It's Christmas, and the holiday events around the MMO world are in full swing. My inbox has been full over the past few weeks with announcements of parties and exclusive Santa costumes, of how to save reindeer or bring smiles back to the fantasy world – and let's not forget the free gifts for everyone. There's hardly a game that hasn't taken up the Christmas spirit, even if that spirit is heavily biased toward the commercialized holiday of candy canes and flying reindeer.
The season, however – no matter how you celebrate it – is not just about a carnival in red, white, and green. Call me a sap, or a traditionalist, but I do believe that the holiday season is about sharing and giving, which is why I love seeing charitable works spring up in the MMO community. We are, after all, one of the most social groups of gamers that the gaming industry has known, and that puts us in a great position to come together and work toward the good of others.
Take the MMO Calendar, for instance, in its fourth year of production. Although a simple and humble project, the MMO Calendar strives to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, donating all its profits to the cause. The MMO Calendar gets official help from several games a year who donate artwork for the calendar. In fact, after four years of calendar production, you could argue that the MMO Calendar has become a flagship for the MMO community's charity efforts.
It isn't all the community has rallied to do, however. Wizard101 has offered a limited edition mount (the “Meowmodon”) to benefit the Austin Children's Shelter and Child's Play. Champions Online member Mighty_Pencil held an event to donate a teddy bear to needy children. Earlier in the year, GamesCampus raised $2,000 for ALS research. Beau Turkey of Spouse Aggro held a 24 hour fundraiser of MMO playing to raise money for Texas Children's Hospital in October. And, of course, half the profit of the Pandaren Monk mini-pet sales from World of Warcraft went to the Make a Wish Foundation. So the list goes. All in all, the MMO community has raised at least a few thousand dollars over the year to go toward charity.
With millions of us playing MMOs, however, I think there's much more we can do as a community of gamers. Why us? Well, the philanthropist in me says you shouldn't need justification to do good for others, but think of it this way: MMO players are, undeniably, social gamers. We understand gaming in a social aspect, and have interesting stories to tell not only about how we shape our games, but how we interact with each other, and how gaming enriches our lives. By being vocal donors, we break free of the nerdy basement geek mold. We show that we care, that we have active interests in the world around us, and that gaming is a platform for our entertainment experience, not a place we hide to escape the world.
There are opportunities for game developers and non-profits here, too. We're familiar with other charitable works in products we buy, where a portion of all proceeds are donated to a particular charity or cause. Why not do that with an MMO? Consider a game like Faunasphere, which has a clear environmental message – now imagine a game like that, where all or some profits went to an environmental organization. Plenty of Facebook application developers have already figured this idea out. I know, many of you hissed like a vampire sprinkled with holy water at the mention of Facebook, but consider this – there are dozens of applications on Facebook who donate their proceeds from ads and donations directly to charities, and have raised, yes, hundreds of thousands of dollars from players.
I'm not suggesting that existing MMOs hop on the charity train and force their players to support a cause they may or may not agree with. The opportunity is there, however, to make great niche games that support a cause or charity, and draw players in who want to spend their money and time gaming for a cause. Players are given a purpose, a drive, and a dedication to something other than leveling up or getting the next big gear upgrade and that, I assure you, is a motivation that will keep a high level of player retention. With the right causes, I think any player would be happy to get behind such a game.
I know that we're a mixed bag in terms of community, and many outside think of us as cynical, selfish jerks. I don't doubt that some of you are actually thinking “Lame, why should I care?” as you read this column – and that's fine. Some of us in the community, however, are idealistic, and I'm one of those people who thinks people are good at heart.
Just think: all it takes is a single random act of kindness to spur others you may know into giving. Think of how many people would benefit from the single gift of another, and all it takes is a little word of mouth in one of the many communities in the MMO world. Realistically, I know not everyone will be able to contribute, however, if you can, you can change one life, or possibly many, for the better.