Earlier on in the week we covered the amazing charity fundraiser GameBlast16, a livestreamed event hosted by Jagex that this year ended up raising over £100,000 for Special Effect. Gamereactor visited Jagex HQ and witnessed the marathon first-hand, and this is our report.
When we initially entered the building the first thing we noticed was how big the turnout was, and the variety of things that were set up by Jagex for the marathon players. Outside the building was a large bus, set up with a whole manner of different games on different platforms for people to enjoy. Walking in to the reception there's Rock Band and Grid set up with full instruments and steering controls for all to try, there are machines like this scattered around the area, and there's even a small Smash Bros. corner for guests to battle on.
However, the main attraction was based within the Atrium, where the big event was taking place. Rows of computers had been set up for the marathon, with players enjoying games like Runescape or Chronicle, or even just checking in on how the Twitch stream was doing (which was running live in one corner of the room). Of course one of the more interesting things on the site was just across from the gaming bus; a giant tub of pink gunge, which would later be the cold, damp bath for a GameBlast16 attendant when they hit one of their goals later on in the night, which was definitely entertaining for the rest of the event-goers, and for those witnessing the mucky-milestone on Twitch!
We had only arrived an hour into the event, and GameBlast16 had already raised over £18,000, and a further hour in the total had gone up by £6,000. There was a great atmosphere, and everyone there rallied together to top last year's total of £50,000, which they ended up smashing. Also at the event was the founder and director of Special Effect, Mick Donegan, along with Mark Saville, part of the communications team for the charity. We had the opportunity to talk with them about GameBlast, their partnership with Jagex, and Special Effect as a whole.
The first thing they wanted to get across was how much the partnership at Jagex has really helped since day one, with Saville mentioning that "the first year Jagex was involved was just truly astounding... It was incredible and it's just gone on from strength to strength, we're gobsmacked!" Donegan added that "Jagex have been fundamental to the whole event with it being run here... brilliant, absolutely brilliant".
However Jagex weren't the only supporters of the GameBlast event, with Special Effect garnering support from UK retailers GAME and also a variety of different Twitch streamers around the country.
"We're honoured as well to have GAME on board with GameBlast... And then we've got over 400 people, individuals and small teams of gamers... We've been amazed by the response this year, totally amazed, because I think it's basically gamers get what we're trying to do, they say 'Yes, how can we help?', so we're really amongst friends."
We asked if Special Effect were willing to branch outside the UK at any point, to which Donegan said: "The good thing about this is that it's open for that, people can, it's entirely up to them... people realise that 'Okay [Special Effect] are based in the UK and that's lovely' but UK gamers, UK developers and UK publishers are very proud of us and we're very proud that they're very proud of us!"
It's clear that the team are overwhelmed with the support they receive from everyone, and already they have donations and players from around the world, with plans to set up an initiative on their website to help people with disabilities further afield than here in the UK. They commend their supporters for helping them along the way; "They're very happy to share Special Effect with the planet! They can obviously take full credit for helping us to do that"
Of course some of you may not be fully aware of what Special Effect is, and what they do for the gaming community, so we asked Mike and Mark to explain it to us in their own words, and they were both enthusiastic with their response.
"Essentially we're a small charity with a big mission, we want to help gamers with disabilities across the world to be able to experience the kind of fun and magic that we get out of gaming," Donegan told us. Saville added: "A simple way of looking at it is that we're like a Make-A-Wish charity but with technology. The people that we help, a lot of them find it really difficult to have fun or make an impact in the real world because of their disability, in the virtual world that's where they can make as much of an impact and have as much fun as anybody else if we just give them a way in."
What really makes Special Effect such a unique charity is their face-to-face way of dealing with the people they help out, with Saville explaining that they communicate with them "on a very personal and individual basis; we go out and visit people in their homes or they come to see us, and we work one-to-one with them intensively to work out exactly what they need to game. And when I say exactly, what I'm talking about is that everybody with a disability is different from somebody else, even down to the millimetres of finger movement".
What's great about it is how it's a long term solution, instead of a one-off event, with Donegan signing off the interview by saying: "This is something that's in their living room which they can just switch on and enjoy every day." It's something that has very much helped and improved the lives of the people they work with.
During the day we also had a quick chat with the design director for Runescape, Mark Ogilvie, better known within the Runescape community as Mod Mark, and he spoke with us more about Jagex's partnership and what they had on offer to raise more money. The main question we had was to ask why Jagex got so involved with Special Effect and GameBlast, to which Ogilvie said: "Runescape at its heart is a community orientated game... we've always had this vibe to do things with our community and we're aware that some of our community have disabilities and are handicapped in various different ways".
The community has, of course, come together in a very big way for this event, with players even donating items from within Runescape that were bought and sold for real-money, which was then donated to Special Effect through the in-game 'Well of Goodwill'.
Ogilvie went on to say that they've "always been very oriented around our community and doing things with our community, and actually it was our community that kind of bought our attention to Special Effect and what they did. And when we heard about it we thought 'Actually that sounds like a really good charity to get behind,' and ultimately is a charity that helps people to play games and we're a games development company so it kind of seemed like a holy union."
Ultimately GameBlast16 was a huge success, with the grand total listed on the the GameBlast site as just over £190,000. Of course you can still fund-raise for Special Effect in other ways, it's for a great cause after all. Looking back at the effort made by Jagex and its community, the weekend was a great example of how unified the gaming community can be. Next year's GameBlast17 has also been announced, taking place between the 24th and the 26th of February, 2017. More information about the charity and what they do can be found here.
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