Gamers Share Their Techniques for Staying Awake at the 24-Hour Charity Marathon

Last weekend, gamers from all around the country sat down in front of computers, game consoles and big stacks of board games and played for 24 hours straight — or until their thumbs went numb.

They endured the marathon session for a special cause. The nonprofit gaming-based charity Extra Life held its annual 24-hour charity marathon while thousands of volunteers collected donations to raise money for the Children's Miracle Network of hospitals.

“It’s a great opportunity to challenge yourself and feel a little bit of discomfort and kind of put yourself in the shoes of people you’re trying to help," says gamer Steve Granzyk of Dallas, who participated in this year's marathon in Plano. "Going without sleep is a tiny, tiny fraction of what some people are going through and it's the whole reason we’re there doing that.”

Heroic Inner Kids, a North Texas nonprofit that promotes community awareness and educational outreach to kids at various events throughout Dallas-Fort Worth's cosplay community, hosted more than 90 participants for their second annual marathon session at Invodo Studios to raise money for Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth. According to the group's fundraising page, Heroic Inner Kids raised over $18,000, ranking them 31st out of the 5,193 teams that participated in this year's fundraiser.

David Downing, the president of Extra Life's Fort Worth guild and a Heroic Inner Kids executive board member who oversaw this year's game marathon, says he first learned about the charity marathon during 2014's QuakeCon, the annual PC gaming convention held in Dallas. Downing says he wanted to put together a huge community event for the charity marathon, and not just because he enjoys games. He personally knows the comfort that Cook Children's provides to children and families during the toughest moments of their lives, according to his donation page.

"Most of the people who do Extra Life across the country do so from their home with their families," Downing says. "So we have kind of a community building event so people can come out and play together and we can share our experiences and support each other, help each other on social media, talk and have fun."

The marathon required more than just a good night's sleep and an easily accessible stockpile of energy drinks.

"I brought a couple of green teas with me and that didn't help," says Kristin Bomba of Irving who also participated in last year's marathon. "I was helping David with a few things so I needed to stay up and keep going. So I walked around a lot and talked to people."

The games can also help keep players awake. Generally, board and video games that require strategy keep the mind alert and party games that make players laugh can provide a quick boost of needed energy.

"I remember last time in the late hours into the morning, we had to play [Jackbox Party Pack] games to stay awake," says Jennie Hay of Allen, referring to a video game series of interactive comedy games like Quiplash and Fibbage. "Nintendo Wii dancing games also helped keep our blood pumping."

Granzyk says he has an affinity for games with a strategic element such as the world domination board game classic Risk and the resource building Settlers of Catan as well as video games like the turn biased strategy series Civilization. Playing games he likes helps maintain his focus as he starts to drift off in the early hours of the morning.

"Strategy games are something I can stay awake playing forever," he says. "It's because of their sandbox nature. It's a non-linear play style so every game is going to be different and that unknown or uncertainty is appealing enough to sacrifice a few hours of sleep for."

Downing says pretty much any board game or multiplayer video game like the cooperative, first-person zombie shooter Left 4 Dead 2 or the new darling of the eSports world Overwatch can help him maintain his alertness.

"For me, gaming has a social component and I really enjoy how gaming brings people together and manages our interaction," Downing says. "It gives us something in common to do together. We don't have awkward pauses because we're paying attention to our roles. It kind of connects us."

The social aspect of the marathon is not only a nice bonus for a community of gamers but it can also help stave off the body's natural need for sleep, says Mark Crowle-Groves of Little Elm.

"The people that come really do keep you going," he says. "No matter how old you are, 24 hours can take its toll so that and late night runs to Starbucks are much appreciated."

Of course, sometimes the mental exercise of gaming and social interactivity may not be enough to help some get across the finish line with open eyes. That's when they turned to caffeinated goodies for a quick "1-up."

Downing says he tries to stay hydrated throughout the marathon so he can avoid caffeine until it's absolutely necessary but he admits that energy drinks and caffeinated mints are a helpful last resort.

"Maybe I'll just crush them up into a line and snort them," Downing says.
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.