured. I'm sure that for the one time online connectivity at the beginning, a person in the hospital's IT department could get it fixed. I am, however, disappointed with both Sony and Microsoft not having any backwards compatibility going forward. That is usually a huge thing for us because not only does it make it more convenient for the hospitals—like how the launch editions of the PS3s could play the role of three different systems (PS1, PS2, and PS3). Also donation-wise, when a system has good backwards compatibility we will get a lot of their previous systems. Like when the PS2 came out, we got a lot of PS1s because, well, what did the donators need it for? They could play all of their games on the PS2, so it became spare hardware that could be used for a good cause. The same thing happened when the PS3 launched.
Now, especially with the likes of PSN or Xbox Live Arcade, a lot of those games are tied to the system and you can't take them with you in any way. I don't expect an increase in Xbox 360 or PS3 donations once the PS4 and Xbox One launch.
Unfortunately I think a lot of charities are being affected by the new policies. However, I do think some companies are starting to realize the problems with strict DRM policies and online connectivity, though many believe that to be the future of gaming. Regardless, with the online market there is still the lack of ability to give away older games.
Exactly. They say that you can make money on the games you buy in this way or that way. It doesn't occur to them in a business sense—what if you want to be able to give it away? I know we are not a market or demographic, but it is just one of those things where there is nothing I can do for people who want to give away their games, and that is what we survive on. If these policies continue and the previous generations’ vanish I don't know if we will be able to continue. It isn't what the hospitals are equipped for; it's not what we can do. The logistics with digital rights transfer and stuff like that... I mean I hate to poke fun, but that Sony “How to Share your PS4 Games” video—that is what we need. That is what is required to keep the foundation going. For someone to just give a game to somebody else.
So obviously developer policies affect the direction and future of the foundation. With that being said, do you ever get donations from big developers or do you mostly rely on individual gamers?
I would say about 80% of the foundation's inventory is from private and personal donations from regular every day gamers. We do have a few partnered donors, but at times they are not reliable. You know, one year we will get a donation from company A and the next year from company B… then maybe two years down the line maybe company A again, but it isn't a consistent thing. The one exception to this would be Ubisoft. Shout out to my friends there, Victor Fajardo and Scott Fry, because with their latest donation Ubisoft has actually passed the quarter-million mark with software that they sent to us over the years.
That is awesome!
Literally, they have sent thousands of games over the years and this is only, I believe, their fourth donation. They have been the only ones who are consistent with it, so big props to them. We are never short of Wii games because of them.
So is the foundation looking mostly for specific consoles or games in terms of donations, or do you take anything?
The answer is yes. [laughter]
All of the things.
Yes. Do you guys want? Yes. Is it a video game? Yes. Okay, there we go.
Because the foundation is based in pediatric wards, do you only take games that have specific ratings? What happens when someone wants to donate a Mature-rated game?
We do get Mature-rated games. There are facilities that are longer term "homes" for people. If you come to know a certain staff, it's not like they kick you out on your 18th birthday. Some of our "pediatric" wards serve patients as old as 23, so if they want to play Gears of War let them. And we do work closely with other charities—there is actually one similar to Operation Supply Drop called Fun for our Troops and we have a trade going with them where they send us all of the stuff that is too kiddie for soldiers and we send them things that are too violent for children. Not all of it, obviously, but some of the stuff we don't use.
So regardless, whatever you get goes to a good cause.
Right. So the point is, whatever we get in, if we can't put it in the hospital directly, we will perform a sort of cooperative alchemy and turn lead to gold, so to speak. We find a way to turn those games we can't use into ones that we can.
Do you do a lot of direct work with the children at your hospitals?
I would really like to, but unfortunately we don't. The thing is, it just comes down to logistics. If I wanted to go down to one of our hospitals in Texas or Kansas and actually give a donation in person—meet with the kids, take pictures, and things like that, which would be great and helpful, but the cost of that and hotel fares and everything else, it is just too much. To do something like that for one hospital when we can ship donations to every hospital in our network, it doesn’t make sense. If there is something going on there, like a local newspaper or television show, then having press events to help us get donations and funding makes it worth it, but financially we can't just go out and do that, as much as we would like to. As nice as it would be, it's not a moral use for that money to focus on one hospital when that same money can be used to help a hundred hospitals.
Do you often receive feedback or stories from children or hospitals that receive donations? Do any of the stories stick out to you?
Oh yeah, we get tons of letters and stuff from hospitals. I love the crayon drawings—they are always touching. One of my favorite stories actually comes from one of our first hospitals, the Shriners Hospital in Los Angeles. It is an orthopedic hospital, so they deal with a lot of traumatic injuries from car crashes and house fires, stuff like that. There are quite a few amputees there, sadly.
One of the first stories I heard was from a boy and a girl. The girl had lost her left arm at the wrist and the boy lost his right arm at the elbow. So the boy would stand there with a Guitar Hero guitar over his neck and he would fret cords while the girl would stand next to him over his shoulders and strum; they would play like that for hours. They were actually able to five-star songs on hard, which is something I can't even do. They didn't even know each other, they weren't even related. They knew each other from the hospital and they both liked the game, so they found a way to play it together. That is co-op hardcore.
Yeah, that definitely is! And again, it goes to show how video games can bring people together through hardships like that. Lastly, to wrap things up, how can our readers and viewers get involved with Get-Well Gamers?
Well as always there is our website at www.getwellgamers.org and we are always looking for new donations obviously, and for funding.
We are also looking for new hospitals to send our donations to, so if there is a hospital in your area that you think could use the foundations services, please just let us know about it. This isn't a super sophisticated operation. Most of our hospitals come from putting the name of a state and children's hospital into Google. So if you know someone who has been to a certain hospital or if you have been to one yourself, please let us know, because we are always looking for new hospitals.
The foundations mission, in the long term, is to be the red cross of gamers. Anywhere there is a child who is sick or injured, if they want a videogame to help them make their recovery time not so dreary and painful, we want a foundation video game to be there for them.
Get-Well Gamers is looking for new donations and hospitals to reach out to even more children, so be sure to spread the word. You can donate or recommend new hospitals at GetWellGamers.org.
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