Many years ago, so many that it makes me wince, I watched a child on what I think was Live & Kicking, sitting in a bath full of baked beans. He was raising money for Children in Need, and I immediately wanted to do the same. I didn’t even like beans that much, but the idea of immersing myself in sauce-soaked haricot beans, live on TV, to raise money for charity gave me an altruistic boner.
My parents had no interest in funding my beans-based folly, so I forgot about it and went on with my life, my career in demented fundraising cut short before it could even begin. Cut to 2013, and the missus has raised over £100 for Birmingham Dogs’ Home just by cutting out cider for a month. A good cause, a decent chunk of change, but too masochistic a fundraiser for my liking. Inspired to do something for a charity, but lacking the physical and mental capabilities to perform an actual marathon (the type with the running, and the training, and the exercise, and oh dear, I have broken out into a sweat and my heart is beating like mad just thinking about the idea of moving more than I have to), I tried to come up with a way I could raise money with a minimum amount of physical effort.
I drew a blank. I moved on with my life.
A few months back, I was browsing Twitter, when fellow Contributoria writer Clare Speak posted a link about the story of Mike, a 35 year old man from London, who called into LBC and told a harrowing story about his problem feeding himself. It shook me up, it scared me, it depressed me, but most of all, it really made me fucking angry. I couldn’t believe someone could be living like this in England in 2014.
Then it hit me. An image immediately popped into my head. It was of that little boy in a bath full of baked beans. After making a mental note to tell a doctor about these images, I decide that I’m going to do something to either help this guy, or help people like him. I put out a call on Twitter, I talk to Clare and promise to do something to raise some money. Her reaction is positive, the reaction of friends and family is positive, so I go to work trying to think of something.
I know for a fact that nobody wants to see me in a bath, covered in beans or anything else, so I rack my brains trying to come up with an idea. I get nothing. I take a break from fundraising brainstorming and dick around on YouTube. I start watching some old AGDQ speed running videos. A quick explanation of speed running, before we go on. There is a group of people, mostly men, mostly American, who have seemingly infinite amounts of free time and little-to-no social lives. They play video games inside out and dissect them online. They learn all the nooks and crannies, they learn all the bugs and glitches, even going so far as to examine the actual coding of some games, in order to complete them as fast as humanly possible.
Twice a year, these gaming gods get together and have a week-long marathon, showing off their skills and tricks, completing dozens and dozens of games in record times and, if you’re a particular type of nerd, it is both fascinating and exhilarating to watch. They not only show off these insane skills, but also raise millions of dollars for charity while doing it.
Now, I know I couldn’t possibly match these feats. I pretty much have the same levels of free time and antisocial tendencies, but I just don’t have the concentration, reflex times, or ability that it takes to break and master these games. A video game marathon for charity, though? That sounds like it’d be right up my street. I go with 24 hours, because it seems like a nice, marketable number. I pick the Metal Gear Solid games, one through three, because I know that they contain a lot of cut-scenes, which will afford me a chance to take the odd break, lest I pass out.
I put the call out to my friend Lisa, who is all about Metal Gear Solid and raising money. We pick the charity Crisis, and aim for £240, £10 per hour. Now it’s time to put the word out. People seem interested in the idea, with some expressing disbelief that I’ll be able to do it. I share their disbelief, but I’m planning on trying to nap at some point and hand control over Lisa, so I’m confident we can do it.
Friends donate, family donate, and we almost hit £100 before we’ve even begun. There’s just one small problem — I am horribly ill. I have a terrible cough, a thumping headache and playing a video game, even if it’s my favourite series, for 24 hours is the last thing I want to do. I can’t back out, though, as plans have been made. There’s going to be a party atmosphere. People are bringing food and drink, there’s going to be homemade cake, endless beer, crisps, sweets, it’s going to be amazing!
We start at 3pm with Metal Gear Solid, the 1998 classic. If you’ve not played it before, it’s basically a spy techno-thriller, but with supernatural elements and long cut scenes with brilliantly awful voice acting and increasingly ridiculous plot twists.
