On November 4th our friend Jen Tonon will be doing something Japanese business men wish they could do: play video games for 24 hours straight. She’s doing it for a wonderful cause as well, benefiting her local children’s hospital, in honor of her late brother James. I got a chance to talk to Jen about the whys and hows, and how she moves around with such a big heart.
Steve: Where did the idea come from for you to marathon game for charity?
Jen Tonon: Extra Life was founded around 2008, but we (coworkers and myself) didn’t start playing until 2012. Our team was comprised mainly of Bethesda people, but we’ve always kept the roster open to anyone that wanted to join. We’re an unofficial Bethsoft team, but I believe we are the longest running group of employees for the charity. Considering we work in games, it seemed natural to get fully behind an event surrounding gaming as a platform to help sick kids.
We’re all gamers at heart, and for me personally, the charity has a deeper meaning. Every year I play in memory of my brother James, who passed at 23 from Osteo-Sarcoma (rare and aggressive bone cancer). Even if this is only once a year, I feel like I can use our family’s tragedy towards something that can help other families going through the same thing.
S: What made you decide to go with your local children’s hospital?
J: I know of at least one little girl that went to JHCC as a patient, around the time my brother was getting treated at Georgetown. I wanted to keep my hospital of choice local, so it really felt like I was helping out those close to home.
S: What has been the most difficult obstacle you’ve encountered during your marathons?
J: Staying up the full 24 hours! Around 3-6am people really start dropping, and your support network of folks keeping you awake and busy dwindles. I’ve had years past where I’ve fallen asleep with a controller in my hand, and woke up to my Diablo toon stuck running in circles.
But the good thing about Extra Life is that you’re not obligated to do the full 24 in one go; it just helps to serve as a vehicle for raising money – “look at how crazy we are for gaming 24-hours straight!” If for some reason I fall a couple hours short, I usually make it up the next day, or worst, they have actual make-up days for people that can’t participate on the designated event day.
A pro tip for new players would be to shower the night before, and go to the store to buy all your snacks and drinks ahead of time. I tend to keep my mini fridge fully stocked with sodas and booze so I’m never far from sustenance.
S: Do you go with with a game-plan with your team or is it straight balls to the wall playing?
J: I pick my games list a few weeks to a couple months prior, and update it as needed. It helps to keep me focused on titles I might have not gotten a chance to finish, or things that would stream on Twitch to viewers well. Scary games are always a hit, as are games with ridiculous or buggy physics. Inevitably, the plan always changes at some point during the day, as I get fatigued of one type of game, or want to play solo vs co-op or multi-player. Board games and mobile games are also allowed, so using those as a break from sitting on a couch or PC breaks up the monotony.
Every year I usually come up with some stupid stunt to raise money. My coworker/Wonder Twin Joe Mueller shaved himself bald for a donation one year, and I dressed up in a Michelangelo Ninja Turtle onesie and went out and stood next to a busy intersection with a sign that said “honk if you hate childhood cancer.” It helps not to have shame if you want to raise the most money.
S: Ohhhhhh! Any stunts planned for this year?
J: So far the only stunt I have planned is the usual “donate a specific amount, tell me what game to play and how to play it.” The sadistic folks come out of the woodwork to make sure I don’t have it easy. I’ve already been told “prepare to die a lot.” Thanks, guys.