I have been an avid videogamer for about as long as I can remember, having started gaming when I was about eight years old.

More than 20 years later, the hobby is still with me. For me, it’s sort of a constant reminder of that Christmas morning as a kid, when my mom surprised my brother and I with a Nintendo Entertainment System. As a single mother raising four children, the gift was a lavish one that we could only dream about. But my mom, strong-willed as she is, made it a reality.

I often hear people refer to videogames as if they are merely children’s playthings, but the reality is that the business rakes in billions of dollars in revenue every year, $25.1 billion in 2010 alone, putting it on par with the motion picture industry. More importantly, the average game player is 37 years old, and has been playing games for about 12 years, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Another fun fact? Females make up nearly half of the gaming demographic, with a large portion of the game-playing population made up of women over the age of 18.

This weekend, my family and I sought to show that videogames can do more than provide fodder for those who choose to see the industry in a negative light. We partnered with Extra Life, an organization founded in 2008 to honor the memory of a young girl, Victoria Enmon, who passed away after a long fight with cancer. During her stays in the hospital for treatment, gamers would send video games and gifts to Victoria to keep her spirits up. Following her death in 2008, Extra Life was born to raise money for the Houston-based Texas Children’s Hospital, where the young girl was treated for years prior to her passing.

This year, however, gamers were allowed to join Extra Life for a 24-hour videogame marathon in order to raise money for their own local hospitals. The only catch is the hospitals had to be part of the Children’s Miracle Network. I opted for Driscoll Children’s Hospital.

After approaching two of my cousins about the possibility of partnering up for the Oct. 15 event less than three weeks ago, we began our fundraising endeavors to meet the $1,000 goal I had set for us as a team.

It seemed a relatively easy task to my naïve mind — ask people if they’d like to sponsor us for at least $1 per hour, similar to marathoners who get sponsored per mile, and any amount would be accepted.

Needless to say, I have newfound respect for people who do this on a daily basis. It takes a special kind of individual to keep pressing forward for their cause after getting no response or negative answers to their requests for donations. I had a few people tell me they weren’t going to pay money for somebody to sit on their keister and play videogames, while others just politely declined.

All the while, the fundraising mark on my page sat at “$0” for the better part of that first week, despite my initial barrage of emails, phone calls and Facebook postings.

My older brother, Robert, was actually our first donor. Soon after, friends, acquaintances and other relatives began to jump into the mix. Before long, I surpassed the personal goal of $500 I had set for myself when I first signed up for the Extra Life event.

On Friday, Team Duel Shock surpassed the $1,000 mark, raising $1,021. Last minute donations the day of our event pushed that total over $1,100.

It goes without saying that I was simply stunned to see that figure during Hour 16 of our 24-hour gaming marathon, or “gameathon,” as I’ve begun to call it.

The event itself was memorable in and of itself — I got to spend a full day doing something I love, with family members who have been there for me through some of my darkest days. My legs are still sore from the 90 minutes I played Kinect Adventures on the Xbox 360, which showed me just how out of shape I really am.

But my cousins and I also played board games, which were allowed by the rules of the event, and I got destroyed in some pretty epic Checkers matches by my cousin, Josh. By 6 a.m., though, I had hit the wall in terms of exhaustion and took a break from my Playstation 3. But taking a few minutes to myself gave me time to think about what we as a team were doing that night, and who we were doing it for.

I was born at Driscoll Children’s Hospital three months premature, and weighed only 2 pounds, 6 ounces at birth. Needless to say, for anyone who’s seen or knows me, I’ve put on quite a bit of extra mass in both the height and weight department since then.

But, after I was born, I spent the first few weeks of my life in an incubator, with the hospital’s smallest diaper covering nearly half of my body. I returned there often during later years, as my tiny body struggled with bronchitis and other complications common with premature infants. My mom still mentions how she didn’t sleep a full night during the first four years of my life, but I rarely ever find the words to thank her for the patience or resolve she showed as a parent.

Saturday’s event reminded me that there are a number of kids or families with similar stories, some even more difficult I’m sure, as pediatric cancer seems to be affecting more and more young people every year. Driscoll Children’s Hospital helps those who need it most, and I was glad to help repay the kindness they showed me when I was in desperate need of it.

As 9 a.m. rolled around, and the 24-hour gameathon officially ended, I was sad that it was finally over. But there was a burning ember inside my mind that reminded me that Extra Life holds this event annually. Plus, the news emerged that Extra Life as an organization had cleared $1 million for the first time in its short history, which made me ecstatic that our team had played a role in it all.

Next year, I hope to have more people involved, along with a larger goal. After all, we’re always telling kids to dream big — so why not give the youth fighting illness the best chance to do just that?

Tim Olmeda is the Managing Editor for the?Record Star. Readers may contact him at tim.olmeda@recordstar.com.