Four days before his first birthday, Dave Miller’s son needed a heart transplant. His son is now 14, and Miller felt indebted to The Alberta Children’s Hospital for saving his life. He founded an organization, now called Game Day East Kootenay (EK) that has to date raised nearly $50,000 for the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation (ACHF).
“I started doing Extra Life when I discovered it was a thing, to give back to the Children’s hospital because they saved his life,” Miller told the Bulletin. Extra Life, according to their website, unites thousands of gamers around the world to play games in support of their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital and since 2008 they’ve raised over $70 million USD.
“I was raising $100, $200 a year and I wanted to find a way to give back more than that.”
Miller sat down for coffee with his best friend Erin Schulz to brainstorm ways of raising more money. They’d done stuff like Rock Band nights before, but this led them to the idea of getting a big venue and loading it up with consoles and TVs and charging people $10 to play video games all day.
“And if we can get like 100 people to come in that would be $1000 for the Children’s Hospital and that would just be insane, because that’s five times more than I’ve raised ever.”
After bringing another friend with some fundraising experience under his belt on board they organized their first event, then with the more lengthy moniker “Extra Life Game Day Cranbrook,” with hopes of raising about $1000.
They got some local sponsors on board, a venue in the Cranbrook Eagles Hall, they even got some game codes from developers, and in their first event they raised $3700.
“It was a runaway hit,” Miller recalls. “People asked us on the way out ‘are you gonna do this next year?’ And we realized that we didn’t have much choice.”
They upped their planning process from three to six months and extended their next event the following year from nine hours to 12. They raised $4300 in 2015 and then, after smoothingout some red tape pertaining to a gaming licence with the BC Gaming commission, they raised $7600 in 2016.
“We were blown away,” Miller said. “From that year on every year just started raising more and more money and for three years in a row now we’ve raised $10,000 a year for the Alberta Children’s Hospital and every year we have started bringing on more and more people to help organize the event.”
Last year they officially rebranded their event to Game Day EK, because, according to Miller, “this has gone from essentially my story when I started and — I mean my second child, who was born the year of our first event, who also needed a heart transplant, to the stories of the hundreds and hundreds of people who we’ve met who have also needed the help of the Children’s Hospital.”
He said that this is now the story of an entire community who’s giving back to the Children’s Hospital because they’ve seen what they do, they’ve gotten help there and they too want to give back. And what better way than through a communal affinity with games?
“It’s just a beautiful story and I genuinely hope that this event outlives me by generations,” Miller said.
The 12-hour main events, which take place the first weekend of every October, go from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and feature dozens of modern video games for free play, a massive retro game area featuring standup coin based machines and Ataris.
There’s a tournament alley set up with prizes, a kids area, Dungeons and Dragons games throughout the day and they event started a 19+ zone last year, featuring more risqué games, shooters and vulgar board games.
Miller, is a lifelong gamer. He said he remembers the video game crash of 1984, which occurred when he was just three, because his dad was big into video gaming back then.
“He had an Intellivision and he was the one who actually introduced me to the world of video games and so it’s always just been there with me.”
He said he has a collection of a couple hundred games but his best friend and partner Erin, who now has most of Miller’s consoles, has a collection of thousands of games and dozens of consoles.
Robyn Harrison joined on as an organizer last year. She lives in Kimberley and has helped the group expand out of Cranbrook.
“I’ve always loved gaming and saw this amazing thing going on in the community where there was people putting together these awesome events and raising an awesome amount of money for a great cause.”
She said they’re currently working on changing over the social media pages for the new name, bringing in new volunteers as some have moved away, and trying to plan an event in April.
There will be a meeting on Saturday for people interested in becoming volunteers, and if you’re keen, you can contact them through their Facebook page Facebook.com/GameDayEK
Miller also added that they have a new working partnership with Dominoes in Cranbrook, who are helping them out in a big way this year. They also have long-term partnerships, for example, with the Eagles Hall, Kootenay Kwik Print and First Avenue Self Storage who let them rent a massive storage unit free of charge, that houses the majority of their TVs and games.
“Without our sponsors, we’re honestly nothing,” Miller said, “because we couldn’t store this stuff in our houses, for a massive event like this. We’re always reaching out to new businesses and if there’s anyone out there that’s interested in getting in touch with us, by all means fire us a message.”