By Richard Keech
Recently, for reasons I won’t go into just now, I got involved with the Macmillan Cancer Support – Game Changers events. For those of you who may be less aware of the charity or the event, it’s quite straightforward. Macmillan is a charity that work hard on supporting individuals (and their families) who have been diagnosed with, are receiving treatment for, or are recovering from cancer. “Game Changers” is one of Macmillan’s fund raising schemes – people pledge to host or join a 24 hour gaming event and ask friends, family or total strangers to donate money to the charity in the name of you and your event.
I learned quite a lot from the experience and hope to pass on some of that wisdom to you – fair reader – in the hope that you may feel inspired to do the same; feel better prepared for what to expect from taking part in such an event; and maybe make an even better job of it than I did.
What follows is a little window into the world of 24 hour gaming events, the cost to benefit ratio and some things to be aware of before going in. I’ve broken it down into before, during and after; comparing what I experienced this time with what I’d perhaps approach differently were I to attempt it a second time.
This might seem painfully obvious, but make sure you are doing this for the right reasons. 24 hour gaming sounds easy, fun even. However, I wholeheartedly recommend only undertaking the challenge if you believe in what you are doing and the charity you are doing it for. I’ll go into more detail on this later, but there will be times when it’s the belief in the good you’re doing and being totally behind the charity you’re supporting that will get you through. It’s a gaming marathon, and it will feel like a marathon – you will be exhausted and you WILL want to stop.
For me, the Macmillan charity wasn’t chosen on a whim. Indeed, I had seen the Game Changers events advertised on social media in years gone by and thought that’s a cool idea, but at that time, the charity didn’t mean to me what it does today. Cancer was a word I knew, but not a word I’d experienced in anything other than a distant, indirect way. Had I attempted the challenge back then, I would almost certainly have come up short.
Also pretty obvious, pick the right date. Look carefully at your calendar and pick a day when you can actually take this on. Can you clear any prior commitments? Have you given yourself time for recovery after the event (a nights sleep at the very least)? What time are you going to start your event? All of these things will need to be considered well in advance – especially if you plan to stream your event through Twitch (as I used) or similar streaming service. This should all go into your promotion of your event for many reasons, including engaging those who might want to support you live as you’re in mid-marathon, and also being able to document the fact that you really did all 24 hours. I decided to start in the evening after a lovely day with the kids, this effectively meant that I only lost one day of family time while actually doing the event and then went to bed as normal the following night. Fine in theory – but it turned out to be a double edged sword, again more on that later.
A little less obvious maybe, but keep the target you want to raise both achievable and ambitious. When you sign up for Game Changers, the process takes you through setting up a Just Giving page, which you can edit and update as you go. As part of this, you will be asked to set a target you hope to raise through donations. This will be different for everyone, but you have to try and find a balance between what you think is an amount worthy of taking on the challenge, but also one that you can achieve. One that will keep you both motivated to complete the 24 hours, and motivated to keep pushing for those donations.
I set my target initially for £100 thinking “I would complete this challenge if it meant £100 went to Macmillan” – I then immediately doubled it because I wanted a more ambitious target and thought I would be more active in pushing/promoting my event if I was looking for a figure which was double my first thoughts. To some, £100-200 might seem a small amount (to others it may seem large), but consider who you will be asking, how many of them are there? How likely are they to donate? How much would you imagine each person might donate?
For me, relying heavily on friends and family rather than a large social media following or a celebrity status, £200 seemed an achievable and ambitious amount at the time. If you know you have a huge amount of generous friends or an extended and wealthy family, you might want to set a higher target.
In retrospect, I wish I’d been even more ambitious – not massively so, but maybe gone for £300-350. I might not have made much more than my final total, but it might have made me push a little harder throughout. The flip side is, if you set the bar too high, you may become disheartened before the event (again, I’ll come back to this later).
This might sound a bit weird, especially given the higher status gaming has these days – no longer the pastime of loners and weirdos (or at least not just loners and weirdos). However, there are those who will think it sounds like a cushy ‘challenge’ and, at best, show it no interest or, at worst, deride you for acting like gaming is even hard. DO NOT let these attitudes stop you from attempting the challenge. Firstly, whatever they think – it’s bloody difficult and chances are they couldn’t actually complete this challenge at all because they’re not gamers and think it’s just ‘staying up’ for 24 hours (which, incidentally, is not easy at all – especially at 34 years old with 2 children) and secondly, you’re not doing it for them – at least not for their approval. Should one of them have need for Macmillan Cancer Support in the future, then technically you are doing it for them – but you know what I mean.
Further to this, don’t judge anyone for having this attitude to your event. They’re not bad people, they’re not trying to suggest you are a bad person either. The likelihood is a combination of not understanding and, hopefully for them, never having had to deal with any aspect of the C word.