I haven’t got much sleep beforehand and I am coughing bits and pieces of my lungs up, but the game gets off to a good start. I start off with just my housemate Dale for support, but after a few hours the missus has joined me and the first guests arrive. They have brought delicious snacks, but Lisa isn’t here yet, so I can’t really indulge. My lungs are making noises a lung should never make, but I push through and get past the first few bosses.
At the same time, I’m trying to raise funds through Twitter and Facebook. It’s going okay, but not brilliantly. I know things would probably be better if we were streaming the game live, but I had neither the time, money or hardware to do so. Pithy updates through Twitter would have to do.
Lisa finally arrives and she takes over for a bit, and I finally get to eat. I ram painkillers and flu pills down my throat, down coffee and take back control. Time-wise we’re doing okay, we’re on track to finish all three games within 24 hours, but then disaster strikes.
I’m not the best in the world at these games. They’re my favourite games, but I’ve by no means mastered them. A few of the bosses have caused me some trouble, but now we’re at Vulcan Raven. Vulcan Raven is a big muscly guy, kind of like a bald Arnold Schwarzenegger, armed with an M61 Vulcan cannon (the sort of Gatling guns they stick on the side of aircraft) and a bad attitude. I know this boss is difficult, but I am messing up so many times. My illness, combined with the pressure of six people watching me play, isn’t helping and I continue to mess up. I briefly consider quitting, then realise that would be terribly embarrassing and a huge waste of people’s time and money, so I gently place the controller down and gather my thoughts.
This is going to be okay, I think. Just work out a plan of attack, stop making so many stupid mistakes and you can do this. The crowd go wild in support, or as wild as a bunch of people sitting on a couch watching an idiot play a 16-year-old game can get. I crack my knuckles and go to work.
I blow myself up with a mine.
There is laughter, there is support, then there is more laughter, but eventually I manage to beat him. A glorious feeling of relief fills the room, the tension of me repeatedly losing and getting stupidly angry finally dissipates and I move on to the end of the game.
Or I try to, at least. The second-to-last boss is giving me trouble. Try as I might, I keep dying. I again consider quitting, moving on to the next game, but I know that would be cheating. I also know that I’m eating up so much time, the game should’ve been over by now, but I cannot beat this bloody boss. People are starting to tease me now, and rightfully so, but I start taking it personally. The missus gently and politely explains that I’m acting a bit silly, so I put the controller down, take a few moments, and compose myself.
This is going to be okay, I insist. Just work out a plan of blah blah blah, stop making so many stupid yeah yeah yeahs, and you can do this.
I blow myself up with a grenade.
More laughter, slightly less support now, as I can feel I’m losing the crowd a bit. I suck it up, change my tactics and mercifully manage to beat the boss. The rest of the game is a breeze and it’s about 10pm when we start the second game.
Metal Gear Solid 2 is famous for having some excruciatingly long cut scenes, which I take advantage of by finally popping to the loo and then having some dinner. The food is cold, but it’s amazing and I watch Lisa go through the first chapter. She’s making a few mistakes, but she’s not as bad as she insists and eventually hands me the controller, because she’s worried about losing too much time.
The game is quite dull and I’m starting to lose some of the crowd. Some people start leaving around 1am, but Lisa is still here. We get about halfway through the game when something terrible happens. Raiden, the main character, has a delightful little cartwheel. I use it all the time. I especially like to make him cartwheel down stairs, because he always trips, and it is hilarious. I’ve just beaten a particularly annoying boss and celebrate by throwing poor Raiden down some steps. There’s an odd sound, it sounds like Raiden has fallen in the water. In this area of the game, falling in water is instant death. However, he hasn’t died; it is impossible for him to fall in water at this point in fact, - Raiden has just vanished from the screen.
I’ve been playing this game for more than 10 years and this is the first potentially game-breaking glitch I’ve ever seen. I can’t reload because I haven’t been saving the game because I want to save as much time as I can. I walk left and right, but Raiden is nowhere to be seen. The camera is following the phantom Raiden as if he was still there. I enter first-person mode. Suddenly the screen just turns green and there’s a horrific glitched version of Raiden’s hand and gun on screen.
