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It’s all part of the game

Published April 2022 | In Spring 2022

Software engineer Michael Paulson is among the thousands of gamers involved with Extra Life, raising money for children’s hospitals by doing something that they love: playing video games.

It’s all part of the game Media

Video games, and the gamers that play them, get a bad rap sometimes. Sure, the virtual worlds that they explore may not be real in the physical sense, but amidst the pixels real connections are made, and sometimes gamers aren’t just playing for fun. Sometimes they play to help others.

Michael Paulson has been a software engineer for 15 years. He works remotely for Netflix, lives in Rapid City with his wife and four children and runs a successful YouTube channel devoted to programming and development.

He loves gaming, and even calls it his, “favorite activity in the universe.” That may not seem unusual for someone who makes a living with technology, but Michael is also one of those gamers who has saved lives with his time behind the screen.

Michael didn’t play games for the full 36 hours. He actually spent the first 11 hours coding live on Twitch, something that he has enjoyed doing for awhile. “A lot of people when they’re on keyboards doing things in front of people get fat fingers, but it doesn’t bother me at all.” After the first 11 hours he switched to playing Apex for 25 hours. The result? $73,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network at Monument Health, and one exhausted software engineer.

“One of the main components of Extra Life is the ability it gives gamers to individualize their fundraising efforts on behalf of CMN,” says Shawn Powers, CMN Program Manager for Monument Health. “Participants choose how they play – PC games, console games, tabletop games or even family board games. They also control how they broadcast their efforts, whether it’s through texting and emailing, posting on social media or streaming game play online. Their audience is their coworkers, friends, family or even those that follow them online.”

Starting on Extra Life Game Day, Nov. 10, 2021, Michael streamed for 36 hours, raising $53,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network program at Monument Health — the fifth highest amount raised by an individual streamer. An additional contribution from his employer brought the total to $73,000. “So how that works, is that for every dollar that I give, Netflix will match $2 up to $20,000,” Michael explains. “Netflix supports their people giving to charity in a more distributed model, as opposed to making one singular donation. I think that model encourages the giving lifestyle.”

“Extra Life is highly personal fundraising. Gamers can connect their own style and values to our mission, and their personal fundraising pages become a way for them to express a story in their own words, as evident from Michael’s efforts.” Shawn Powers, Program Manager for Monument Health Children’s Miracle Network.

When asked about how he got involved with Extra Life, Michael smiles and says, “I had a friend named Guy, yeah, a guy named Guy, who was doing this four years ago and asked if I wanted to join, and I did. There’s no stars or glitter to this story.” There’s a certain humility to that explanation, but when asked to elaborate about why he continues to participate in Extra Life and raise money for CMN, he offers more. “I think most people would call themselves a good person, I rarely meet someone that says, ‘I’m a bad guy.’ but the greatest litmus test is how you spend your time and your money,” he says. “You have something to give, even if it’s just a few minutes or one dollar. Individually it may not be a large amount, but when you have thousands of people giving together, that’s significant.”

The gamers that streamed for donations on Game Day 2021 raised more than $3 million over the course of a weekend, bringing the program’s total to more than $10 million in 2021. Michael is right — everyone has something to give, and these gamers have given countless hours of time to raise more than $100 million dollars for CMN hospitals since Extra Life’s inception in 2008.

Michael intends to keep contributing to CMN, and plans to continue participating in Extra Life. “Giving has always been important to my wife and me,” he says. “It changes your heart, and I think it usually ends up helping the giver as well.”

For more information about Extra Life, go to extra-life.org.

“Extra Life is a very powerful platform for gamers to make a difference in their community,” Shawn said.