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David Wagner
David Wagner
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Geekend: Gaming For Cancer With Will Ferrell

Want to play video games with Will Ferrell while helping young cancer patients get access to therapeutic video games? Join the SuperMegaBlastMax Gamer Challenge.

 Apple's Next Chapter: 10 Key Issues
Apple's Next Chapter: 10 Key Issues
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If there's one person in the world you'd like to play video games with, who would it be?

I'd probably pick Kate Upton, but also high on my list would be Will Ferrell. And though it's a safe bet Kate won't be playing video games with me anytime soon, there's a chance I can get Will. The Saturday Night Live alum who never grew up (and we're thankful for that) is participating in a charity event called SuperMegaBlastMax Gamer Challenge, in which people who donate $10 or more through Indiegogo will be entered in a drawing for the chance to play video games with Ferrell live on Twitch.

The challenge, which hopes to raise at least $375,000, will give its proceeds to two great charities. The first is Donate Games, which collects secondhand video games for sick kids. The other is Cancer for College, which offers college scholarships to kids who have survived cancer or an amputation. Clearly both are worthy causes, and since the event is sponsored by Xbox and Amazon and featured on Twitch, you can bet it will actually happen (unlike some other crowdfunded events). If the charities haven't convinced you to join in, maybe this video will get you pumped to game with Will Ferrell himself.

I dare whoever wins this to show up in a diaper over their pants and demand to play Will at Asteroids.

[A little fear never hurt anyone. Read Geekend: Scare Yourself For Health.]

If you're willing to shell out a little extra money, Ferrell has provided more great perks. My favorite: For $500, you can get a personally autographed cowbell. Unfortunately, that offer is sold out, but I'm hoping Ferrell will open it up again. Come on, Will. I need more cowbell.

According to the event's organizers, one of the reasons they're doing this is that they've seen how video games can help kids with cancer. "I think some of the biggest struggles [when you're sick with cancer] are the social isolation you feel and just the lack of power in your life, and I think that video games truly were a medicine for that," Taylor Carol, a two-time cancer survivor and son of Donate Games founder Jim Carol, told GameSpot. "You'll be isolated in a room for several months, but you can get on Xbox Live and still talk to your friends. You can laugh; you can feel, even for a moment, some semblance of normalcy in your life. Video games truly are a godsend for the kids who are going through these health struggles."

That's a great sentiment, and since this is the Geekend, I'll back it up with some research: Video games have been proven time and again to help kids and adults recover from illness. A 2012 study cited 38 peer-reviewed papers showing the positive effects of video games on health.

One straightforward health advantage has been seen in the effect of the game Bejeweled II on patients suffering from chronic diseases, including anxiety and diabetes. The study, conducted at East Carolina University, used EEG to test for changes in brain function while patients played Bejeweled II (a three-in-a-row game similar to Candy Crush, Jewel Quest, and many others). Patients showed "enhanced mood and engagement" and lower stress, specifically indicated by a change in alpha waves in the brain. Reducing stress has long been associated with better outcomes for those suffering from mood disorders, as well as from diseases with chronic elements, such as diabetes.

I have to admit, though, that I'm not sure this would work for me. I tend to get a little stressed playing video games, even ones like Bejeweled. I think the makers of Candy Crush still owe me for that smartphone-shaped hole in my wall. But it is important to pair the game with the disease.

For instance, a game called Re-mission 2 has had wonderful results with people aged 13-29. Younger cancer patients sometimes have difficulty sticking to a routine and fully understanding how their medicine is helping. So a group called HopeLab designed Re-Mission 2 to show what the body is going through when it's fighting cancer, resulting in reduced hospital stays and improved outcomes. Here's a look at how the game works.

Video games have also been shown to help kids with autism, Parkinson's disease sufferers, and those recovering from a stroke. Basically, they're simply good for the brain.

