See All the Losers Like, for a Mass Effect sweepstakes It Made

Friday, March 2nd 2012. | Games News

Mass Effect 3The attempted raffle of an early copy of Mass Effect 3 this week still bothers me, even though its owners apologized and pulled back the gimmick when they realized it would run afoul of anti-gambling laws. The raffle or its legality isn’t what really troubles me, however.

Backing up a bit, this is what happened. Electronic Arts marketers tied a bunch of copies of the coveted game to weather balloons and sent them into very near space last week, encouraging fans to track the balloons via web and try to find the games where they landed. In Las Vegas, two friends, who are also filmmakers, ended up the lucky winners of a drawing for one of the copies after the balloon went off course and the web page displayed an incorrect flight path.

Even though they owned the thing outright, what Michael Davis and Miguel Droz then chose to do with their copy was basically inappropriate and then, it was discovered, also illegal. The two wanted to raise money for a computer so they could develop a game for the iOS platform. So they planned a raffle—$5 for a chance at winning the game in a drawing online. The money raised would buy this computer.

While it would have depended on trusting these two guys to run an honest drawing and not give the game to, say, a friend, who mails it back to them, that’s not the big problem. Davis and Droz certainly seem like honest guys who don’t want to rip anyone off and simply didn’t know the law. When an attorney who writes about video games law spotted the problem and pointed out the potential for Davis and Droz to pay big fines or even do jail time, they ended the stunt and apologized.

But in the very video in which they announced their intentions (above), the duo acknowledged that this looked like a douche move. After all, some guy looking for the weather balloon ended up on someone’s private property and had a gun pointed at him. A family had driven all the way from Colorado with their 8-year-old boy for a shot at the game. Both got a copy, but they were out there because they wanted the game and they wanted to play it, not speculate on it as a commodity.

And so, Davis and Droz said, 30 percent of the proceeds were to have gone to the Child’s Play charity, a foundation established by Penny Arcade which gives video games, consoles, and toys to children’s hospitals.

Sorry, but regardless of the raffle, what they intended to do with the game or with the money they made off of it, it still sticks in my craw, this kind of fig-leaf using the go-to charity for any cause remotely connected to gaming. It has gone beyond cliché, and it trivializes the mission of Child’s Play and the efforts of those who donate to it for reasons other than good PR.

Every week we get tips about a gaming marathon, and it seems they’re all donating to Child’s Play in whole or in part, basically stealing the idea from the marathon that first did it most visibly: Desert Bus for Hope by Loading Ready Run, which raised more than $380,000 for Child’s Play this past year by suffering through one of the most intentionally horrible games ever created.
We gamers can do a lot of good as a community. Let’s stop abusing Child’s Play’s mission with the whitewashing seen in this abortive Mass Effect raffle.

It boggles my mind that Child’s Play has so much money—not that deserving it has anything to do here. Charitable donations are not a zero sum game. But Good Lord, the embarassment of riches it must be managing, when Desert Bus for Hope has raised more than half a million dollars in the past five years and every gaming event seems to send in some tithe simply because it’s “the gamer’s charity.” And the announcements we get all proudly march around Child’s Play’s name, as if everyone must snap to attention on its mention and give this effort, whatever it is, some publicity. The fact Davis and Droz were doing it in a scheme to launch a business is just contemptibly tacky.

I don’t mean to suggest that making sick children happy is not a worthy cause, or is less worthy than other gestures of mercy. I’ve seen the work it does and I have written about it with great empathy. But let’s stop thinking in such a narrow way.

This year, Mojang identified four causes for gamers to give to in its Mojam 48-hour game development party. One was Child’s Play; another was the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose advocacy absolutely touches everyday gamers’ lives, and then also the American Red Cross and charity: water, philanthropies that are there to do good for a great multitude of people regardless of their entertainment interests.

We gamers can do a lot of good as a community. We are idealistic, highly motivated, and treat damn near every penny as disposable income. While Child’s Play is a worthwhile cause, it ain’t hurting the last I checked. And we can do so much more for this community’s image by donating to other worthy causes in the mainstream, rather than a knee-jerk fundraiser that appears only to take care of our own. Let’s also stop abusing Child’s Play’s mission with the kind of whitewashing seen in this abortive Mass Effect raffle.

Many companies are chastised for “pinkwashing,”—flaunting support of breast cancer awareness and branding products with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure pink ribbon in what is otherwise a nakedly promotional appeal. I’m not sure what the color of -washing it is we’re dealing with when Child’s Play is repeatedly dragged into someone’s self-promotion, but we need to clean up our efforts.

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