Mario Marathon 6: Short on time, big on donations

Everyone has something in their life that gives them a moment of instant bliss. For some it’s the sound of a baby laughing, while for others it could be the smell of fresh rain. For me, it’s the sight of grown men and women making fools of themselves over the internet.

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Mario Marathon 6 just wrapped up this morning — which is a surprise to anyone that’s a long-time veteran of the event. In most cases, the Mariothon takes a week, but this year it was trimmed down to a weekend. While it is a bit sad that the shenanigans had to stop early, it’s also understandable: After all, these people have lives to tend to and responsibilities that get harder and harder to set aside each year. But does roughly half the time that mean it was half as entertaining?

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If you actually didn’t know the answer to that, you’re probably not very well-versed on Mario Marathon. Come, my dear reader, allow me to spin you a yarn about children in need, deep pockets, and a bunch of yahoos with too many webcams at their disposal.

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To properly understand Mario Marathon, one must first understand Child’s Play Charity.

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Back in 2003, news media outlets had been getting more and more heavy-handed in their accusations that video games (and by extension, gamers themselves) were violent, unsociable, and dangerous time bombs just waiting to hurt someone. When an article arose that characterized games as little more than murder training sims, the gloves were officially off. Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the authors of the webcomic Penny Arcade, decided to start a charity to help sick children — specifically by providing video games to children’s hospitals, along with books and other toys.

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Krahulik and Holkins posted their intentions on the website in late November of that year. With the holidays right around the corner and a mass of gamers eager to help out, the fledgling charity raised $250,000 dollars within its first month. Needless to say, Child’s Play Charity quickly caught the attention of many gaming critics — including the author of the article that incited its creation, who praised the effort in his response.

In the decade since that time, Child’s Play Charity has raised nearly $20,000,000 in funds and gaming supplies, created a global network of support to children’s hospitals, and enriched the lives of countless of people around the world. In addition, it has highlighted the positive benefits of playing video games and illustrated that gamers can be just as kind as any other sort of hobbyist.

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One of the biggest ways in which Child’s Play Charity receives donations is through gaming marathons. These marathons are not orchestrated by Child’s Play themselves, but rather, by regular gamers that just want to help out, thus demonstrating the charity’s tagline of, “Gamers Giving Back.” Mario Marathon is one of those marathons, and has become a major yearly event since it started in 2008. It is organized by Brian and Shanna Brinegar and based in Indianapolis, IN (formerly Lafayette).

At its inception, Mario Marathon was never anticipated to become such a cornerstone of the gaming community. Gaming marathons weren’t all that common at the time (the only other major marathon back then was Desert Bus for Hope), and when asked why he started it, Brian replies, “It looked like fun.” The original Mario Marathon was little more than Brian and two of his friends sitting around and playing Mario games non-stop for a small online audience, but even then, they managed to surpass their original goal of $10,000.

Since the first year was a surprising success, Brian decided to do it again the next year, this time with advanced planning for a gaming schedule, community events, and most importantly, publicity. The Brinegar family also reached out to their friends and workmates to help put on the event, forming the first cohesive version of the Mario Marathon team. Like the first year, the second year exceeded all expectations and raised nearly three times as much as the original event.

Year three is when the Mario Marathon really began to skyrocket into the gaming mainstream. With word-of-mouth on their side, the team was able to reach out to more and more communities and news outlets to spread word of the endeavor, and their efforts were greatly rewarded with record-breaking viewer and donation numbers. By the end of the week, Mario Marathon 3 had more than doubled the proceeds of the first two years combined, raking in a massive $82k for Child’s Play Charity.

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(from left to right)
Jed Johnson, Sundeep Rao, Ben Cotton, Brian Brinegar, and John Groth
bid farewell during the Mario Marathon 3 finale in 2010.

Interestingly enough, MM4 and MM5 drew in nearly identical proceeds, with the former raising $112,675 and the latter pulling $112,808. It seemed that Mario Marathon had finally hit its stride and could consistently hit the ground running. By now, the team had more or less solidified, the veteran fans were coming back every year (and drawing in more viewers from their personal networks), and the marathon had become well-known enough that news outlets would regularly report on it.

With that in mind, the decision to truncate Mario Marathon 6 into a single weekend surprised many of its fans. While it has become common in the last few years for marathons to limit themselves to 72 hours, the week-long extravaganza of Mario Marathon has become such an ingrained event in the hearts of its followers that many were shocked and disappointed, and feared that it would lack the same magic as its previous incarnations.

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Despite its short time frame, Mario Marathon 6 was able to raise $67,268 in less than half of its regularly scheduled time. This means that, had the marathon lasted for a full week and the same pace been kept, the team could have potentially raised $150,000. Safe to say, the shorter length did not detract at all from Mario Marathon’s ability to excite, entertain, and most importantly, raise funds. It simply meant that every single moment needed to be utilized that much more.

