NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – When Seattle's Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center signed on to be the sole beneficiary of the "Child's Play" charity last year, it set its expectations relatively low.
They knew the drive, organized by the duo behind the popular online comic strip Penny Arcade, would bring in video games for the hospital's young patients, but they only planned on receiving a few dozen titles. At best, they figured, it would be a few hundred.
They ended up receiving $225,000 in video game and toy donations, as well as another $26,000 in cash.
"It was a pretty phenomenal experience," said Eve Kopp, associate director of Children's Hospital. "It was overwhelming."
Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the organizers of Child's Play were just as overwhelmed – though in a slightly different way.
"We knew Penny Arcade had a pretty large audience and when we rallied the troops, we knew we could get something done," said Krahulik. "We figured, why not point that laser beam at sick children. ... [But] we were stupid enough to put up my home address as the place to send packages."
This year, Child's Play will benefit five hospitals around the country. And, thanks to some better planning, the packages aren't overflowing from Krahulik's garage. Instead, potential donors are directed to Amazon.com wish lists set up by the hospitals – with the packages being mailed directly to the beneficiaries.
The gaming community's generous spirit hasn't let up, though. To date, Child's Play 2004 has raised roughly $30,000 in cash and $70,000 in video game donations. In addition, Krahulik and Holkins are hosting a silent auction dinner in Seattle and recently launched a series of eBay auctions featuring original Penny Arcade artwork. In a testament to the Web comic's popularity, those auctions saw totals bids of over $2,500 in the first 22 hours. And a forthcoming auction for a personalized, custom piece of artwork by Krahulik should see high bids as well.
How the hospitals will use the games will vary by location. Last year, Children's Hospital made sure every child who was an in-patient on Christmas day received a game as a present to take home. A large number of titles were put in reserve to be handed out as gifts for patients on their birthdays or for special occasions. And many are used in the hospital's clinics and recreation rooms to provide distractions for patients.
The gaming industry doesn't get a lot of publicity for its charitable efforts, but it has a solid history of aiding children's organizations. In 1998, the Entertainment Software Association launched "A Night to Unite" – an annual fund-raiser that has raised over $4 million for the Child Welfare League of America and other organizations.
And long before Krahulik and Holkins launched Childs Play, game community sites were organizing charity drives for sick children. In 1998, for example, GameStats (an online network of gaming sites) launched "Games of Encouragement," benefiting the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford (in Palo Alto, Ca.). That drive netted over 1,500 donations.
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While Child's Play only accepts new, unwrapped toys and games, people preferring to donate used games and gaming systems have an alternative - The Get-Well Gamers Foundation. While not strictly a holiday charity, this smaller organization accepts older games and systems, going as far back as the Nintendo Entertainment System (first released in 1983). The Foundation even accepts non-working game machines, refurbishing them before passing them along to its network of a dozen hospitals.
It's ironic that a charity as successful as Child's Play was sparked by allegations of the gaming industry's "violent nature". Last year, Krahulik and Holkins grew frustrated with a constant stream of news stories stating gamers were little more than ticking time bombs of hostility. In response, they called on their 3.5 million readers to prove otherwise.
Despite its 2003 success, Child's Play had trouble attracting additional beneficiaries this year.
"We had a hard time getting the five that we got," said Krahulik. "A lot of hospitals don't want to be associated with Penny Arcade. We say the F-word sometimes."
(That's putting it mildly. CNN policy, in fact, prevents me from linking to the site, due to Penny Arcade's colorful language.)
While they're hoping to see all games and toys delivered by Dec. 20, Krahulik said this year's Child's Play will continue accepting gifts and donations through early January. That's good news for Children's Hospital and the other beneficiaries.
"Toy donations are what keeps places like this going," said Kopp. "[Krahulik and Holkins] are top of the list when it comes to who is providing a big donation to the hospital."
Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.