Like early explorers, Jerry "Tycho Brahe" Holkins and Mike "Jonathan Gabriel/Gabe" Krahulik hacked their way into the heart of darkness at the core of the early-era internet. Deep in the comedy jungle, they built an empire and called it Penny Arcade. Penny Arcade[/i] used a simple, powerful combo of an actually-funny webcomic and wandering updates from Tycho, chronicling everything from John Romero's latest shenanigans to Gabe's love of Barbie Horse Adventures. The sense of humor displayed in the comic is usually sharp, almost always caustic and frequently crosses into the just-wrong-but-still-hilarious territory that made them famous.
So, it sometimes comes as a surprise when people find out the same guys who run a comic featuring a drunken DivX player and a juicer with a lust for the supple flesh of virgin oranges, also happen to be the founders of a children's charity. I was able to get in touch with Mike and Jerry, and got the inside story on Child's Play, how it got started and where it's going.
According to Mike, Child's Play started with an idea. He explains, "Originally, we had these old videogame consoles laying around. Everybody has a Super Nintendo or a Genesis, and we sort of thought, 'Boy, it'd be cool if we could give these old consoles to kids who could really use them, you know, kids in hospitals.' And after we looked into that, we found out that these hospitals don't want anything used. The kids are not in the sort of situation where they can have germs or anything like that around them. The hospitals are really, really strict about only accepting brand new toys, in their boxes, that sort of thing. So the idea sorta morphed into, 'Well, let's just make Wishlists on Amazon and let gamers purchase brand new toys and games for these kids.'"
Not all was kisses and bunnies and pure philanthropy. The real catalyst for Child's Play was the media's wall-to-wall portrayal of gamers as school shooters waiting to happen. Jerry explains, "Well, initially, we were actually sort of mad. I think that we'd seen a few articles around that time that we thought were especially specious connecting violent behavior and videogames and gamers and dangerous activities and so forth." Just as a refresher, 2003 was the year of the Protect Children from Videogame Sex and Violence Act of 2003, a grandstanding title capstoning a year full of hysterical headlines. Both Holkins and Krahulik wanted to do something positive to counter this portrayal, as he explained.
"And so, we wanted to create something that ... sort of like the Tai Chi approach. Obviously, we'd been running the site for a while, and I was more than happy to continue saying bad words. That was going to be how I was gonna change the world. But it occurred to us, if we want people to think differently about people who play games and the companies that make games, well, we need to do different things. It's a very straightforward idea, but it seemed revolutionary to us at the time. That was basically our genesis." That first year, Child's Play donations went on to overwhelm Jerry's house, as gamers worldwide sent in boxes and boxes beyond what either of them had envisioned.
While anger at the media began it, it swiftly evolved into something greater. He finishes the story, "That really isn't a part of it anymore. It's like, after the first year, and it was so successful, it seemed clear to us that people just wanted a focus, that there were a lot of people that wanted to do this sort of thing. But they needed a focus. Sort of like a rally point. And that was just something that we ended up providing. Now, it's the way something like this should be. It's a fairly straightforward, almost entirely pure altruism-type effort. But when it started, it came from a place of anger, like many things that we do at Penny Arcade."