There are a handful of video game centric charity events — perhaps most notably Extra Life –, but one that isn’t as popular as the others, despite the juggernaut of a franchise its centered around. The event in question is Pokéthon, a gaming marathon centered around the main games of Nintendo’s Pokémon series.
February 14th, 2019 at 9 AM PST/12PM EST will mark the start of Pokéthon Journey, the tenth one since the first in 2013. Pokéthon Journey is estimated to run for over 120 hours and aims to raise $20,000 for Direct Relief, a worldwide humanitarian aid organization for improving the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies. The previous Pokéthon, Pokéthon Blossom, held in April 2018, was able to raise over $20,000 for Help Hope Live, a foundation which covers costs of uncovered medical expenses.
To learn more about the event, I interviewed director James “Abra” Bishop about the inspirations behind the marathon, the difficulties that come with running it, and how others can help spread the word.
What inspired you to start Pokéthon?
“I was originally inspired by other marathons like ExtraLives (The original website is down, but it’s hosted here http://web.archive.org/web/20130814123222/http://extralives.org:80/) and Zeldathon. I loved watching events like these. When Pokémon X and Pokémon Y were announced, I decided I would buy a 3DS capture card and do it myself. That’s how the marathon began.”
I noticed each Pokéthon has a different name, with this year’s being called Pokéthon Journey, do you center the names around some kind of theme?
“Originally, no, we just numbered marathons. As we matured, doing the same thing over and over again got a little stale, so we decided to spice it up by giving each marathon a theme, whether it was based around a game (Eclipse for the release of Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon) or the charity (Heroes came from LLS’s site. They call those who support them “Heroes”). Journey came from many places. This marathon was focused on Pokémon Let’s Go, so ‘Let’s Go on a Journey’ sounded good in our heads. Also over the past year, I made a big change in my life, and Pokéthon itself reflects that. It’s a reflection of the Journey of how we got here, and the Journey we have ahead of us.”
I noticed that Pokéthon is centered around the main Pokémon games for the most part rather than the Pokémon video game franchise as a whole. Is there a specific reason for that?
“When building out the schedule for Pokéthon, it’s hard making a marathon that includes every bit of Pokémon content it can within the period of time we have allotted. I feel it’s important we play at least one game that represents every generation. That’s one thing most Pokémon fans have, is a generation of game that resonates with them. While some love certain spin-off games or side series, almost every fan has a core generation game they hold close to their heart.”
Have you heard anything from either The Pokémon Company or Nintendo in support of Pokéthon?
“We emailed them once and got a nice note back from their legal team giving us the ok, as long as we don’t make any money or sell any Pokémon merchandise. Aside from that, their legal team gave us their blessing.”
This is the first Pokéthon since the first to be held in February, is there a reason it isn’t held on a specific month every year like other similar events?
“Sadly, Pokéthon has had issues staying consistent. That’s mostly on me. I wish I could make doing Pokéthon a full-time job, but sadly I cannot. Pokéthon is bound to the times I have the most time off, usually holiday weekends. If I could, I’d have it bi-annually, and I hope that one day, it is.”
What are some of the difficulties that come with putting together a charity event like Pokéthon?
“As mentioned, I have a full-time job, and I have to plan Pokéthon around that. I have limited vacation days and times I can take off. Aside from that, it’s also finding the best time where the attendees are free. We want to avoid overlapping other events, like GDQ and Zeldathon as well. Last time, we accidentally scheduled ourselves on top of PAX East, so a lot of attendees had to make a tough choice between those two events.
After that, there is a lot of production that goes into this. It’s no longer just an event where I aim a webcam at myself and go. We are a full-on production, with various teams to make it all work. About five people coded the donation capture system that allowed you to catch Pokémon while you donate. I couldn’t do that all myself. I have a team of graphic designers as well. Without them, the marathon would look horrid. It’s a huge project.”
How has Pokéthon affected your own life, and can you tell me any stories about how other lives have been changed through Pokéthon?
“Through Pokéthon, I have met so many people. It allowed me to meet so many good friends through the charity marathon community. I wouldn’t have had the courage or the chance to move out and move forward with my life. Without Pokéthon I wouldn’t be me.
It’s actually funny, an old friend that drifted away forever ago found me again through Pokéthon. He manages the Smash Greninja discord, and someone shared the marathon there. He saw it, watched, and went… “wait, is that Abra?” We reconnected, and now he’s one of my best friends. He’s actually my roommate now, and is helping me kickstart the next step in my life.”
What’s the one thing you want people to take away from this experience?
“Pokéthon is about 3 things. It’s about celebrating the Pokémon franchise. Anyone of any age, generation, upbringing, they can all connect through Pokémon. It’s about raising money for charity. While gaming can get a bad rap from time to time, events like ours show that gaming can raise money and awareness for great causes and make a positive impact. Finally, Pokéthon is about having fun. As Reggie once said: ‘The game is fun, if the game isn’t fun, why bother?”
How can people get in touch to volunteer for and support Pokéthon, and can other organizations hold their own Pokéthons?
“Pokéthon may look for people who can help from time to time, like for coding, or graphics. When we do, we will put out a questionnaire for those to sign up. Aside from that, the best way is just being active in the community. While I run Pokéthon, our community is more than happy to help others run their own events. We would love to help as many people run events that are as close to them as Pokéthon is to us. If you love Donkey Kong, or Halo, we’d love to see a Kong-a-thon or a Mjolnir Marathon. The more charity events, the better.”
You can tune in to Pokéthon Journey on Twitch starting on February 14 at 9 AM PST/ 12 PM EST. For more information and updates you can check out the official Pokethon website, Twitter, and Facebook page.