Gamers Outreach Foundation - “Gamers for Giving”
We have all heard about various organizations out there that are hell-bent on painting video games as “evil” or “degrading” to our society. Most gamers just ignore these organizations and there supporters – and simply go about their lives. On the other hand are people like Zach Wigal, a 19 year-old who turned a negative experience into one that shows that gamers can be good guys too. We spoke with Zach about the circumstances under which he created Gamers Outreach Foundation, and their upcoming annual fundraising event, “Gamers for Giving”.
TBS: What made you decide to start the Gamers Outreach Foundation? How long has it been around?
Zach: During my Jr year of high school, some friends and I wanted to host a Halo 2 tournament for our student body. We signed a contract with our high school to host a massive video game tournament in our lunchroom. Three months later (four days before our event was scheduled to take place), a local public safety officer who belonged to an organization called the Parent’s Television Council found out about our Halo tournament. The organization he’s a part of is a media watchdog organization. To say the least, they’re not really the biggest Halo fans in the world.
The police officer called up our school’s superintendent and convinced her that Halo 2 was corrupting the minds of America’s youth. He literally stated in a voice mail that my friends and I were degrading the high school facility by hosting a Halo tournament on the premises. He compared Halo 2 to Grand Theft Auto and 25-to-Life, saying the game was a hazard to public safety and kids were training themselves to kill on the game.
Our superintendent revoked the permit the school had given to my friends and I, stating our event was a hazard to public safety. Needless to say, the 300 fellow gamers/students who had signed up to be a part of the tournament weren’t very happy.
Our local newspaper ran a story about our tournament being canceled. In addition we made the front page of digg.com. We also went on various radio stations (97.1 FM) and word even eventually reached Bungie Studios themselves, who responded with a comment.
In an effort to show the public safety official the good things video games could be used for, my friends and I put together a new tournament called Gamers for Giving, to raise money for Autism research. The event was a massive LAN party combined with a Halo 3 tournament. We had a turnout of over 600 participants and spectators, and the event generated $15,000 dollars of revenue for Autism research.
Eventually I ended up forming a non-profit organization called Gamers Outreach Foundation. The organization itself has technically existed since our last event, (2008) though it’s only been until just recently that we’ve really been able to pick the organization up off the ground.
TBS: What do you hope to accomplish through Gamers Outreach?
Zach: We’re a charity organization that uses video games to address various community needs. You could think of us like a United Way for gamers. Our foundation utilizes video games to inspire individual activism. We’re partnering with children’s hospitals to build video game play centers for kids who are bed-ridden for long periods of time. We work with teachers who use video games for educational programs. We host various fundraising events for other non-profit organizations to raise needed funds, or rally volunteers. We’ll also be launching local chapters of Gamers Outreach later this year to help people address relevant issues in their own areas through video games. We’re currently based in Michigan, but our programs span across the country.
TBS: Describe the Gamers for Giving Convention? When does it take place and what games will be played? How many people do you expect to participate? Any prizes?
Zach: Gamers for Giving basically acts as our annual fundraising event. It’s a video game convention that provides our supporters with a unique opportunity to donate towards our efforts, and become involved with our work. I would compare the event to a mini QuakeCon. It’s literally 42 hours of non-stop gaming. (You can find pictures from last year’s event here). This year’s event includes a non-stop 300-person LAN party (basically, 300 people come together, they bring their computer rigs or gaming consoles - and they game for the entire weekend). Our other headlining activities include a 2-vs-2 Halo 3 tournament, a Super Smash Brothers Brawl Tournament, a Counter Strike Source tournament, a Call of Duty 4 tournament, and a Left 4 Dead tournament. This year, we’ll have approximately 1,000 attendees. All of our event’s information is posted on our website.
The Halo 3 tournament is a 2vs2 double elimination event. We’ll be rewarding the winning team $1,000.00, and Bungie will also be rewarding them with the most coveted item on Xbox Live, Recon Armor. (Recon is a rare armor in Halo 3 people can wear online. It’s a status symbol handed out by Bungie). We’ll also be having a raffle at the event to help raise money for our projects. We’ll be giving away Astro A40 Headsets, a full-fledged gaming pc, and a few other prizes. We’re still searching for prizes for our LAN tournament.
TBS: If people are unable to attend the convention, can they contribute in another way?
Zach: YES! If people can’t attend the event, but would still like to support our foundation and our efforts, they can donate by going to our website.
I encourage all of you to check out the Gamer’s Outreach Foundation website, and if in the area go and stop by the Gamer’s for Giving event. This is a shining example of the good heartedness that most gamer’s harbor, and a great way for us all to get involved in helping others in need.