Video game speed-run experts raise $250K for charity in 2 days, aim for much more in Orlando

P.J. DiCesare has some tricks up his sleeve that he shows off when he speed runs Mega Man 7.

For instance, using a variety of weapons on Spring Man – rather than the villain’s greatest weakness, the Slash Claw, exclusively – can save up to 4 seconds on your time.

It’s one of the ways the Rochester, N.Y., native finished the entire game in 41 minutes, 30 seconds, on Dec. 18, marking the second-fastest time ever recorded on the game. He also set the record for quickest to finish the game with 100 percent completion on Dec. 15.

“Every time you leave an area, you start to think, ‘Where can I have sped it up,’” DiCesare, 30, said after he finished the game in less than 50 minutes during the charity fundraiser Games Done Quick, which this year for the first time was held in Orlando. “I just like the mental simulation.”

Games Done Quick is a 10-year-old event that has raised more than $22 million for charities during that time.

This year, in the first two days speed runners playing games like Super Mario Bros. 3, Fallout and DiCesare on Mega Man 7 have attracted more than $250,000.

DeCesare, whose best time is 37 seconds off the world record, said he has grown to appreciate the people who watch him go after the record.

“The first impression is that it’s probably nerve wracking when you think about how there are 100,000 people watching,” said DeCesare, who has done speed runs of other games including Actraiser 2 and Bionic Commando. “But, at this point, I see it as playing games with friends, for friends.”

The weeklong event put gamers in front of a crowd of video game fans who cheered enthusiastically.

As they played, a fundraising ticker tracked the amount of money that had come in from donations from people who watched the action online.

Last summer, the event raised $3 million for Doctors Without Borders. This year, the event is raising money for Prevent Cancer Foundation.

“It’s amazing to me that this whole community exists,” said Dr. Peter Kingham, director of global cancer disparity initiatives at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a research institute in New York, during a panel at the event. “The fact that you can raise this much money and care where it’s going, is awesome. It’s been inspiring to see this.”

For video game fans, the appeal had more to do with the skills on the stage than where the money was going.

Buddy Wilbury, 30, said he gets an adrenaline rush when he watches the experts play these games.

“You’re always learning something new because they approach the games so differently,” he said. “It’s fun seeing that play out.”

That combination of gameplay enthusiasts and charitable contributions has helped make Games Done Quick popular, said Kasumi Yogi, director of marketing and business development for the organization.

“You’re always learning something new because they approach the games so differently,” he said. “It’s fun seeing that play out.”

“Speed running takes games of all ages and brings about a brand-new way to enjoy them,” she said. “This is especially true with classic games that evoke a sense of nostalgia for viewers.”

The fact that platforms like Twitch and YouTube have grown into such behemoths has also helped those people who speed run for charity, Yogi said.

“Now that watching someone else play video games online is considered a household pastime, more people are being made aware of our event and what we do,” she said.

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