There has been an 18 percent rise in drug overdoses since the pandemic began, compared with the same period in 2019. In January 2021, 41 percent of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorder. And over half of people who survived Covid-19 have expressed symptoms of depression, despite getting over the disease. Now India and Brazil have emerged as new global hotspots. As the disease progresses seemingly faster than vaccine availability in some communities, maybe the gaming community can help.
Games Done Quick (GDQ) is a speedrun marathon that has raised over $31 million dollars since 2010, for charities like Doctors Without Borders, AbleGamers, and the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Some popular Twitch streamers, like Carcinogen, Distortion2—a man who can play Dark Souls II like nobody’s business—and Bawkbasoup have contributed some of the most exciting, heartfelt, and therapeutic streams in the history of the event.
All the money generated goes to charity, so the marathons support great causes while providing much-needed entertainment during the Covid-19 lockdowns. When the (unfortunately named) Carcinogen gets someone to bid for cancer research during his playthrough of Resident Evil 7, he mentions how Louisiana doesn’t have basements—contrary to protagonist Ethan’s venture into the basement in the fictional Dulvey—to the applause of people in the crowd watching live. And when Bawkba plays the Resident Evil 2 remake in Claire’s skin from the original 1998 Resident Evil 2, in all her polygonal glory, classic and modern-day fans in the audience laugh.
So how does a game development charity marathon help with Covid-19? The World Health Organization said last year that video games are a good way to stop the spread of Covid because, predictably, it’s a hobby you can engage in while indoors and isolated from others. On the charity side, Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has Covid-19 treatment centers in the more than 70 countries in which they operate. Direct Relief, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of people in extreme poverty or emergency situations, has given pandemic aid to over 100 countries, through masks, shields, gloves, and over $1.3 billion in medical and health aid. Funds raised through GDQ supports all of those organizations and their operations. Matt Markle, GDQ’s director of operations, says that “we show our speedrunners that the funds their streams generate go directly to the organizations and not somewhere else.”
But GDQ is typically held in-person, meant to bring the community together. The event, like so many others during the pandemic, has had to convert to an entirely online forum. Markle has worked for GDQ since 2012, and says he’s thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
“All the time people mention how GDQ has positively impacted themselves or family members. Through our charities, we touch countless lives,” Markle says. “Our summer event, this July, will be online. We talked about charities and were wondering if we should do it in person, but we didn’t want to turn this into some kind of superspreader event.”
A gamer himself, Markle likes Team Fortress Two. “I’ve played it for hours. I play a lot of FPSs. But mostly I love speedruns. I wanna meet the people who do speedruns, which is part of the reason I got involved to begin with. I went to college for graphic design, but I didn’t have a direct goal in life until Games Done Quick came along.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, GDQ has generated over $5.6 million dollars for charity.
Michelle Colder Carras, with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is also a gamer and a scientist specializing in commercial games, online gaming communities, and their role in supporting mental health.