Cynics might say that playing video games from breakfast till bedtime is for slackers.
Ask what they think of people who spend their time watching others play video games, and they might declare that 21st Century America has imploded.
But gamers and their fans would tell you otherwise: Playing on the internet could help save the world.
That’s what three graduating seniors from the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr believe as they plan to play the popular video game Fortnite for 24 hours between Friday and Saturday afternoons to raise money for nurses battling the coronavirus.
The cash will come from viewers who’ll donate to the trio of 18-year-olds as they livestream the games they play with competitors from around the planet.
“My parents will be cooking and handing me food as I play,” said Jack Robinson, an infectiously enthusiastic Penn Valley kid who’s planning on attending Tulane University in the fall to study sports management. He’s credited with coming up with the gaming idea.
“I’ve seen nurses sacrificing their lives for their communities, and I wanted to do this for them, sending money to the American Nurses Association. We want to make a difference from the confines of our homes.”
Abetting Robinson in the plan are Luke Grayum of Ardmore (headed to the University of Richmond to play lacrosse and study business communication) and James Heckscher of Villanova (on his way to Fairfield University in Connecticut, also for business).
They hope to take in as much as $2,000. “It’s a wonderful idea these kids have to recognize the value of nursing,” said Betsy Snook, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association in Harrisburg, a constituent member of the American Nurses Association.
Like many independent schools, Shipley cultivates a sense of noblesse oblige among its students — the notion that part of being educated in a privileged environment requires scholars to give back.
The Fortnite boys certainly have.
Heckscher tutors students from North Philadelphia and collects toiletries for the homeless; Grayum pledged to run 70 miles for funds to feed low-income residents and volunteers at a food pantry; Robinson has built houses in Costa Rica and cleaned Los Angeles beaches.
Though online classes ended for Shipley seniors last week, they have about three weeks to complete a senior service project as a condition of graduation, said Brooke Donovan, a first-grade teacher at Shipley’s Lower School who is serving as mentor for the Fortnite project.
Seniors are required to participate in person to perform charitable work, but because of the pandemic, Donovan said, “they had to quickly do something from home.”
The fellows pivoted to Fortnite, with Robinson taking the lead, she said.
“He is someone who’s a rally-the-troops type of guy,” Donovan said. “He gets excited about ideas, and he creates excitement among other people.”
Unlike such games as Call of Duty, which are graphically violent and rated for players ages 18 and up, Fortnite is for players 12 and older. While Fortnite is a game in which people shoot one another like Call of Duty, blood isn’t visible as players compete to survive on an island and build structures as they go, game experts say.
The idea of raising money by streaming Fortnite games isn’t new. In fact, it’s considered the natural digital-age progression that started with fund-raising TV telethons of old.
Twitch, the leading livestreaming platform in the world, raised more than $75 million for charities between 2012 and 2017, much of it from Fortnite games, according to the Washington Post, whose parent company, Amazon, also owns Twitch. The Shipley seniors will be streaming via Twitch themselves (@ShipleyFortniteJack) as they play Fortnite.
The game made its owner, Epic Games, nearly $2 billion in 2019, according to Investopedia, an online investing and finance education site. As of last spring, the company reported around 250 million Fortnite players worldwide.
Fortnite can be played for free, which is why so many charities use it to generate cash. The company creates revenue from so-called microtransactions — purchases of features made by players themselves to enhance the game experience.
The Shipley players will compete as a team, allowing some people willing to donate time and money to join them as a fourth. When they begin playing around 1 p.m. Friday, they’ll initially partner with their head of school, Michael Turner, according to Grayum.
But, Heckscher said, it’s important to realize that “what we’re doing is more than just playing a game. We’re trying to save the community — trying to save the world — bit by bit. We’re doing our share, fighting this virus.”
Grayum agreed: “I thought the idea of helping nurses was cool. And giving back always helps, especially during a time like this.”
The trio say that their families, not just Shipley, awakened the need to contribute to the community.
“A lot of the decisions to help happen at the dinner table,” said Robinson’s mother, Nicole, 53, a real estate developer and director of the Delaware County Veterans Memorial Association in Newtown Square.
“You work hard in life, and if you’re lucky enough to be successful, you give back,” she said.
“You make sure you share it.”