Video gamers go out of their way for ill children

  • Bill France / Herald Columnist
  • Monday, January 12, 2004 9:00pm
  • Life

This is some combination of a celebration and an apology. First, the celebration.

A week before Thanksgiving, The Herald printed my first column on ultra-violent video games, and then put it on the Web site, The most important reaction I saw came right after Thanksgiving through a Web site called

An unidentified writer wrote, "If you are like me, every time you see an article like this one — where the author claims that video games are training our nation’s youth to kill — you get angry."

When readers clicked "this one," my column on video games popped up.

The article went on, "The media seems intent on perpetuating the myth that gamers are ticking time bombs waiting to go off. I know for a fact that gamers are good people. I have had the opportunity … to meet hundreds of you at conventions all over the country. We are just regular people who happen to love video games."

"With that in mind," the article went on, "we have put together a little something we like to call ‘Child’s Play.’" Penny-arcade created Child’s Play, a toy drive for the holidays, by joining with and Children’s Hospital in Seattle.

Among other things they did to inspire giving, Penny-arcade published a letter from one of its readers. He is the father of a 5-year-old boy who had spent most of the previous five months at Children’s Hospital getting chemotherapy for lymphoma.

Almost every parent can immediately identify with that father’s distress, and with his heartfelt "thank you" to Penny-arcade for its Child’s Play toy drive.

Three weeks later, on Dec. 22, delivered new toys worth $120,000 — and an additional check for $26,000. That is a fund drive for Children’s Hospital of $146,000 in three weeks, from a standing start.

In a phone conversation on Jan. 7, Emma Misner, special events coordinator at Children’s Hospital, said that Penny-arcade has a readership of about 3 million.

"They told me about some really moving letters they got," she said. "There were some kids, for example, who got money for their birthdays and used it to buy toys for Child’s Play rather than buy something for themselves.

"I think they themselves may have been overwhelmed by the response they got and they worked really hard getting everything done.

"They might still be resting from that," she said with a laugh.

Here is the apology part and then back to more celebration. Certainly many gamers read my column as a statement that I believe that they are bad people. For that impression I am sorry. I did not and do not believe that.

In any case, the Penny-arcade Web site and many of their readers, who are apparently gamers, demonstrated that they have big hearts and generous instincts.

Many of Penny-arcade’s readers have written to me, rightfully proud of what they have done both as individuals and as a group. Some have described what video games mean to them. Others have referred me to a book on video games that I am now reading. I am far enough along in that book to know that I will share some of its insights in a future column.

But, back to a little more celebrating.

The people at Children’s Hospital perform miracles. Two of my children and four of my grandchildren have received their care over the years. Two were admissions through the emergency department and for one of those I needed a police escort right to the door.

During one wait near intensive care, we visited the chapel on an upper floor where they have albumlike prayer books. Parents and other family members have handwritten their most immediate fears and thanksgivings in those books.

To read a few entries is to look into that many hearts. I know that those parents, like the father who wrote to Penny-arcade, appreciate what Child’s Play brought to Children’s Hospital. I know that because I do.

Perhaps the most surprising part of this experience, and it was invisible to me before, is the speed and power with which this network of gamers mobilized their effort on behalf of children and Children’s Hospital.

If your children play video games, and even if they don’t for that matter, I encourage you to know about If you contact them, thank them for their effort for children and for a hospital that does miracles.

Bill France, a father of three, is a child advocate in the criminal justice system and has worked as director of clinical programs at Luther Child Center in Everett. You can send e-mail to

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