Gamers, Streamers, and Developers: Is 'Extra Life' the Best Charity We Could Be Giving To?

Giving to charity is a good thing to do. Extra Life, Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, and the people who donate to them are all attempting to do good and succeeding. But could this altruism be more effective in helping those in need? And why have we, as game players and developers, chosen Extra Life to be the recipient of our generosity?

The inspiration for this post is an idea that Peter Singer, a leading moral philosopher, endorsed in his book The Life You Can Save. That is the idea that we should practice "effective altruism" by being highly critical of where we donate our money in order to provide the most good.

An example of how our donations to different organizations can have extremely variable results is presented in the following TED Talk by Peter Singer (skip to around 11:15):

In the video, Singer presents two potential uses of a $40,000 donation. It could be used to provide a seeing-eye dog (and the costs of the required training) for a single blind person in a developed nation. Alternatively, it could be used to treat between 400 and 2000 cases of trachoma for people in developing nations and, in doing so, prevent blindness for those people. Almost everyone would agree that preventing blindness for hundreds of people is preferable to aiding a single blind person.

With that in mind, how much good does Extra Life provide? As stated in Extra Life's FAQ, donations to Extra Life go directly to a Children's Miracle Network Hospital. 100% of the Miracle Network hospitals are located within North America, in two of the richest nations in the world. When you donate to Extra Life or Children's Miracle Network you are helping save the lives of children. But how much does it cost to save an average North American child's life compared to an average African child? In the poorest nations of Africa, children suffer and die every day from easily preventable afflictions such as malaria, schistosomiasis, and parasitic worms. For a single child the prevention of these diseases can cost less than a dollar per year! Contrast this with the much more challenging health issues of a North American child. These afflictions are no less tragic but they cost orders of magnitude more dollars to treat. Should we prefer one North American child to hundreds of African children simply because the North American child is in closer proximity to us? Extra Life asks us to "play games to raise money for local kids." But why should we prefer local kids to such a degree?

It's possible that we, as the participants of the games industry, have chosen Extra Life to be our default charity simply due to its branding as a video game charity. It is only fitting that a Twitch streamer would want their charity stream to feature a video game related charity, so Extra Life is an obvious choice for them. But we must look past the branding if our goal in giving is to provide the most good.

We must decide whether it is better to help a single child at home or hundreds of children abroad. It is just as easy to set up a fundraising page with Against Malaria as it is to do so with Extra Life. Extra Life and Children's Miracle Hospitals no doubt have good intentions and do good things. But we can do better.

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© 2016 Daniel Mullins