You are doing this to help raise money for a charity and you are relying on your nearest and dearest for support – both in the form of donations and for emotional support.
Possibly the most important part of the whole challenge is pretty obvious, but also easy to get wrong: Game selection.
There are few games that will stand up to being played for a straight 24 hours, so it’s a good idea to offer yourself (and your audience if you’re going to stream) a little variety. However, it’s worth giving serious consideration to the type of games you put into the rotation. When you play them is equally important. I’ll break down what I learned throughout my marathon by timings of the event:
Hours 1-4 are by far the easiest of the event. You’re fresh, excited, maybe even a little nervous? The good news is you can play absolutely anything. Ease yourself in with something familiar, jump straight into your favourite classic game – or put on something brand new! It doesn’t matter too much at this point. Starting at 8pm, I opted for the latter and played ‘Until Dawn’ for the first time. I had my wife beside me on the couch and we streamed our decisions and reactions to a fairly humble audience on Twitch. This was great fun as it’s a very visual game and had us on the edge of our seats – despite the game being relatively passive, it still kept me hooked.
Hours 4-8 were still pretty easy. It starts to feel like an event, but not yet a challenge. For me, this was between the hours of 11pm and 2am. It was time for something a bit more hands on and lively. I selected Uncharted 4 multiplayer – a game with which I’m very familiar. I was also joined online by my good buddy (shout out to Sonatine23) in party chat and on the game. My wife went to bed, but the conversational live stream continued as we shot up the rest of the world Uncharted style for a few hours (FYI – if you’re anything like me, you may have to make the choice between active chatter with piss poor gameplay, or quality game play with minimal chatter. Stereotypically enough, I can’t multitask). These hours flew by in relative ease.
Hours 8-12 are where it started to feel like a challenge for the first time. Granted, there were reasons for this that could easily be circumvented. Two things made life difficult for me here. Firstly, Sonatine23 signed off leaving me playing solo. From 2am onward I was on my own and really started to feel it. I had a few viewers on twitch but with very little interaction on the chat function, I quickly found my chatty rambling became an oppressive, self-inflicted silence. Secondly, poor game selection.
Now let me clear, the game I chose to switch to was Life is Strange – which is an excellent game – just not the right game for playing solo at 3am when you’re on your own. It was just too passive. I found that I would lose focus, forget what I was supposed to be doing or lose track of the plot as I was starting to feel the first pinch of fatigue. More than once I’d find my character circling a room as my heavy eyelids told me to just give up and go to sleep.
I didn’t go to sleep, but I did switch game. I went back to Uncharted 4, this time single player treasure hunting. This gave me specific, short focused tasks to complete as I jumped from chapter to chapter collecting the items I knew I’d missed in an earlier play through. This kept me entertained for a while – but in the end, treading over the familiar ground of a game I’d recently completed (on Crushing difficulty about 3 days before) got a bit dull. I was ready for a switch.
Hours 12-16 – The halfway point is quite an important moment in the challenge. You’ve already completed a mammoth part of the challenge and it really starts to sink in just how bloody difficult this is going to be. You ache, your eyes are heavy, you’re getting a bit sick of your games, you’re hungry and you’re acutely aware that you have to do another 12 hours before this is all over!? This is where the belief in the charity and support from family and friends is essential. For me, it was now 8am and this meant my wife and kids would be getting up and coming downstairs. To cause minimal disruption to their day (aside from being an absent father for the next 12 hours), I took a 13 minute break where I had some food, made another cup of tea and shifted my PS4 upstairs out of the way.
I decided to shift back to a newer, less familiar game to hopefully shake off some of the tedium and kick start a bit of enthusiasm. I chose to return to Until Dawn for a few reasons. One, it was a more cinematic experience for any potential viewers the morning might bring. Two, it was a game that had kept me on the edge of my seat as I had no idea what to expect. And three, it was now light outside so I wasn’t *quite* as petrified!
With a wife offering support and bringing me breakfast, the next three hours were OK. I was tired and a little grumpy, but I’d gotten a second wind and was enjoying the game too. I spent some of the time playing whilst stood up or pacing, just to get my blood flowing – but my body was definitely starting to reject my decision.
Hours 16-20 – I carried on with Until Dawn for most of this section of the challenge. The story carried me through and I played it to its exciting conclusion (or one of the potential conclusions this game offers). The signs of exhaustion were evident in my play, though. Normally, I would steam through the quick time events without a second thought, and would have kept all the delightful teens alive in this game. However, after 16+ hours of gaming, my reactions were slow, my reflexes a shadow of their former selves. Thus, when the game is firing quick instructions at me: press triangle, circle, square, square, etc. I’m mashing buttons as quickly as my thumbs can manage, missing cues and I inevitably lose one or two characters on the path to the end. Still fun, but frustrating too.
