The word “gamer” often conjures up images of someone sitting alone in front of the TV with a controller in hand, next to a box of pizza or can of Red Bull. The group Speed Demos Archives (SDA) proves that this stereotype just isn’t true. SDA is a tight-knit community of gamers that is showing how video games can be used for something truly noble and lifesaving – cancer prevention and early detection.
This year marks SDA’s 3rd annual Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) marathon, during which a community of gamers from around the country and around the world (Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Sweden and U.K.) join together to raise money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. In this week-long event, gamers travel to the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, MD to play over 100 different games non-stop as fast as they can (also known as “speedrunning”). The event is streamed live as players perform speed-run challenges, sell t-shirts with the site Yetee and raffle off prizes, like Legend of Zelda artwork or a Zelda master sword, in order to encourage donations that will fund a two-year research grant and other essential cancer prevention and early detection programs. Last year’s marathon funded a two-year research grant awarded to Josanne Sousa, PhD of Vanderbilt University to support a study that has the potential to lead to an early detection test for stomach cancer.
The AGDQ marathon is still going strong and SDA has already surpassed last year’s total of $144,000! They continue to play around the clock, lose sleep and somehow maintain their energy in hopes of reaching their goal of $250,000 by the week’s end!
What’s most inspiring about the marathon is the SDA community, a diverse group of people from all walks of life and all parts of the world who share a common interest in gaming and a common goal of helping a cause that touches everyone. Stephen Kiazyk, who traveled from Ontario, Canada, has been attending AGDQ since it first began to honor his grandmother and aunt who were both affected by cancer. In addition to playing the video game speed-runs, Stephen also uses his skills as a computer science graduate student to help with the technical side of the marathon. He even wrote the program the group is using to help process the thousands of incoming donations.
At first glance this event may look like a bunch of people sitting around playing video games but the work and commitment taking place behind the scenes is impressive. The work of organizers Mike Uyama, Chip Vogel and Timothy Peters, along with tech coordinator Benjamin Cutler has allowed this marathon, which started in a small basement, to grow into a gathering of over 100 on-site participants. They receive acclaim from many different members of the gaming community, including video game developers. Organizer Chip Vogel was awe-struck when the developer of a video game he was speed-running requested a Skype chat after his challenge!
Across the board, SDA participants have nothing but good things to say about the marathon, including newbie attendee Eric Koziel, from Boston, MA, who expressed the importance of the AGDQ event; “This marathon is going toward a great cause, and there are a lot of heartfelt moments and touching stories. This event will hopefully bring light to the cause and provide for better futures for many people.”
One of those amazing stories came from three-time participant Marc Dziezynski, a cancer survivor of an aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Marc spent his 21st birthday in a hospital as he underwent chemotherapy. While stuck in the hospital for many weeks Marc discovered speed-run games and became an active member in the online community. In 2010, when the Speed Demos Archives were looking for a charity organization to support, Marc, along with others, suggested that they find a cancer organization. This led to the SDA and Prevent Cancer Foundation partnership! Marc and his wife Jessica love what the Foundation stands for and they travel in from Connecticut every year to participate in AGDQ. According to Jessica, Marc’s love of gaming helped him get through the difficult experience of chemotherapy.
This week Foundation Executive Vice President & COO Jan Bresch stopped by the marathon to thank and praise SDA members and their supporters for all their contributions. Ms. Bresch also highlighted how much the marathon has grown over the years and shared the message of cancer prevention and early detection. The Prevent Cancer Foundation thanks Speed Demos Archive, the AGDQ participants and the thousands of donors who make this event possible. A special thanks to Design Cuisine, Ledo’s Pizza and Subway for their in-kind donations. To learn more about how you can join the SDA in saving lives through cancer prevention, visit the SDA site, where you can check out all the live action.