Game Marathons: Fad, or Going the Distance?

Two weeks ago saw an extraordinarily successful, more-than-72 hour Super Mario Marathon that raised more than $11,000 for a gamers' charity for kids. This week, four Mega Man enthusiasts are finding out how hard of an act that is to follow — as a fund drive anyway. A new web site indicates that game marathons are a mushrooming craze, capitalizing partly on gamers who enjoy watching others fail at classic console titles. The question is, how long will it last?


The Megamanathon was hatched "about five minutes after we started watching the Mario Marathon," said Alex Willingham, one of the four gamers taking a tour of the Mega Man Series. Three hours into their marathon, which began 9 pm EDT Friday in Nyack, N.Y., they'd raised $210 for Child's Play, the same beneficiary of the Mario endeavor. As of noon Saturday, they'd upped that to $230.

They're still having fun, of course. But the Super Mario Marathon logged more than 100,000 unique viewers and 120,000 viewing hours, and it sounds like a lot of others got the same idea from watching it. A site, Gamemarathons, went online shortly after the Mario Marathon and is trying to be the go-to place for coordinating these contests, to cut down on overlap and redundancy. There's a Speed Gamers Marathon going on right now; a Rare Marathon that just finished, and Guitar Hero and Metroid coming up next week.

"Every marathon right now will find the Mario Marathon tough to follow," said Matt Hayden, who launched He estimates 85 percent of the marathons listed there so far are being done for charity. Those that are gaming for a cause are clearly differentiated from those that aren't.

"[The Mario Marathon] was so wildly successful and well advertised that no marathon can hope to achieve the numbers they did in terms of viewers and money," Hayden said. "But then again, the marathons should never really be about competition or one-upping the one before. Each one is uinique, and even if it raises $5, that's $5 a charity didn't have before, and it was a weekend of entertainment for at least a handful of people."

Willingham agrees, seeing more potential in the casual, drop-in entertainment value of a marathon. "As far as fundraising goes, it may be an idea beaten to death," Willingham said. "As recreational marathoning entertainment, it'll last as long as there are games to play."


He and his cohorts — Cory Hunt, Charlie Basler and Damon Amador, all college-age guys — had the itch to do a marathon, cause or charity regardless. But Willingham also thinks the marathon has some entertainment potential for viewers. "It's like a television show for geeks," he said. "You log on each weekend, and watch more dorks fail."

Hayden sees it a little differently. "Boring people who don't interact will break a marathon and bore the viewers no matter what game they're playing," he said. "Fun people will bring in viewers and retain them. People didn't watch [the Mario Marathon] for hours on end to see Mario games. They watched to see the guys, and became so enamored of them they were given nicknames. Brian [TK's] dog and wife became the most popular characters."


The Megamanathon, even if it hasn't raised as much as the Mario Marathon, poured out the same kind of effort and has developed its own following. hey've earned afan art gallery (including tributes to "Bagel Girl," the only female on the scene.) All the participants have gotten nicknames from those dropping in to watch. A PR effort got our attention, and local news as well.

But at this point, barring any flood of donations, the marathon's biggest success will likely be its completion, rather than the amount raised. The Mega Man gamers have the will to finish out the series, but others might not.


"I'm worried that upcoming marathons, especially the hastily prepared ones, will peter out once the inspiration from the Mario Marathon has worn off," Hayden said. "Just about every one that's planned for the next 2 months admit they were directly inspired by it. But that's why I created GameMarathons. I wanted the phenomenon to be more organized and be more widely accessible by everyone on the Internet, not just those who have to rely on word of mouth or a lucky mention on a popular site."

The Megamanathon will likely last into Sunday, Willingham said. They started with original Mega Man, and have been drawing titles out of a hat at random. They're playing the Mega Man Anniversary Collection and Mega Man X Collection on a Wii, using a HORI Digital GameCube pad. You can follow their progress on their site.


Gamemarathons [Site]
Megamanathon [Site]
Super Mario Marathon [Site]



Oh, you know what we should do? A marathon for some really crappy game! One that no one in their right mind would play for five minutes, let alone five days!

Like that game that was supposed to come out a while ago as a gag game, wasn't it called Desert Bus? You know, the one that Penn and Teller put together!

What's more, we should have some people who already do online videos put it together. Like that Canadian comedy group, Loading Ready Run. They're pretty funny, I'm sure they'd like this idea!

I'm gonna go send it to them! It'll be great!