It becomes very clear to me why you shouldn’t drive when tired and I feel glad that it’s only digital counterparts that are paying the price for my hampered state and vow never to attempt to drive when tired ever again.
At this point, I run out of Until Dawn with 5 hours of the challenge still remaining. For me, this was undoubtedly the hardest moment. I have completed 19 hours straight gaming and the end is in sight. However, at this point I’ve actually been awake for more like 32 hours and another 5 hours of gaming seems like an eternity. At this point, I hate all the games and this was nothing but a stupid idea.
I’m all but ready to throw in the towel and give up (that’s right, both!). Then I do something pretty smart. I fire up the Just Giving app on my phone.
When I started the day of the challenge, I was only at £75 towards my goal. I spent the day on and off social media, reminding the world that today was the day and directing people to my twitch account (twitch.tv/spooklestreams) for an 8pm GMT start time. I’d said to my wife that I would still do the challenge for the £75, bit it would be nice to get it over £100 (which, if you recall, was my original target). Just prior to starting, I finally got to the £100 mark and felt extra motivated to succeed.
Fast-forward 19 hours of streaming and occasional photographic updates of my descent into madness posted onto Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and when I return to the Just Giving app, I’ve actually exceeded my £200 optimistic target! People are engaging, they’re watching on twitch, they’re sending me messages of support through Facebook and most importantly, they’re donating to a wonderful charity for me. I love my family and my friends, but I’m that moment – 5 hours to go and hating life – I love each and every one of them that little bit more. I realise I AM going to do this. It’s not going to be easy, these will be the hardest hours of all, but I’m going to get there.
Hours 20-24 – I’ve opted to try and get through the home stretch by playing Limbo, an indie classic from developer Playdead that I never got around to playing. It’s fantastic, but I’m exhausted and all the puzzles seem to take me an age to work out. However, this is also the catalyst to a huge turning point for me. Whether it’s the time or the game or the heightened awareness of the challenge – I don’t know? But the number of twitch viewers starts to increase – better yet, people start using the chat function to send me messages about what I’m playing and engaging with me directly.
This absolutely carried me through to the end. Chatting about Limbo and the challenge is great, then conversation turns to other PS4 games, and games that people have missed – one of which is The Last of Us. I start trying to talk about how good the game is, especially its original multiplayer – eventually the realisation dawns on me that I have The Last of Us on my shelf and could just show the game off to my viewers directly. So now I’m doing a live commentary of The Last of Us multiplayer and having an awesome time of it! I still have slow reactions and therefore suck at the game, but I’m having fun again and talking animatedly about games I love.
Conversation turns to comparing The Last of Us to Uncharted 4’s multiplayer – so again, I switch game and do a live comparison of the two to my growing audience.
To close out the final hours, I’m once again joined online by Sonatine23 and we lay the smack down online (well he does, I can’t hit anything for toffee). All that’s left for me to do is round off hour 24 by thanking everyone I can remember both on air and via social media, before switching off and powering both me and the PS4 down.
There were many lessons I learned doing this challenge. The first is that, though on paper starting in the evening and thus only losing one day SOUNDS like a great plan, it also means that when you finish the 24 hour marathon, you’ll actually have been awake for 36+ hours, and for me it was another 4 before I’d wound down enough to actually sleep.
The second was that this is a huge challenge, despite what some people may think or say – it’s not cushy or easy in any way. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but the Game Changers challenge is not to be taken lightly. It IS a challenge and deserves sponsorship/donations as much as the next challenge!
Is it as hard as running 26.2 miles? No, of course it isn’t! But it’s far harder than growing a moustache for Movember or “Not drinking for a month” for Drytember – both of which seem to garner a lot more respect despite the fact that both of these challenges are actually piss easy and I’ve done them both! Ask one of your doubters to try the Game Changers challenge themselves if they think it’s that easy, they’ll soon learn!
Lastly, this is a challenge that SHOULD be done with friends. If I am ever crazy enough to attempt this again, that is the first and maybe even only change I would make – ensure I have company either in person or online throughout the whole event. It’s exponentially easier with people to talk to and bounce off. If you take one piece of advice from this, it’s DON’T attempt this alone if you can possibly help it.
So there it is, 24 hours and nearly £250 raised for charity later, there is everything I learned and experienced from my Macmillan Cancer Support Game Changers 24 hour challenge. Please leave any questions or comments below, tweet me @spooklebeans, and if you’d even like to donate to my effort, you can still do so here.
It’s a great charity, a great event and you should seriously think about giving it a go yourself!
Good luck out there!