A University of North Texas student has turned a dorm-room hobby for video gaming into a platform that's raising money for the fight against childhood cancer.
With a green screen, some headphones and little else, UNT sophomore Michael Mairs played for charity during this spring's St. Jude PLAY LIVE. A miniature global army of gaming pledge drivers live streamed as they played some of their favorite online games to fundraise for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
"It costs $2.8 million a day to run St. Jude," says Mairs, who's from Flower Mound. "The hospital provides treatment and research for childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases at no cost to patients. St. Jude's is funded entirely through donations, and that's where initiatives like Play Live come in."
Cancer hits close to home for 19-year-old Mairs, who was diagnosed last year with basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. While easily treated, the scare inspired Mairs to help children with diagnoses of leukemia and other dangerous cancers that require multiple rounds of treatments.
Dubbed "Smirky" online, Mairs' primary game of choice is Toontown, a multi-player, family-friendly game that's earned him 13,000+ followers and more than 275,000 unique views on Twitch. Mairs hopes some of those fans will become donors.
"Even a small donation can make a difference," says Mairs, who is majoring in communication studies. "$3 can pay for a surgical face mask for the hospital, and $25 allows St. Jude to throw a "No More Chemo" party for kids who've finished treatment."
Mairs, who participated in the fundraiser in 2018, was invited back this year to the kickoff event – the St. Jude PLAY LIVE Summit. There, he and about 270 others got to tour and learn about the hospital, meet and play video games with patients and connect with influential leaders in the gaming industry.
"This experience was seriously life changing," Mairs says. "I got to walk the hospitals and see the smiles on kids' faces. When you think of hospitals, people think of it as kind of sad and gloomy. But St. Jude is like a family and people were happy and laughing and supporting one another. Even though I was the youngest attendee at the summit, I learned that I can make a difference."