This is insane. I burst out laughing, so does Lisa. I am halfway through the game and I’m going to have to restart because I have broken the game. I use the in-game radio to call people, but it doesn’t work. The game thinks I’m dead, so of course it doesn’t work. I try shooting, running, cartwheeling, all to no avail.
I can’t restart. I don’t have the energy to. I do the only thing I can and save the game, hoping that doesn’t corrupt anything, or further break the game. At this point, though, who really cares? I save, leave the phantom Raiden and restart the PS3.
The time between restarting the PS3 and reloading the game feels like a lifetime. I don’t know what to expect when I come back. Luckily, the gaming gods are smiling on me, and the game is back to normal. Raiden is there. I tell Lisa I’m going to try cartwheeling down the stairs again, and she cries out in dismay. I do it anyway, there’s no way it can happen twice.
I blow myself up with a mine.
No, not really. Everything is fine. We manage to power through the rest of the game. During the interminable cut scenes I ask for support on Reddit and Twitter and I’m surprised when I actually get it. Strangers and Twitter people I barely know are chucking £10 donations my way. We reach the end of Metal Gear Solid 2 and Lisa finally gives up. She can’t take it any more, she needs to go home. I don’t blame her. I do tease her, but ultimately I don’t blame her.
I start Metal Gear Solid 3 at about 4am and I now have only the missus for company. She is normally dead at this hour, but she’s wonderful and keeps supporting me in this ridiculous endeavour. A few hours in, though, and she admits defeat.
“Just fake it,” she says, telling me to come to bed.
It is tempting, but I feel like I’d be doing something wrong, somehow. People have donated money, it’s guaranteed to go to Crisis, but I’d still feel like a bad person if I didn’t finish this. She leaves me, telling me I’m an idiot, but a good idiot, and I keep going through the Russian jungles of Metal Gear Solid 3.
It’s hard. As sunlight starts coming through the curtains, I know there’s still a large chunk of game to play. Fatigue and illness is making my lacklustre skills even crappier. I put out a pity Facebook message, asking for cake and sympathy. At about 8am, there’s a knock at the door. It’s quite loud and shakes me out of my Metal Gear haze. I put down the controller, making sure to activate another one of the insanely long cut scenes, and it’s our friend Jo-ann at the door. She thrusts a tin box at me. It’s warm.
“Hello!” she says, far too cheerful for my liking.
I grunt something in reply; I doubt it was English.
“I brought cake.”
I feel the heat through the box. I almost cry in gratitude and joy, I’m feeling so many emotions at the moment, but I manage to filter them all down into another English-like grunt.
She joins me for a while, as I get to a part of the game that I am awful at. I keep failing, over and over again, to steal a guy’s uniform so I can impersonate an officer. This looks like the weirdest, dumbest game in the world and I keep thinking this is stupid, I should quit and go to bed, but the warm tin keeps me going. I finally get the stupid uniform and devour some cake. It’s so good. So warm. So sticky, and sweet, and delicious. The sugar boost reinvigorates me and I know that I can do this.
The final few hours of the game are a blur. I don’t remember much of it. I remember the final boss being quite tricky and at this point my housemate and missus have got up again, all fresh and happy and awake. I hate them. Then my housemate donates a large sum of money and I feel a bit better. By the time the game is over, I’ve managed to raise £190. I finish the marathon about 30 minutes earlier, so I start another game in the series, just to pass the 24-hour mark.
I am called an idiot, but I ignore them, my eyes barely managing to stay open. I look at my stopwatch app, willing the minutes to move faster and faster, but if anything, they seem to be going slower. The missus gets some bacon frying as a congratulatory reward and I finally hit 24 hours.
Illness, hunger and fatigue hit me like a badly placed mine. I devour the sandwich, put out a few more tweets, then slowly crawl up the stairs. I have never been so tired. I stick on the news, but I’m half asleep by the time my head hits the pillow.
I raised £195 for charity by sitting on my arse for 24 hours and there wasn’t a single wasted baked bean. Take that, kid.