I hope I've convinced you to contribute to these charities and help sick kids and adults get more access to video games. Will you try to win a chance to game with Will Ferrell? If so, what would you like to play? Who else would you pay to game with, and what would you play? Tell us in the comments.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Ninja
9/30/2014 | 3:34:09 PM
A new benefit
I already knew that video games help with spatial awareness and hand eye coordination, but it's good to see they do more than that. After I give these charities a look I may have to go sit my kids down and challenge them to a super mario race kart game.


As a kid I remember playing q-bert when I was under the weather. What games did you guys play to get you through?
User Rank: Ninja
9/18/2014 | 11:24:19 AM
Re: Great idea
Thanks for this, Dave. Of all the worthy causes out there to donate to, cancer care and research (for children, no less) is certainly among the most important. It can't be overstated what organizations like these do for these children and for all of us. I don't know if it's intentional, but it's worth mentioning that this comes around the same time as a larger partnership between St. Jude's and Twitch to raise money and awareness for children with cancer through some of their most popular livestreamers. It's great to see celebrities and big companies get involved alongside the grassroots community that's sprung up over there. No doubt St. Jude's has plenty of great contributors already, but that last can never be long enough.

As for the health benefits of gaming, it's nice to see some concrete research behind it. We had a nice discussion about this on IW Radio earlier today (which those interested in the topic should check out) , and Curt Franklin brought it up alongisde 'the power of laughter'. It seems a little obvious when you put it like that, but it's interesting to see the subtle naunces that are different (chemicals released in the brain, etc.) when we're talking about an interactive medium, where the player/patient can make some decisions and get some feedback. I'll definitely keep it in mind next time I'm gaming. Maybe that will make it work better.
User Rank: Ninja
9/17/2014 | 1:30:54 PM
Just what the doctor ordered...

I was not a gaming fan until I saw the benefits it provided my daughter, it helps with coordination, following directions independently and demonstrates the benefits of improving skills ---all good life skills. I can fully understand how games help people heal because they enable them to escape the depression of hospital stays, tests and the realities of their illness even if it's for a short period of time. The stress reduction can do wonders. Dave has there been any research on the effects of stress reduction in employees that game? Could be interesting maybe we could all have scheduled game breaks at work! Employee game room anyone?

User Rank: Ninja
9/15/2014 | 9:28:23 AM
Re: Great idea

"Patients showed "enhanced mood and engagement" 

As a mother of children who are addicted to Minecraft, I can't believe I'm saying this, but we found out that there are benefits to these games. Apparently, they do help with concentration, they help with peripheral vision, and they help to calm hyper kids. Minecraft is different from other games--the kids have to build and create the worlds, it requires math (because there's some sort of trading) and players do have to work together (as opposed to killing each other).
User Rank: Ninja
9/15/2014 | 7:48:04 AM
Great idea
I can't say that I'm a big Will Ferrell fan and I won't be entering for a chance to play a game with him but his approach is a great one.  When you have the public appeal that some stars have and you can do great things by leveraging that appeal in a constructive way you've got my support.  I hope that the person who wins has a great time and they blow past their monetary goals.   I could see this branching out to other areas too a pickup basketball game with an NBA star, a game of checkers with Patrick Stewart, a beer with Nick Offerman, etc.  

The second part of the blog made me wonder "Patients showed "enhanced mood and engagement" and lower stress, specifically indicated by a change in alpha waves in the brain."  Is this a function of shifting their focus from pain/discomfort and occupying their brain on other things?  Is it the games or is it the interaction and the concentration required to play those games?  Could a board game or a word game have the same effect?  


User Rank: Ninja
9/13/2014 | 11:44:49 AM
video games helping lives
I had no idea the many benefits video games had specially for kids with cancer.  I enjoy playing video game, reading news like this really makes you think that video games can have a huge impact on people's lives.    I would really like to play with weird al Yankovic.  I'm sure he plays video games. May be he can sing on of his parodies songs while playing.
User Rank: Strategist
9/12/2014 | 5:35:40 PM
It's a tossup between Dodgeball against Ben Stiller or bowl some frames with Bill Murray with a prosthetic arm.
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