Child’s Play Interview

December 9, 2005

I remember the first time I read about Child’s Play. Like many of you, I frequent the writings and comics of Penny Arcade on an almost weekly basis. The comedy styling and gaming musings of Gabe and Tycho oftentimes echo what are on my mind, and even when I happen to disagree I find that I can have a chuckle at my own expense. When I saw that the two gamers were intent on using their influence to help those less fortunate I thought it was both an ambitious and wonderful idea. In the past three years this effort, an organization called Child’s Play, has grown by leaps and bounds, with this third year expanding into the frozen northland of Canada and the dragon-invested land overseas known only as the UK. This growth, coupled with an upcoming charity benefit on December 13, show just how far Child’s Play has come from being just an idea and a will to do something worthwhile to becoming what can only be described as a phenomenon. To find out more about the organization, we spoke with Penny Arcade’s Robert Khoo to hear his thoughts about Child’s Play, as well as his take on what has turned into a movement among the gaming community.

First off, I just have to say how much I and the rest of us at eToychest appreciate what you are doing with Child’s Play. Where did you first get the idea to turn your love for gaming into such a charitable organization?

We realized the 3 million Penny Arcade fans out there were a pretty powerful force in the gaming community and really felt there was a void out there as far as gamer-related charities go. Putting two and two together led to us contacting our local hospital and the establishment of the first Child’s Play Network hospital.

As a side benefit, we’ve been getting a lot of positive press regarding gamers in general, so if helping sick kids is going to help the public perception of our industry, hey, we’re okay with that too.

For those who might have been living under a rock, could you shed a bit of light on what Child’s Play is all about?

Child’s Play was started in 2003 as a way for gamers to give back. It was founded by Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade and has since grown worldwide to a network of over 20 Children’s Hospitals. The idea is that being in a hospital stinks and playing videogames can help make your stay a little bit easier. If you’ve ever stayed in a hospital as a kid, you know there’s only so much daytime television you can watch.

Looks like Child’s Play has become a real snowball – accumulating more and more contributors as the years go on – do you see this continuing indefinitely?

Absolutely. Child’s Play is our crowning achievement at Penny Arcade. If Penny Arcade ever ceases to exist or if we ever retire from the biz, you can be sure we’ll always make sure Child’s Play is alive and kicking.

The gaming community, especially recently, is prone to being vilified by a great many groups, yet as a whole your organization has proved that they are, among other things, extremely giving. Was there ever the expectation going into this that the response would be so overwhelmingly positive?

It’s not really our organization that’s giving. We don’t even handle 90% of the stuff (the toys get shipped directly to hospitals). It’s the gaming community that’s stepping up to the plate. [smile]

We had an inkling that if we kept doing good things for the community, people would take notice. However, our biggest surprise as far as response goes has been from the publishers. We started Child’s Play as a community-based effort, but the backing we’ve received from the mega corporations like Microsoft, Ubisoft, Valve, etc. has been amazing.

When did the feeling of accomplishing something with such a wide sweeping impact really sink in?

I think the accomplishment of such a large program is best felt when we get to look at the individuals affected. The stories and photos of these hospitalized kids opening packages and enjoying themselves is pretty incredible. They’re stuck in a hospital bed. They’re getting needles poked into them every few hours. They’re eating crappy food. But the look on their faces is the same as any kid when they dig into that new toy or videogame.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of having been doing this for the past three years?

Again, it’s getting to see the impact we make on individual children. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.

Were all of the hospitals open to being involved with Child’s Play in the beginning, or was there any hesitation on their part in being associated with an organization with its roots in videogaming?

Initially we ran into a few speed bumps with getting hospitals to join the network because of some of the Penny Arcade content. It’s a position we might not have agreed with, but we could certainly understand where they were coming from. We didn’t want to let that stop us from doing good things in the community, so this year we went ahead and spun off Child’s Play as a separate entity from Penny Arcade. It worked out for the best. We get to push it as hard as we want on Penny Arcade and hospitals don’t complain about content, etc.

What has been one of the more inspirational stories that you can recall with regards to your time spent with Child’s Play?

It’s hard to pick just one. More often than you’d think, we get mails from kids that say “Instead of asking for presents, this year I’m asking friends and family to take whatever money they were going to spend on me and instead use it to buy something for a sick kid through Child’s Play.” I get more than a few mails from parents explaining that their child made such a request, and they want information on how to contribute. But for me, the most inspirational story comes from all the men and women in the military who write in. These guys are overseas in a combat zone, separated from their families and in constant danger, and yet they take the time to write in to thank US for organizing Child’s Play. To tell us how their unit is taking a collection and making a big donation. It’s very humbling.

With the special charity auction just around the corner as well, what can you tell us about this event, and how it is coming together?

The response we’ve been getting has been amazing- by Thanksgiving we had more tickets sold than we did all of 2004. The donation items for auction have just been incredible as well. A giant statue of Master Chief, a lifetime subscription to Steam, PSPs, DS’, a trip to Iceland… some pretty crazy stuff if you ask me. But it’s all for a good cause so we’re very, very excited.

Now with Child’s Play going international with hospitals in both Canada and the UK, has this expansion posed any obstacles for the organization?

Given the toys are shipped directly to the hospitals, the obstacles with expanding the network has been pretty limited. For the future, when we expand into non-English speaking territories we’re certainly concerned about language barriers and such, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

One again, thank you for taking the time to speak with us about this wonderful organization and event that you have put together. It really is inspiring, and a testament to the good that can come from not only gamers, but the human spirit as well. We wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and those you touch. Is there anything you would like to add?

The only thing I would add is to thank everyone out there. I know there are a ton of etoychest readers that also read Penny Arcade and in-turn contribute to Child’s Play. It’s been an amazing year and we should all be proud as a community for what we’ve done in three short years. Thanks again!