Garrett Bullock’s basement bedroom in his Columbia home is a video gamer’s paradise.
Two computer screens rest on a sleek black desk. A big, flat screen TV is mounted on the wall above one of the monitors. Along the wall, dozens of video game cases are meticulously lined up.
It’s the kind of place where someone could reasonably play video games for an entire day, which is convenient for Bullock, the president of the Columbia Extra Life Guild.
Extra Life is a nationwide charitable program where gamers like Bullock participate in 24 hour gaming marathons to raise money for their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. It's the same idea as a walkathon, but instead of laps around a track, Bullock and his friends play video games with each other nonstop for a full day. Bullock started participating four years ago.
“I was actually at the [MU Women's and] Children's Hospital to see a friend's younger brother who had his appendix removed, and as we were getting ready to leave, I saw a flyer on the wall,” Bullock says. “I saw it and I thought, ‘That's right down my alley.’”
Bullock and his friends live stream their marathons online and invite friends and family to watch, participate and donate to their online accounts.
“We make sure the fun factor is the highest it could possibly be because we're combining two pretty big passions,” Bullock says. “One, obviously, is helping people, and two is gaming. There's really no way you can go wrong with that kind of stuff.”
In his first year, Bullock raised more than $1,000 for the MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Last year, he says a few hundred people watched he and his friends game throughout the day and helped them raise $1,600, which is just a fraction of the nearly $20,000 the mid-Missouri community raised for the hospital through Extra Life.
All of that money goes to MU Women’s and Children’s for it to use as it sees best.
“[The money can go towards] anything from uncompensated care to research, research grants to life saving equipment,” says Katie Zimmer, a special events coordinator with the Children’s Miracle Network at MU Women’s and Children’s. “Like we have giraffe beds up in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). We currently have 48 beds, and we're always looking to increase that.”
That kind of support from the community did not go unnoticed by the people who at the Children’s Miracle Network corporate offices who oversee the Extra Life program, and they awarded Columbia its own Extra Life Guild this year.
Anyone can go online and set up an account to game and raise money through Extra Life, but only communities with high levels of participation and support get a Guild.
“Gamers are some of the most kindhearted people I've ever seen, and I've been involved with them in a lot of communities of these people that are just wonderful human beings,” Bullock says. “Seeing them get involved and seeing them raise money for the hospitals whether it's for MU Children's Hospital or not, it's a wonderful thing to see.”
Zimmer says a lot of the gamers have a personal connection to the hospital.
“One member in particular, he decided to share a very personal story with us within the Guild. His son was actually born here, and he spent the first 18 months of his life here, so this is something that’s very near and dear,” Zimmer says.
“As a gamer, I love that I can do something I love and help children at the same time,” says Doug Coleman who has been participating in Extra Life for the past five years. Two years ago, he started organizing Extra Life events with his coworkers in Macon, Missouri.
His events are a little different than Bullock's. He rents out a space, brings in food and invites people to come play whatever games they want from computer games to video games to card games. On April 30, he’s hosting Extra Life Unplugged, a non-video game event which will focus instead on board games in honor of International Tabletop Day.
“Board games are going through a renaissance right now,” Coleman says. “They’re absolutely fantastic. They are the most creative people I have seen in all of gaming.”
Coleman uses these mini-events to raise funds and excitement for his big 24-hour Extra Life Game Day later in the year. In the past, Coleman’s events have been very focused on his co-workers, but this year, he’s opening them to the public and holding them off-site. He says having a Guild in mid-Missouri will help him make his events even better.
Bullock and Zimmer say the first goal of the Guild, which had its first meeting earlier this month, will be to recruit more gamers. Bullock says he wants to double the 175 gamers that participated last year by reaching out to as many people as possible.
“Somebody gets into it. They tell their friends about it. Those friends tell their friends about it and it's just kind of a ripple effect,” Bullock says. “Young people are passionate people. They have very strong opinions about things and helping people is one of those things that resonates with a lot of people.”
Bullock says the Guild is thinking about recruiting at gaming conventions, school functions and athletic events using a very simple pitch.
“The pitch is just you get to sit down worry about nothing but playing video games and make a great impact at this hospital,” Bullock says.