Aug 10

Have you ever been through a bad experience and then decided that you will make it better for everyone else?  Ryan Sharpe did.  He’s the founder of the Get Well Gamers foundation in Huntington Beach, CA.

As a child, Ryan spent a lot of time in the hospital. The reasons were different but the experience was the same: it was boring.  One day, someone put a gaming system in a lounge near his room, and his whole experience changed.  Now, he supplies children’s wards in hospitals in the US and Canada with gaming systems so that hospitalized children will have something to take their minds off of their illness.

Ryan sat down with KS of Social Change Network and had a chat about the foundation:

KS: To start, what does Get Well Gamers do?

Ryan Sharpe:  The Get-Well Gamers Foundation brings videogames and electronic entertainment to over a hundred and twenty Children’s hospitals and healthcare facilities across the United States and Canada. We provide an outlet for children to escape the confines of their sterile, white, stake hospital rooms and become whatever they want, from a hard-bitten detective to a professional athlete to their favorite cartoon superheroes.

KS:  Do you supply PC and Mac games or do you use consoles?

Ryan Sharpe: I just finished answering an e-mail regarding exactly that, funny enough. Though I should state for the record that I’ve been a PC gamer since the original Commander Keen games, PCs are by their nature a finicky and particular platform. If you don’t have the right operating system, if you don’t have enough memory, if your CPU is underclocked or your video card is incompatible, your PC games become decorative coasters in an instant. Contrast that to any major console, where you insert the game disc and it plays, every time, and you can see why we regretfully refuse PC and Macintosh games.

KS:  And how do you get the consoles?  Do people donate cash and you go buy them or do you get the consoles themselves as donations?

Ryan Sharpe: I’m proud to say that the Foundation has never actually had to buy a console to donate it. We get our supplies through the donations of concerned and generous Games from across the country and even around the globe- I remember our first intenational donation was an Atari Jaguar from Norway- and almost always with a nice stack of games for us to sort into our inventory and dole out as needed. We do get the occasional corporate donation, but the foundation wouldn’t be a tenth its size if not for the dusty PlayStations and cherished Nintendo 64s and every other piece of old gaming equipment caring gamers have decided to pass on to us. Now, the cords and controllers and memory cards, those we’ve had to go out and get, but for the consoles and games at least I can say we’ve never bought one.

KS: That’s pretty amazing!  What inspired you to start the Get Well Gamers foundation – and how long have you been around?

Ryan Sharpe: The Foundation began in late 2001, Just before 9/11 struck in fact, and at the time I was working out of a one-bedroom apartment in the Seattle suburbs, holding the Foundation’s meager inventory in my closet while I went to college and serviced an equally meager network- only two hospitals, the Seattle Children’s near where I went to school and the Children’s Hospital of Orange County near my hometown. The inspiration itself came from my many hospital stays in the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, shortened to CHOC amongst the patients there.

Between Bronchitis, Pneumonia, Septicemia, and a host of other maladies that struck in my formative years, I spent a lot of time in the hospital, and during one such stay the hospital transitioned from only having TV reruns and a handful of toys to play with while recovering to actually having video games- A pair of arcade cabinets in a break room set to free play- and the difference in how I passed my free time was remarkable. What used to be long hours of just trying not to think of how hard it was to breathe evaporated in round after round of Donkey Kong Jr. and Zaxxon, all my earthly troubles forgotten as I focused on the games between tests, feedings, and injections.

KS: Do you ever get any feedback from the kids who benefit from the games you donate?  Have the doctors and medical staff seen a difference?

Ryan Sharpe: Oh, tremendously. Even hospitals we’ve had for nearly a decade will still send us letters just gushing about the difference video games make in their patients’ stays. I’ve heard tales of young children looking forward to coming in to chemotherapy because it’s the only place they can progress on their favorite RPGs, or how fussy and frightened children were able to take their shots without so much as a peep thanks to the calming and distracting capabilities of a Game Boy.

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According to Sharpe, there isn’t much published research regarding outcomes when games are introduced into the healing environment, but hopefully there will be in the future.

To learn more about the Get Well Gamers foundation, and to donate, visit http://www.get-well-gamers.org