Many people think of gamers as self-absorbed slackers who spend all of their time losing themselves in digital worlds at best and antisocial misfits with violent tendencies at worst. However, one charity rallies the video game community together every year to prove those detractors wrong and do some good in the world.

Child’s Play Charity, which has raised a cumulative $8,998,564 to buy toys and games for participating children’s hospitals nationwide since 2003, has added its first partner hospital in the Chicago area this year. Comer Children’s Hospital, 5721 S. Maryland Ave., will take advantage of the charity’s fundraising efforts, as well as individual donations through an Amazon.com wish list to provide video games, consoles, toys and games for its patients.

Child’s Play was started in November 2003 by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, creators of the gaming webcomic “Penny Arcade,” in response to the bad press they had seen multiple times regarding the gaming community.

“Mike and Jerry felt that the media portrayal was very inaccurate,” said Jamie Dillion, project manager of Child’s Play. “They’ve had a lot of positive experiences with the game community. They know it very well, so they wanted to do something that would kind of debunk that myth. Very rapidly, they realized that it’s difficult to change people’s minds, but it’s not difficult to do good in the world, so that became first priority.”

The charity offers two ways for people to contribute to its partner hospitals. The first is direct PayPal donations through ChildsPlayCharity.org, and the second involves an interactive map on the website which lists all of the participating hospitals worldwide. Anyone who wants to contribute to a specific hospital on the map can click on a link that leads to an Amazon.com wish list customized to that hospital’s needs. All items purchased through these wish lists are shipped directly to the hospitals.

Child’s Play is a very community-driven charity, and Dillion said many of the hospitals that have gotten involved were urged by gamers in their communities to get in touch and join the program. Carter said she registered Comer as a partner hospital after being contacted by the organizers of a local Child’s Play fundraising event called the Chicago Loot Drop.

The Loot Drop started last year as a “Rock Band” tournament to raise money for Child’s Play, according to Mike Chuck Bretzlaff, the event’s chairman. This year’s event, held on Nov. 20 at Reggie’s Rock Club, 2109 S. State St., also featured a performance by Minibosses, a band known for their rock covers of music from games such as “Mega Man 2” and the “Castlevania” series. This year’s event raised more than $3,000 for the charity. Bretzlaff said part of the reason he wanted to get a Chicago hospital involved in Child’s Play was civic pride.

“Ever since Child’s Play started, there’s [been] no Chicago hospital on there,” he said. “There’s one in Indianapolis, there’s one up in Madison, Wis., I think—all these other local Midwest ones—but that Chicago was missing, it was just disappointing.”

Bretzlaff also said having a local hospital involved helps get Chicagoans involved with the fundraising efforts because even people who don’t know anything about Child’s Play can appreciate the idea of supporting sick children in their city.

The kinds of items hospitals request range from simple toys and puzzles to books, movies and video games. However, Amy Carter, a child life specialist at Comer who has been working with Child’s Play to coordinate donations, said most people who donate toys tend to focus on young, grade school-age children.

“We don’t necessarily have enough people thinking about the kids who are under 3 and the kids who are [older than] 11, and they’re actually two of our biggest populations,” Carter said.

She said washable plastic toys, stacking toys and rattles for infants and board games, video games and art kits for older kids, are always appreciated.

She said these kinds of distractions help children cope with the experience of being in the hospital and make that experience as comfortable and familiar as it can be.

Dillion said allowing sick children to play has shown measurable advantages in their treatment in addition to the emotional benefits.

“Studies have shown that children receiving treatment and needing pain medication request less pain medication if they’re playing a video game while they get the treatment, so it actually has pretty tangible results as well,” she said.

Dillion also said many hospitals are noticing that motion-controlled game systems such as the Nintendo Wii, the Microsoft Kinect and the Playstation Move, are especially helpful for children who require physical therapy or rehabilitation.

“For a kid to do physical therapy, they’re having to repeat the same motion over and over,” Dillon said. “It’s often painful and it’s boring, so compliance with that was a very difficult thing for a lot of physical therapists and child life specialists. But when kids are playing a game on the Kinect, when they’re competing, when they have goals and they have these responses, it makes it much easier for them to forget that they’re in treatment.”

Carter said the patients, families and staff at Comer have been grateful to organizations like Child’s play for the opportunity to have these toys and games avaialable.

“It’s never easy when kids have to come and have needle sticks or procedures done or painful things happen,” Carter said. “It serves as a way to keep their minds off of what’s going on.”

To get involved with Child’s Play, visit ChildsPlayCharity.org. For more information on donating to Comer Children’s Hospital, contact Amy Carter at Amy.Carter@UChospitals.edu. Donated items should be new and unopened for infection control purposes.

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