For Brett Claywell, inspiration for a life-changing movement crystallized in – of all things – a hastily-scrawled doodle six years ago.
“I drew (the logo) on a napkin back in, like, 2006 – the word stiks. Normally, you don’t say, hey, buddy, do you want to play a video game? You say, hey man, ya wanna go get on the sticks?” Claywell said. “The controllers have changed, but it all goes back to that same little Atari (joystick) with the one button. That’s where STiKS Gaming got started.”
From that vision, Claywell and co-founder Michael Wasserman founded STiKS and began charting their simple, but lofty mission: to encourage the $70 billion video game industry – as well as its constantly expanding community of gamers – to unite for a cause.
“It’s the largest entertainment industry in the world and there really isn’t a philanthropic arm to that. Knowing our connection to the celebrity world and Hollywood and our expertise in a lot of different areas, it felt more like we didn’t create this company – it felt like this company chose us,” Claywell said.
However, Claywell didn’t grow up in North Carolina dreaming of being a philanthropist – his career started in front of the camera, including extended stints in television on shows like “One Tree Hill” and “One Life to Live.”
But the seed of what would become his real passion project began even before his impromptu drawing in 2006 – back as a kid with his true first love.
“In 1984, when the Nintendo (NES) came out, it changed my life,” Claywell said.
Wasserman, who worked with Claywell on the 2007 film “The Final Season,” had a similar childhood infatuation with the world of gaming.
“My parents got us an Atari 2600 with the little cartridges that you’d stick in. And my friends got a Colecovision and we used to play ‘Snafu’ all the time. That’s when I really got addicted to gaming, as a kid,” Wasserman said.
When the two bonded as adults over their mutual love of gaming, the idea for STiKS began to take root.
“I’d been looking into ways to raise money for charity for a long time,” Wasserman said. “We thought it would be awesome if we could play games and raise money for charity at the same time. It was such a cool idea to us. We had to figure out a way to do it.”
“We realized that there was a way to create a connection between celebrities and their fans for a bigger purpose,” Claywell said.
The pair threw their idea into overdrive earlier this year. STiKS organized the (RED)RUSH video game tournament in June dedicated to raising money and awareness in the campaign against AIDS. The event stretched from Hollywood to the floors of the annual E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo and featured celebrities like comedian Wayne Brady, “Lost” actor Jorge Garcia and American soccer star Coby Jones.
STiKS struck again in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, partnering with Artists for Peace and Justice to help raise money to build schools to serve the poorest areas of Haiti. Also in September, STIKS hosted their Celebrity Gaming Challenge for Charity in Los Angeles as UFC champion and actor Quinton “Rampage” Jackson won a $10,000 prize for his selected charity Grassroot Soccer. The event brought out celebrity gamers including rapper Snoop Lion, actor Zac Effron and “Captain America” himself Chris Evans.
“Gaming is not this stereotype that people envision. Gaming is the best combination of technology and ingenuity and creativity and art and science and math all into an entertainment model that literally spans all ages. We’re trying to change the stigma that gaming separates people – gaming actually unites people,” Claywell said.
With their inaugural STiKS Arcade Charity Gaming Gala set for Dec. 6 in Los Angeles, Claywell and Wasserman have their sights set on expanding the charity’s reach, allowing for more donations to more needy organizations making a difference.
“We’re trying to use (gaming) to bring the whole world together to raise money for worthy causes and to make the world a better place. Don’t just pick up a controller and play a game – have a purpose to it and try to unite people behind a bigger purpose,” Claywell said.