By CHARLES FRANCIS MORAN VI
If gamer is the word we are all going to be stuck with, then fine. I prefer gamer to geek or nerd. So gamer is the name of the group, a group of like minded people, a culture, even. Within all cultures there will always be those that stand out. Even the most primitive cultures have individuals who would rise above the others and set an example of what to do and where to go. Some of those people were called shaman or chief, others were named Johnny Appleseed or George S. Patton. Despite their fantastic tales and the images that represent them, these folk heroes are still just men. Men with hands, hands that held tools. But their stories are told and told again.
Johnny “WiNGSPANTT” T is a man and he has a story about a wrench and how he was able to raise $30,000 with it.
I met with Johnny on a rainy Tuesday in late August at the Omega Diner in North Brunswick, New Jersey. A New Jersey resident, Johnny had recently finished a fundraiser for the charity known as Childs Play. Child’s Play was founded by the creators of the online comic Penny Arcade, with a goal of not only bringing toys and games to kids in hospitals, but also to elevate the public image of gaming in general. By using a unique in-game item from Team Fortress 2, Johnny was able to raise just over $30,000 in two months time. I reached out to Johnny to ask him a few questions about the charity, Team Fortress 2 and being a gamer culture folk hero.
Charles Francis Moran VI: How many hats do you have, what is your favorite map, and what is your favorite class?
Johnny “WiNGSPANTT” T: I have only two hats (and I have had the game since beta), I have always liked Badwater and I play as a Spy.
CFMVI: Australia seems to have really picked up on the story. I guess since Team Fortress has such a strange strong connection to Australia.
JWT: [laughs] I really don’t know anything about Australia and don’t know anyone there.
CFMVI: You have a Golden Wrench. That’s impressive.
JWT: It is as impressive as dumb luck is concerned.
CFMVI: So it was just dumb luck?
JWT: Only dumb luck, I didn’t have any collusion with the hackers.
“I remember my wife and I had gotten back from dinner somewhere,” he recalls. He used the word chores to describe what he was putting off in order to play a few short rounds of Team Fortress 2. I understand chores and I understand putting them off. After about 29 minutes of putting off chores Johnny decided he would craft before he logged off the server (In short, crafting is the combining of randomly dropped TF2 game items, such as hats, weapons, or accessories to create other randomly dropped game items such as hats, items, or accessories). Once Johnny crafted, a broadcast went out to all TF2 players playing world wide: “WiNGSPANTT has found Golden Wrench no. 31!” Johnny then told his wife he would need about 20 more minutes before those chores were going to be tended to because he had become the 31st player to receive the very rare and much coveted Golden Wrench as part of the Engineer Update from earlier this summer.
What exactly is the Golden Wrench? It is the pretty much like the regular version of the Wrench except it is clad in gold. The Wrench is both the Engineer class character’s tool (predictably, it fixes the stuff he builds) and also his melee weapon. However, there is one thing that the Golden Wrench does which its steely twin does not: a victim, upon being struck by Golden Wrench, will turn into a solid gold statue of himself.
There is something very powerful about turning your enemies to gold.
Upon seeing the announcement, all the players on the server stopped playing and wanted to see the Golden Wrench. Soon, players were asking to have Johnny hit them with the wrench so they could screen cap themselves as a golden statue. The ugly truth started to come out when people began to offer money for Steam accounts with the Golden Wrench or even just hacking accounts to maliciously attempt to steal or destroy them.
As Johnny slept he would hear the clamoring of players crying out, “Kill me with the Wrench!” After the first few days, having the special weapon took its toll. “People wanted to see themselves after I killed them. I didn’t want to be part of that anymore,” said Johnny.
Eventually, Johnny realized there was only one thing he could do to return his life back to normal. Johnny had to destroy Golden Wrench #31 by crafting with it.
Having amassed a small audience just for being a Golden Wrench owner, Johnny turned to the Team Fortress community for help and posted on the official forums, “Do you think that if I publicize an event, whereby I take donations for a period of time, and at the end I destroy my wrench and give the donations to a charity, anyone would participate?”
Of course, the internet burped in his face with the first post: “do it noob, do it.”
