Ultra Mega Death Ray had the pleasure to speak with Chastity Irizarry. She is the founder and president of a charitable organization called Gamers United that helps bring video games to those in need of rehabilitation and entertainment. Her work has brought much joy to institutes, like children’s hospitals, and allows for those in the gaming industry to give back in a big way. As the organization’s motto goes, Chastity is aiming to “prove the pixelated heart is a philanthropic one.”
(UMDR) What made you want to create Gamers United?
(Chastity) Gamers United stemmed from a desire to show that we (gamers) are so much more than the way society and the media characterizes us. I wanted to do something to give back. Since being an Air Force veteran is important to me, our first event was a holiday social to collect games for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program. People do what they can for children in need but the recession had already started in 2008. Video games and accessories were a higher price than some could afford so it seemed a natural fit for us. Gamers United has grown and evolved since then.
(UMDR) How are you different from other gamer themed charities such as Child’s Play?
(Chastity) We strive to do more than collect games for other organizations. Our mission is to educate through action by creating programs in hospitals and schools. The programs can be used to rehabilitate patients and teach students through the use of video games, which we both know is more fun and interactive than other alternatives. We want to make sure that when we deliver consoles to a hospital, everything is set up properly and the staff is familiar with how everything works.
(UMDR) Do you believe video games can truly be therapeutic? How so?
(Chastity) Yes. It has been proven. For example, there have been studies conducted linking faster recovery times to the playing of video games. Gaming can be, and has been, used to aid in physical therapy and with stroke patients (source). It’s also been shown to be a factor since the preoccupation with something entertaining can take a patient’s mind off of their current ailments. It’s a bonus also that video games are interactive, unlike television. I’m still waiting on a study to prove my theory that gaming keeps us younger at heart too!
(UMDR) What kinds of people have you personally seen benefit from the charity provided through Gamers United?
(Chastity) I believe in the old cliche, “Sometimes it’s the little things that count most.” Whether it is the child services staff members that are beaming at all the new inventory for their teen center, a patient’s eyes lighting up when they start playing a game, or a student’s expression when they tell me in a very matter-of-fact tone how video games help them, I know we are on the right track.
I recently took part in a junior high school Tolerance Fair and I loved the interaction with the students as well as discussions on how video games make them more accepting of others. As one girl told me, “I don’t care what you look like as long as we win.”
(UMDR) It’s amazing to see the kinds of differences we can make. Now I also understand that you hold fundraising events. What are those like?
(Chastity) We started out by hosting holiday socials for an esteemed group of invited guests who represented various facets of the video game industry and we ask them to bring their donation for one of our beneficiaries. That was my professional answer but it makes us sound boring, don’t you think?
The less stuffy answer is that we have small parties with a fun, mixed crowd of media personalities, industry executives, and actors who bring some very cool and much needed items. At E3 last year, we had a fun gathering on a rooftop in Downtown Los Angeles. I find people are more inclined to what they enjoy doing. “Bring us an Xbox 360 and you can dance with the stars under the stars!” Doesn’t that sound amazing?
(UMDR) I would say! So are game companies actively involved as well?
(Chastity) Yes! We are so fortunate to have the support we do. Companies such as Nyko, who was our first partner and continues to work with us today, and Gunnar, who came on board last year and hit the ground running, have been instrumental in so many ways. I love them for it.
(UMDR) Would you consider the average gamer to be a charitable person?
(Chastity) In my experience, yes. That or maybe they just don’t want to say “No” to my face…
In all seriousness, I think most people are good but it isn’t always easy to be charitable when times are difficult. We always want to make it easy and fun to be charitable without pressure or guilt for not doing more (unless you’re related to me, in which case it isn’t an option).
(UMDR) How can someone help donate?
(Chastity) Any way they’d like! They can send us games, accessories, peripherals and consoles. They can volunteer to help out at one of our events. They can host an event. They can spread the word! That’s probably the most important one. Of course they can also check out our site to keep up-to-date. We do have some new online events coming soon. We also accept cash and all major credit cards.