Staying up all night used to be cause for such pride. I didn't just defeat my body's natural rhythms through the force of brazen disregard and sheer will. I slew the night.
These days? Not so much. If I stay up too late, I sound, look and smell like someone who should be put on life support.
Nonetheless, I stayed up for 24 hours straight this weekend for the nonprofit gaming organization Extra Life, which raises money for worthy causes annually by getting gamers to do what they do best: play fun games and fight their natural need for sleep. This past Saturday, Extra Life raised over $6.3 million for the Children's Miracle Network of children's hospitals from over 6,000 US teams nationwide.
I jumped into the fray with Heroic Inner Kids, a North Texas cosplay group that provides costumed volunteers for nonprofit groups and fundraising events and set up a team for the Extra Life marathon in Plano, Texas. Here's what the gaming blowout looked like through my bloodshot and sometimes barely open eyes.
8 a.m. - I arrive at Invodo, a video production studio, and meet organizer and Heroic Inner Kids board member David Downing. He gives me a tour of the impressive space. Rows of folding tables for computers and consoles are set up in what's normally the lunchroom. There are flat-screen TVs in every open office and conference room with either a video game or a cult-classic movie playing on them. Ergonomically designed office and lounge chairs sit in front of almost every screen. The office's massive white-screen studio has been turned into a plush movie theater thanks to a pile of pillows and a projector to provide a break when players' thumbs get sore. It's like I've died and gone to Geek Valhalla.
He concludes with the most important amenity of any gaming marathon:
10:11 a.m. - Two guys named Daniel and Mike invite me to play a board game with them. They unwrap a complicated-looking strategy game called Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar, in which players oversee workers in an ancient Mayan civilization using a series of spinning cogs on the board. Mike reads the instructions and a cloud of confusion sets over me. It looks like fun, but the learning curve feels extreme. I should have paced myself and started with something easier to learn, like Candy Land or Hangman.
11:38 a.m. - A "Ghostbusters"-esque role-playing game called InSpectres catches my attention.
The game lets you be as creative as you want, and if you've got an overseer with a crazy imagination, he or she can use any attribute in the game to create some very memorable scenes.
The funniest moment comes courtesy of yours truly, when we capture Elvis' ghost in a half-empty keg of Dos Equis beer but his head gets stuck in the tap due to the fried peanut butter sandwich in his mouth that we used as bait. Elvis refuses to drop it. I get him to relinquish it by requesting him to a sing a song by Robert Goulet.
All of this takes place in my head and without the use of heavy-duty narcotics.
2:30 p.m. - The familiar blue glow of a "Jeopardy" clue screen lures me into a small meeting room where a group of players are enduring the uphill struggle of beating a PS3 game on medium difficulty. After I sit down to play, I realize I could never be on the actual show. I'd max out the "Jeopardy" post-production budget since they'd have to spend so much time cutting out phrases like "***********! I knew it was the 14th Amendment!" and "**** you, Trebek, and your spelling of 'Labor Party' with a U!"
4:07 p.m. - I'm getting a tiny bit tired. At this point, there's only one game that can keep me going: the Cards Against Humanity.called
It's really hard to report how this game went without angering my bosses or getting even angrier emails from parents who had to explain to their children the meaning of phrases that even they didn't know existed. All you really need to know this: I never came close to winning.
9 p.m. - Opportunities to play board games come up far less frequently than for video games in regular life since they require the presence of other like-minded people. They are also more fun because it's harder for a 6-year-old stranger to curse you out when you beat them.
The games from the new Jackbox Party Pack provide a great bridge between party and video games. The latest pack includes a bunch of funny games, the most popular of which seems to be Quiplash. (Full disclosure: I helped write two of the games in the Jackbox Party Pack 2, so I know for a fact they are hilarious). The game gives you weird prompts to answer like, "A rejected crayon color" or "This just in! A ______ has been elected governor of Texas!" and you write the funniest of two answers for votes.
How well did this comedy writer do at a comedy writing video game? Maybe this picture will answer your question.
12:22 a.m. - Heroic Inner Kids board member David Downing offers some caffeinated mints to the tired masses. I grab a handful out of the plastic cup and choke them down like he's offering me the antidote to the poison I just drank.
2:42 a.m. - My body is begging for sleep. I fight its calls by listening to the loudest music I can find. My ears are ringing with the loud, thrashing sounds of Metallica, the Ramones, Bad Religion and (I swear this is real) a death metal band fronted by a parrot called Hatebeak.
4:32 a.m. - The lot of us are a crumbled mass of bloodshot eyes and limp limbs. Most of us spend the night playing ultraviolent fare like Mortal Kombat X and other Jackbox Party Pack games such as Fibbage 2 and the aural comedy game Earwax over coffee and stale pizza. This is what "The Walking Dead" survivors would look like if they had Xbox Live access and pizza delivery.
8 a.m. - We hit the 24-hour mark. Some marathoners have already left because they're tired or don't feel well. The remaining few help with the cleanup by picking up trash, folding up tables and packing ourselves away for the loving embrace of Ambien and comfy beds.
My Heroic Inner Kids team has plenty to be proud of besides the fact that we beat our biological clocks without suffering a stroke. Downing says we've raised $6,504.61 in donations and ranked an impressive 89th out of 6,108 total teams.
Extra Life isn't the only organization that holds gaming marathons for charity. Among others, Desert Bus for Hope broadcasts an annual marathon in which gamers play Desert Bus, a game within the unreleased Sega CD title Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors in which players must endure an 8-hour bus drive from Tucson, Arizona, to Las Vegas in real time. Gaming group The Speed Gamers also holds marathons for charity.
If you want to join a gaming-marathon team or start your own, here are five rules you should follow.
1 - Don't start with a game that's too complicated. Your brain will have plenty of opportunities to get tired later.
2 - Try something you're unfamiliar with at some point. Playing the same game over and over and over again can get boring, even if it's your favorite or something truly good.
3 - Save games designed to make people laugh, like Quiplash and Cards Against Humanity, for when you start to get tired. The thought of Al Gore's farts causing global warming or Dr. Phil being your anti-drug could make a patient being prepped for surgery stay awake.
4 - Don't get too competitive. Tired brains and poor winners can make for punched faces.
5 - Know where the bathrooms are at all times. Burritos and energy drinks aren't sold as combos for a reason.