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Gamers play Mario for charity — and a long, long time

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The Mario Marathon brothers

It might not be as famous as the Boston Marathon, but a marathon taking place in the Mushroom Kingdom sounds like a lot more fun.

A group of civic-minded -- and seriously dedicated -- Nintendo fans have kicked off Mario Marathon 4, a fund-raising effort for the Child's Play Charity, which provides hospitalized children with toys and games.

Started in 2008, the annual event (which is broadcast live online) features a group of gamers who attempt to complete a series of levels from Nintendo's popular Super Mario games.

Sounds easy, right? Of course, there's a twist: As donations increase, so do the number of levels the group has to complete -- and they don't stop until all of the levels are beaten or the contributions stop.

In 2010, that meant a whopping 108-hour play session that ultimately included everything from raffles to celebrity call-ins. There's no guessing how long this year's marathon will last.

As the event has grown into something of an online phenomenon, it's seen a substantial boost in its earning power. The first three marathons raised more than $125,000 for the charity. This year, in just over two hours of play, the group had already raised more than $22,000.

The players are a group of thirty-somethings who call Lafayette, Indiana home. The game play takes place in a small, crowded room decorated with all sorts of Mario flair. And the players admit that they're hardly experts at the games, though they're better than they used to be.

They are, however, a heck of a lot of fun to watch, breaking out into dance and song without warning and obviously having fun as they help their chosen cause. And as exhaustion begins to set in, things often take a surreal turn. And the online audience eats it up.

"The support we've seen this year is unreal," says coordinator Brian Brinegar. "Gamers share this common childhood experience playing Mario. The marathon lets us recreate that experience and leverage Child's Play to share it with thousands of kids who are spending part of their childhood in a hospital."

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