Game for a good cause

Published on August 7, 2014
Members of Sandbox Gaming, a local organization that raises money for children’s charities while attempting to build the Newfoundland gaming community. — Submitted photo

Sandbox Gaming is a local non-profit group that raises money for children’s charities through 80-hour video game marathons and it’s gearing up to host the province’s first gaming expo.

The local organization also aims to develop the gaming community in the province, while dispelling negative stereotypes surrounding it. Although it often hosts smaller-scale gaming events, in August the group will put off the Newfoundland Gaming Expo — a two-day, multi-room event dedicated to gaming of all forms.

“Right now, the big convention for geekdom in the province is Sci-Fi on the Rock, and that focuses a lot on sci-fi, fantasy, that kind of stuff. But it doesn’t focus much on the love and art of gaming,” said John Michael Bennett, president of Sandbox Gaming.

“So we wanted to throw kind of a small version of Sci-Fi on the Rock that was dedicated to only gaming and see if we can get people who have a mutual love of video and tabletop gaming to enjoy it with us.”

Three large rooms at Memorial University will be dedicated to different kinds of gaming, such as classic video games like Super Mario Bros, modern fighting games and tabletop games like Magic and Cards Against Humanity. The event will feature tournaments, live performances and the opportunity to try new games or simply play for fun.

“We have had people come up to us and ask, ‘Have you considered doing a convention? Have you considered doing an expo?’” said Bennett. “Our initial response was, we don’t know if an audience is there, but after hundreds of people ask you that same question, you start to realize that actually that audience is there and that audience is ready for this.”

Bennett said so far the event has garnered a tremendously positive response from a diverse range of people and has already attracted seven sponsors.

“Years ago there was a stigma attached to gaming, but nowadays everybody’s a gamer. Get somebody to pull out their cellphone and tell me there’s not a game on there that they play. I think people just really love to game and come out and be social in gaming.”

By bringing gamers together, Sandbox Gaming hopes to encourage a more positive and holistic view of the gaming community.

“Some people say, oh, gamers are lazy, gamers are antisocial. Well, that’s not true,” said Bennett. “Some people say, oh, gamers don’t care. Well, we’re gamers and we’re trying to go out there and make a difference in the world.

“I think gaming has a lot of positive value. It’s a hobby that people can get together and bond over, but there are also a lot of skills you can get from video games: hand/eye co-ordination, critical thinking and analytical thinking is a huge part of playing games.”

At the core of Sandbox Gaming’s mission is raising money for charities that promote children’s play. To date, the organization has held eight marathons and raised more than $28,000 for R.E.A.L. St. John’s, Easter Seals, the Janeway Playrooms and Child’s Play.

“I believe that a person’s mental state is just as important as their physical state. And if gaming is something that is a huge joy in a child’s life, then every child should have the opportunity to experience that,” said Bennett.

Having been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when he was young, Bennett said gaming played an important role in helping him cope with his illness.

“I remember as a child I was often sick in hospitals and the only thing keeping me sane was the Sega Genesis that was at the Janeway. You just plugged in Sonic and forgot about everything; it just made everything better.”

Newfoundland Gaming Expo will take place Aug. 23-24 in the Loft, the Landing and the Council Chambers of MUN’s University Centre.

Bennett said if the event is successful, the group will consider a larger convention in the future.