GameChanger came out of that idea, and it really started to ramp up after Taylor left for college in 2013. (He just graduated from Harvard this spring.) At first, the charity was giving around 500 gaming consoles per year to hospitals around the country, but that quickly started to grow once gaming and tech corporations started to get involved. Some of the charity's partners now include giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Sony, as well as companies like Twitch, Valve and Nintendo. Its board of advisers also has representatives from Valve, Twitch, Unity and others. Popular YouTuber Captain Sparklez is on GameChanger's board of directors.
GameChanger takes just about anything that companies are willing to give, much of it being items that are just slightly too old for sale and are destined to be destroyed anyway. That includes tablets, gaming consoles, games and even marketing goods. Jim said GameChanger wasn't allowed to bring tech on a recent trip to Cuba but was able to bring shirts and hats from gaming companies, which the children loved. "We'll take anything that's new, that's excess material that can be repurposed that these families would love to have," said Jim.
GameChanger has four main programs. The Gamer's Give Back Tour is held in association with Child's Play Charity and brings games and a giant meal to around 40 hospitals per year. Two others include a merit-based scholarship program and AR/VR setups that the group installs in hospitals. The fourth program -- GameChanger Days -- was what took place at NewYork-Presbyterian. The event brings a number of different gaming setups that patients can play, as well as gifts and livestreamers who come and game with the children.
Walking into the event, it wasn't what I expected. It was quiet, subdued. There were no announcements, no microphones, no pomp. It was a room within a room -- an area of the lobby blocked off by tall dividers -- with enough space to host a couple dozen people without ever feeling crowded. A bunch of gaming systems were set up around its perimeter -- two Oculus Rift stations, three XBox Ones and two PlayStation 4s, one with a Thrustmaster T80 Racing Wheel and a PlayStation VR headset.
Kids were slowly being brought down to the event, each having to be escorted by hospital staff or family, some in wheelchairs, all of them with some sort of medical equipment in tow. But each one immediately jumped into a game. Whether it was Guitar Hero, Driveclub or Rocket League, each kid was quick to pick a station and didn't hesitate to begin playing, even if it was with equipment they had never been able to use before. And while it often took a little finagling to make sure the IV lines didn't get tangled with the gaming cords, all of the kids looked like they were having the best time. After just a few minutes of being there, it was easy to see how video games can have the impact that they do. For a couple of hours, these children got to play with brand-new games, and in most cases they got to do so alongside their friends and families.
There were a dad and a son who played round after round of Rocket League together; a mother who had to help her son through a couple of games because he was so small it was hard for him to hold up the guitar to play Guitar Hero or balance with the Oculus Rift headset. One kid used an Oculus Rift setup for a solid 30 minutes before moving on to another station. Stephanie Blanco, the social worker mentioned earlier, told me that she's seen firsthand how big an impact video games have on the children on her floor. For a little while, "it's kind of like being home," she said.
For these sorts of events, GameChanger makes sure everything is taken care of from its end. Having been a part of these types of hospitals for quite some time, Jim and Taylor put in every effort to make sure that the hospital staff isn't given any extra work. They don't host events in hospitals during the holidays, because they know so many other charities and organizations do so during that time of the year. And during Gamer's Give Back Tours, they make sure that the hospital staff give the games to the kids, not GameChanger team members. "We're just the messengers of the love and compassion and generosity of the gaming and tech communities," said Jim.