Johnny did just that and decided he would donate the proceeds of whatever money raised to the ChildPlay.com charity. After a few weeks, the story started to circulate amongst the Team Fortress community that someone was going to destroy a unique item in-game for charity.
“I had never run any kind of fund raiser, so I had no idea on how to approach this, other than copy the NPR approach to it,” said Johnny. “Very low on the dial and constantly interrupting programming.”
I became aware of Johnny’s intentions towards the end of July and I was drawn to underground folk hero quality of his story. On August 4th the story becomes much more real when Johnny’s efforts were mentioned on the Team Fortress blog. Up until that point the company had remained mum on their feelings about what Johnny was doing.
CFMVI: Were the people from Valve responsive to you?
JWT: When I first set up the charity, I sent one email to see what would happen and see if I could get support. I got an email back from Robin Walker that said basically, ‘good luck.’ But at the same time that doesn’t mean they are hostile to it. It had been two or three weeks before the blog post and I didn’t know what their response was going to be. Maybe they would be pissed, I didn’t know.
Robin Walker co-wrote the original Team Fortress mod for Quake and has been employed by Valve since they acquired the company that was Team Fortress Software.
CFMVI: But then after the August 4th blog post on the official Team Fortress site, what happened?
JWT: Before the blog post we might get twenty donations a day. We had about six thousand dollars raised by the morning of the blog post. By the next morning, we had close to nineteen thousand dollars. Of course, they didn’t warm me of their blog post, so my website crashed. I had no clue what was going on. I got on my computer and suddenly I had hundreds of emails.”
August 11th had a posting on Johnny’s website, Top Tier Tactics, stating that he would be on vacation until the 22nd of the month.
JWT: Once it started getting big, I started getting nervous. I was going on this planned road trip vacation…I don’t have a smart phone or anything so only every few days I was able to get online and check emails.
CFMVI: A lot more people were getting excited about this and it really started to gain some steam.
JWT: [laughs] Steam…
CFMVI: So it started off with just you.
JWT: Yes, just me. When I just did it, I thought I would get like 300 bucks, 500 at the most. What can I do to get more people to donate? I figured I could start a Steam group.
With that Steam group, Johnny was able to make a place for people to go and see the progress of the charity. Anyone that donated 10 dollars or more got their name posted. From there Johnny used the group as a springboard into attempting to recruit more Golden Wrench owners into joining his cause.
Johnny went through the list of Golden Wrench owners and got in touch with as many recipients as he could and asked them to join his cause. Not an easy task as Team Fortress 2 has a worldwide fan base – not everyone speaks English. Still, Johnny was able to secure two Golden Wrench donors from Brazil. By the time of the charity closing he had gotten the support of 12 other players willing to destroy their Golden Wrench.
CFMVI: What does your wife think about all this Golden Wrench business?
JWT: She has been very supportive of the whole thing. It has pretty much destroyed my personal life in terms of how much free time I have. I would manually update the page, and add people to the Steam group.
CFMVI: So what server are you going to be doing this on?
JWT: Barrons Pub server. I asked them first when I started it. I told them I was going to run this event, and if I get 8 people to donate can we run it on this server? They were like sure, whatever. Now I have a problem because you can only put 32 people on a server at a time. With thirteen spaces taken up with players that have wrenches, that only leaves 19 spaces for people to be on the server. We might be doing this now on two servers.”
CFMVI: Is there going to be any pomp and circumstance before the crafting?
JWT: We will probably just play a couple of rounds of melee combat, let everyone get their last screen caps in and then just do it.
CFMVI: You know it would be really cool if they put you into the Team Fortress lore.
JWT: The blog post did say the Administrator would not be pleased. Who knows.
CFMVI: Well, Good luck, and thank you.
On August 31st, Johnny “WiNGSPANTT” Twill smelt his Golden Wrench in the name of charity. We hope to hear from Johnny again some time soon, but in the meantime please check out his site for some more details on the Golden Wrench charity, instructional videos on the tactics of Street Fighter 4 and tips on improving your game as a Spy in Team Fortress 2.
Steam users should check out the Golden Charity Steam group.
Also, Unwinnable heartily endorses the Child’s Play Charity.