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This is what it takes to raise money for sick children, folks. Take note.

In addition to a new set (since the Brinegar family recently moved) and a new game on the roster, the marathon managed to bring several new memes to its fanbase. Every year, Mario Marathon manages to come up with something new and exciting to keep the hijinks fresh and interesting, and this year was no exception. MM6 employed many of its tried and true methods of creating a relationship with its viewers to create in-jokes. The new “invisibility cloak,” the Shake Weight Challenge, and new songs for the team to dance to were enough in and of themselves to keep the interwebs donating, but there was one especially significant milestone this year: The children.

When you get down to it, Mario Marathon has always been about children. It’s a vessel to fund a charity whose sole purpose is to make life a bit easier to live for kids that are facing a bad situation. But there’s more to it in this case; Mario Marathon veterans have also been watching children grow and learn through the marathon itself. Over the years, the members of the MM team have had children, and those children have made several appearances directly on the stream. (I even distinctly recall a “baby cam” during MM2 in which we watched two of the new babies play together.) Mario Marathon 6 was overrun with the team members’ children, some of which the audience had never met until this year.

There was one child, however, that many of us have known as long as we’ve known Mario Marathon itself.

As noted earlier, Brian and Shanna Brinegar organize and host the marathon each year. This has allowed the audience to catch many glimpses of the couple’s life, including the raising of their son, Caden. Over the course of MM history, its followers have watched Caden grow, dating all the way back to Shanna’s pregnancy in MM1. The veterans have always had a soft spot for Caden’s cameos in the marathon, which is why this year was so significant for those of us that have been around since the beginning.

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Caden Brinegar follows in Brian and Shanna’s footsteps by holding down the fort at Mario Marathon 6 HQ.

Mario Marathon 6 marks the first year that Caden has personally participated in the marathon itself. While he’s often sat in on marathon sessions and interacted with the team (and, on occasion, the internet), Caden had never actually played a Mario game on-screen during an official Mario Marathon stream. This all changed yesterday as the team moved on to New Super Mario Bros U. Caden jumped straight into the action and played several levels without any help from the adults — even managing the stream alone at one point, as shown in the image above. The audience was overjoyed at Caden’s participation, and the cheer meter could barely keep up with the number of clicks the viewers submitted.

What makes the image so iconic is that, when you get down to it, this is what Mario Marathon and Child’s Play are all about. The ultimate goal at the end of all of these efforts is to provide children with an opportunity to step outside of their own world and explore a new one, where they don’t have to face any of the real-life problems that surround them every day. Being in the hospital for even a short time can be very scary for a child, and the ability to leave that behind for a moment can really do wonders for that child’s mental state. Caden is no different from the boys and girls going through chemo therapy or having their tonsils removed, and his participation serves as a vivid reminder of what we’re all working toward. The image of a little boy, the son of the event’s organizers, donning the Mario cap and continuing the marathon himself to help improve the lives of other children is a heart-warming and powerful image, and brings it all full circle.

Either that, or it might just be the fact that Caden strikes an uncanny resemblance to baby Mario from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island.

As of 11:00 AM EST, Child’s Play Charity has received over $415,600 in donations through the efforts of Mario Marathon over the last six years. Brian claims that each year is the “last year” of the marathon, but that sentiment rarely survives for more than a few weeks. One can only hope that we’ll continue to see new Mariothons for years to come. Even if Brian really does make good on his assertion that he won’t run any more fund raisers, we never know. I’d still hold out to see whether or not Caden puts on Mario Marathon himself, along with the rest of the MM team babies.

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Mario, Super Mario Bros, and all related games, characters, and other things I can’t think to list are © Nintendo. Mario Marathon is NOT officially affiliated with Nintendo, although Nintendo is aware of them and doesn’t seem to mind. I myself am friends with the Mario Marathon team, but sadly am not part of it, so all opinions in this article are only my own and do not speak on their behalf.

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About Leedzie

Leda "Leedzie" Clark is a writer and game designer with a sharp eye for detail and a kooky sense of humor. She's been a nerd as long as she can remember, and always seems to notice the wrong thing first in any given situation.

Posted on June 24, 2013, in Feature Articles, Game Characters, Journalism, News, Portfolio, Retro Games, Video Games and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Very nice article. I liked it a lot.

  2. Great article. I really hope this isn’t the last year for Mario Marathon. It wouldn’t be summer without MM.

  3. I couldn’t have said my feelings about the Marathon better myself! Excellent write-up!

  4. I’d rather have them raise money for a cause that actually treats sick children to be honest.

  5. Same as previous replies, fantastic article. It pretty much sums up my feelings for Mario Marathon as a whole, in a way I could never really express. I’m happy that it’s become such a cornerstone year after year.

  6. I am glad to be one of the visitors on this outstanding web site (:, thanks for putting up.

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