“I’m telling you guys, next year, 48 hours,” joked Riely Allen ’18. “No,” his suitemates quickly replied in unison, still reeling from the tiring endeavor of the day before.
The marathon began at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28 and continued through 6 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29. The donations they collected all went to NAMI Mercer, one branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a cause near and dear to one student in particular, Andrew Agress ’17.
Agress, along with suitemates Allen, Raphael Stigliano ’18, Ellie McKnight ’18, James Formigli ’18 and Sara Kenney ’18 carefully organized the marathon, even posting their full schedule online for any potential viewers. While some only dabble in video games and others are die-hard gamers, they all inspired viewers to donate as they put on quite a show. Anyone with the URL was able to see a live video and audio stream of the common room of Ziv as the students played video games and led other miscellaneous activities throughout the 24-hour schedule.
Every hundred-dollar benchmark came with an added incentive to donate in the form of random challenges by various members of the marathon. These challenges included a rather unconventional makeup tutorial by McKnight and Kenney, a meal of powdered hamburger for Allen, a lip sync battle between Agress and Stigliano and a highly anticipated performance coming soon in the SCC, which some never would have agreed to, except that their donation goal of $500 seemed entirely unattainable.
“We only agreed to some of those because we didn’t think we’d reach the goal … and we never even considered that we’d surpass our goal,” Agress said. In the end, the marathon went on to raise $802 over the course of 13 days, raised by 36 donors. They received $210 before the stream began, raised roughly $500 during their livestream and finally raised nearly $100 after the fact. The majority of donations came from college students, both surprising and inspiring to the “NERDS for NAMI.” In addition to family and other adults, it was largely Brandeis students and alumni who pitched in for the cause, only one factor demonstrating the marathon’s huge success. The group never would have expected so many students to donate and were touched to see their peers take interest in the cause.
Throughout the marathon, streamed live on the video platform Twitch, the gamers could read comments by viewers in real time as well as check how many viewers they had at any given moment. On average, they saw roughly 10 or 20 viewers at a time, and even at 6 a.m. they had four viewers tune in. By the end of the 24 hours, they had received 560 views, far more than anticipated. Kenney noted that it was mostly friends and family watching, but there were also some strangers too, which brought added excitement to the event.
Those who donated to the cause not only got to see the livestream of video games, but they could also participate in some of the marathon as well. The group took a poll on Facebook to allow their supporters to choose what video games would be played. Additionally, each donor who contributed at least $10 could participate in one video game at the Ziv itself. McKnight hosted a “Rocket League” tournament, where players controlled cars that drive around a soccer field. The group chose “Rocket League” for an open event because of its simplicity and because it appeals to those who are not familiar with playing video games. “It’s a groovy game,” said McKnight. “At one point my car had a construction hat. I also got to drive a pizza delivery car,” she added.
More intense video games also proved thrilling to the NERDS. Allen, for example, cites “Dishonored II” as his favorite game. Although Agress described it as a game of stealth, Allen boasted, “I killed 32 people in the first level.” Agress, who had never played “Fallout” before, tried his hand at the game during the marathon, and got a kick out of visiting Brandeis campus as well as Boston Commons, despite being attacked by a radioactive swan.
Another game which the group enjoyed was “Until Dawn,” which they thoughtfully scheduled to play literally until dawn. A horror game, “Until Dawn” allows players to select certain preferences that inform the progress of the game. Stigliano noted that a highlight of the marathon was when they chose “crows” several times as their biggest fear. Thus, when the game asks, “Zombies or crows?” or “Gore or crows?” they continued to select crow and watched the birds multiply as the game went on.
Overall, the group played 11 games, all with their own exciting moments and resulting inside jokes. Each of them is looking forward to repeating the marathon again next year.
Agress came up with the idea over one year ago after his mother passed away. He was inspired by her longstanding commitment to the organization NAMI and knew he wanted to do something special in her name. The idea to organize a video game marathon came after the idea to give back to NAMI. “I wanted to help a group that was close to her, in a way that was special to me,” explained Agress.
Although he wasn’t sure who would be willing to play video games with him for a full 24 hours, after moving into Ziv with his suitemates he had found the group he needed. They were thrilled with the prospect, and the planning was quickly underway. Given the ease with which they conducted the marathon, their careful planning and their huge success in raising funds, it is surprising that this was the first event of its kind; no one in the group had ever participated in a video game marathon. Although Agress will be graduating this semester, the group hopes to arrange marathons in the future, and would even consider donating to a different charity each time.
“It was great doing what I love with people that I love to be around,” remarked Allen. “I wasn’t even a huge part of the marathon, and still it was a bonding experience for me,” said McKnight. The recording of their full marathon is still on Twitch, and the group hopes to save some of the highlights to remember the best moments of the event. A brilliant idea and a tremendous success, the marathon “NERDS for NAMI” combined a fun hobby with an important cause, and hopefully has established a new tradition moving forward.