Great Big Table - Extra Life Interview

Today we're giving you a bonus interview—this time with Adrienne Jones—about the Extra Life gaming marathon that benefits Children's Miracle Network hospitals.

Thanks for contacting us about this great benefit.

First take a minute and tell our readers what Great Big Table is all about.

Great Big Table is a board games podcast that focuses on the community side of board gaming. With social media input from listeners, we like to talk about topics such as finding or creating a game group, game elements that work well for specific audiences (kids, couples, non-gamers), building a game collection, and ways game groups can influence their larger communities.

Can you tell us a little more about the Extra Life organization? Is this your first year participating in this event?

Extra Life began in 2008 when the Sarastic Gamer video gaming community worked to honor Victoria Enmon, a high school sophomore with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In her memory, 1600 participants played 24 hours of games and raised $115,000 for Texas Children’s Cancer Center in 2008. In 2009, in an effort to help children’s hospitals worldwide, organizer Jeromy Adams left his radio broadcasting career to work for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. With this change, in 2010, donors were able to raise money for any Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. And they did, raising over $451,000 (more than doubling their 2009 donations).

Last year, Extra Life was played simultaneously on every continent but Antarctica, and raised $1.1 million for 175 children’s hospitals.

On the whole, Extra Life has been a video gaming movement, but that has been changing. Joining in 2010, Myriad Games, brick and mortar board game retailers in New Hampshire, were some of the earliest board gamers to champion the cause. Their podcast, Myriad Games Presentations, helped bring the cause to the attention of other board game podcasters as well as the larger board gaming community.

Organizer Jeromy Adams is happy to see the event spread to new communities and has been particularly interested in how it can translate to board gaming which is an inherently social activity.

Tell us your story, and why this event is so special to you.

Our inspiration to be part of Extra Life is an almost 2 year old dynamo who is presently wearing penguin jammies and sitting in my lap.

Our daughter’s life is inextricably tangled up in board gaming and Riley Hospital for Children, Indiana’s Children’s Miracle Network hospital.

Back in 2010, I was seven months pregnant and looking forward to a great gaming weekend with friends to celebrate Jim’s birthday. The pregnancy had been tough and we normally hosted game night, so our regular gaming with friends had been on hiatus for months.

Two weeks before the game marathon, and six weeks before the baby’s due date, my body started shutting down. With two of my organ systems failing, our baby girl was rushed into this world.

From her first day of life, a specialist from Riley assessed and cared for her even though we live four hours away from the hospital.

We were all very fortunate, and she was released from the NICU well before her original due date. Friends and family rallied to help us keep up with the basic needs of our older kids while adjusting to her additional feeding needs.  Jim’s coworkers sent us a care package and in the card many of them mentioned that they had missed him at the staff Christmas party where he usually ran the games.

Because of those comments, I suggested that Jim organize a weekly game group at work. He sent out an email, mostly to appease me, but people responded. Now, on Wednesdays, you can usually find a group gathering near the snack machines at his workplace to fight worldwide epidemic disease, build fiefdoms, race sled dogs, or manipulate the stock market in Jane Austen’s England.

Home life wasn’t entirely normal, but gaming made it more familiar and gave us non-medical things to talk about. When the baby reached 10 months, problems with her growth and development appeared. The baby and I headed to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis for tests and answers.

It’s pretty overwhelming to realize that your child has medical needs that are larger than average. It’s hard to stay in a hospital room hours from home. Yet Riley’s very architecture resonates with the goodwill of friends and strangers. There I saw such unconditional generosity toward all children. It seemed as if the entire state was rallying behind these kids and their families as they faced individual health challenges.

We got her growth back on track that week, but we also learned that she would need cranial reconstruction surgery.  Around this time, we started a monthly game night at our church in addition to the weekly game group Jim had been running at work.  It seemed like a service we could offer to a community in economic downturn.  We definitely realized the value of getting away from difficult everyday concerns.

In February, during her 8 hour surgery, we played Lost Cities to keep from losing our minds between updates about the surgery’s progress.  Again, we were overwhelmed with the community spirit of Riley.  Our daughter ended up needing 2 units of blood (total replacement for her body weight), so even the blood in her veins was a gift from strangers.  Being given something so basic and life-sustaining impacted us all deeply.  We wanted to give back.

In 2011 Jim had heard a Game On! with John & Cody podcast episode about participating in Myriad Games’ Extra Life event.  Though I had no idea even during the surgery, Jim was already making plans for an Extra Life event at our church.

Our local community (including those great work and church gaming groups) welcomed us back home with more than enough meals for a month.  Before we’d eaten even half of the meals, Jim had laid the groundwork for this event.

We really view this as the building year for an annual event.  Because our group has many families with young children involved, a continuous 24 hour marathon seemed impossible.  Jim adapted it to be a three day event launching with our regular monthly game night.

How many people are on your team?

Technically, one at this point. Jim set up the team for the church’s game group, so I’m (presently) the captain and only member of Team Great Big Table. St. Peter’s Game Night Team is a partner to Great Big Table, so our number of registered participants is six when you include them both.

We have heard from many online friends, like Chris Norwood of, mention that they are starting their own teams or joining a local event.  From our standpoint, that’s even better than joining our team because a local focus may help people gain more momentum.  We’re just happy people are joining and participating in the event.

But should anyone want to join a team, there’s always room for more folks at Great Big Table. Actually, that’s even where the podcast name comes from, the idea that we always have room for another chair at our gaming table.

The weekend event will also involve donors as well as registered players.  We’ve set aside some hours for kids’ games and some for classic card games, and we know that people will come play and will make donations at the event.  For those who don’t want to donate online, the church is accepting cash and checks and issuing receipts so in-person donations can also be tax deductible (like the online giving).  With our community, online giving may not be as appealing as in-person donations, so we wanted to offer ample opportunity to give.

What game(s) will team Great Big Table be playing during the marathon, and why?

As with our game nights, the community will share many of the games.  We have a church games library of about 30 donated games ranging from Bananagrams to Liar’s Dice to Risk to Tsuro.

Favorite games that regularly make a game night appearances are Lords of Waterdeep, Kill Dr. Lucky, Eleminis, Carnival, Hike, Can’t Stop, Alien Frontiers, Sorry Sliders, Zooloretto, Word on the Street, Dixit, Wits & Wagers, Forbidden Island, Apples to Apples, Castle Panic, and the Resistance.

Our family game closet has a lot of Euro, strategy, cooperative, kids’ and party games, and I think there is a similar composition to the game night selection.

Because we really want a lot of people playing during the event (to keep the registered participants company), we’re sure to have traditional card favorites like Clabber (a local card game similar to Euchre) and cribbage and plenty of kids’ and party games.

We hope that anyone will be able to find a game that interests them when they visit.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, and best of luck in reaching your goal!

The event is October 20th. For more information, check out the Web site here. And if you'd like to support team Great Big Table, you can find their team page here. Thanks for reading!