Rikki Cabler, who also goes by Rik, is a family warrior by day and live streaming MechWarrior by night. Earlier this month, he also proved to be a hero for the Autism Science Foundation in honor of his late father.
About the Mechwarrior
Rik has been living with his girlfriend, Angela Rogers, and her sons, Dakota and Darian, or “D.J.”, for the past three years. This spring, thirteen-year-old D.J. was diagnosed with autism, which had been previously confused with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. The school system was “notorious for misdiagnosis,” Rik said, recalling how D.J. was even thought to be possibly paranoid-schizophrenic.
After seemingly countless tests, questionnaires, and copious crying on Angela’s part, “the puzzle pieces were falling into place,” said Rik. D.J.’s autism is classified as high-functioning; Rik described him as, at the surface, a very hyper child who talks constantly but whose “meltdowns” can be intense.
“His brain’s wired differently,” said Rik. “Any parent out there,” with a child who’s autistic understands the condition is a “test of patience.”
While the diagnosis solved the mystery, life hasn’t improved much. Rik acknowledges there’s an increased awareness and sense of understanding, but it’s more akin to “knowing where the punches are coming from.” And while Rik isn’t Dakota and D.J.’s dad, he has a paternal presence in the household, taking on dad-like duties, such as seeing them off to school (when it’s in session).
This year, July 2nd was the 17th anniversary of Rik’s father’s passing and was going to have the apartment to himself that day and the next. Rather than living it up Home Alone style, Rik decided he wanted to do something to memorialize his father.
Rik’s father, RJC, was a drummer; Rik began following in his kick steps, learning how to play the drums when he was five years old. Rik’s father was playing the drums when he passed away, which is tragic, bittersweet, and apropos for a man Rik described as a great entertainer.
Fast forward to today: Rik also takes after his late father in wanting to ensure his MechWarrior live stream viewers are having a good time. MechWarrior is a video game spin-off of BattleTech, originally a board game (of the role-playing variety) that evolved into a video game. “The game is in open beta,” said Rik. “It’s very playable.”
Rik is a member of No Guts No Galaxy (NGNG), a community for BattleTech and MechWarrior aficionados; his handle: xImpalerx (or “the Impaler”). “It’s not a large community,” said Rik; from the looks of it, NGNG seems a convivial, motley crew albeit a small one.
Rik is one of the highest-scoring MechWarrior players in NGNG, a remarkable feat considering that during the course of a live stream, his attention is divided between racking up points and interacting via chat with viewers. It’s safe to say that the Impaler stands out in NGNG for enthralling viewers with his skillz while ensuring his audience enjoys the show.
Mechwarrior crowdfunding campaign
The RJC Memorial Campaign live stream would be the nexus of honoring his dad’s life, advocating for a cause that hits close to home, and entertaining fellow MechWarriors and MechCommanders in the span of twenty-four hours. Yes, from 7:00 p.m. July 2nd until 7:00 p.m. July 3rd, Rik would stay awake, playing MechWarrior and entertaining viewers for the sake of fundraising for an autism charity.
Jack Bauer, much?
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Rik. He considered raising $2,000 a success. “I would’ve been ecstatic,” he said. Raising $2,500 would’ve had him “blown away” – understandable as the RJC Memorial live stream was the first fundraiser he organized.
Rik had the NGNG founders’ approval to host the live stream on NGNG’s page. He had designated a charity that would receive donations. However, “not a lot was said,” in the two weeks prior to the live stream, Rik said, but the lack of buzz turned out to be “a blessing in disguise.”
Retrospectively, of course.
News of the live stream was posted on the NGNG forum on July 1st, which was then shared on Reddit. Less than 24 hours before the live stream would begin, there was quite a stir on Reddit about the initial charity of choice, namely its view that there’s a correlation between vaccination and autism. It’s a stance that elicits strong responses from either side of the debate and it was reflected in the Reddit discussion thread.
Rik was being strongly encouraged to switch charities and after conferring with Sean Lang, NGNG co-founder, at 4:00 a.m. July 2nd – fifteen hours before the live stream would launch – he decided to support a different charity. Given the challenge of researching and selecting a different organization; finding a way to direct donations to said organization; and updating the promotional efforts of the event, it seemed likely the event would be postponed.
Despite the optimism, Rik showed on the NGNG forum about saving the show, the prospect of the live stream not happening on the day he had planned for so long took an emotional toll on him. This was, after all, supposed to be a tribute to his father on the anniversary of his passing.
Yet before all hope was lost, the Mechwarrior and BattleTech community quickly rallied around the cause. The same folks who had warned against the initial charity suggested others and after Rik did his own due diligence, he chose the Autism Science Foundation (ASF).
Casey Gold, Program Associate at ASF, read the message Rik sent to ASF’s Facebook page at 8:30 a.m. and listened to the voicemail message he’d also left behind. She and Stephanie Millman, ASF’s Science Community Relations Associate, returned Rik’s messages around 10:00 a.m.
After getting the scoop from Rik about his campaign, Stephanie let him know that ASF was on board. “We were more than willing to receive” donations from the campaign, said Stephanie. “We receive donations as small as a dollar [so] two, three thousand [dollars] is pretty sizeable.”
“[He] wasn’t sure how he was going to collect donations, since the event was online,” Stephanie recalled. “I suggested we use CauseVox, and created the page.”
This wasn’t CauseVox’s and ASF’s first rodeo together. “We use CauseVox as an alternate method to allow our donors to submit their contributions (we also receive many donations by postal mail),” said Stephanie.
The AML Bikers for the Autism Science Foundation was a recent campaign for which “CauseVox was the perfect platform for collecting donations, as it allowed individual bikers to create their own fundraising teams for the event,” Stephanie said.
ASF relies on CauseVox for their annual, year-end campaign, Recipe for Hope, which typically raises roughly $30,000. So setting something up for the RJC Memorial campaign was feasible.
By 11:00 a.m. – within an hour – Stephanie emailed Rik the URL of their CauseVox-powered donation page. “It wasn’t difficult on our part” to set up, said Stephanie. “That’s what makes [CauseVox] so useable.”
And very shareable, too. ASF promoted Rik’s campaign on their social media channels, which include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, widening the reach for the campaign. With the link to the donation page and a new beneficiary, the artists at NGNG were able to put together new promotional graphics and apprise the community of the good news that the live stream would go on as planned.
Except, it went even better than Rik had imagined.
Two weeks before: nary a blip on the interwebs; the day before: blew up on social media, particularly on Twitter and Facebook. Out of the woodwork, iconic figures and key players within the BattleTech and MechWarrior: Online communities made appearances during the live stream and/or leveraged their influence to promote the live stream.
For example, Jordan Weisman, the original mastermind behind BattleTech, who was busy with a launch of a new venture, “took the time to kick off the show,” Rik recalled with grateful awe. The single largest donation came from video game developing company Piranha Games, who said they were proud to be a part of the campaign. Voiceover artist George Ledoux, who brings life to the character Duncan Fisher, was on hand for the live stream as well.
No big deal.
What was also remarkable was the participation of the NGNG community. Like the guy that used some of his vacation time to join in the live stream. Or Laura, an NGNG forum moderator who goes by B B Wolfe, pitched in by putting a playful, competitive spin on the fundraising aspect of the live stream, turning it into a game of “odds and evens.”
There were other fun incentives for viewers to donate. At the $500 mark, Rik would shave his goatee; at $2,000, his chest; and at $10,000, his head – a significant gesture, given his rockstar length hair.
But this was a 24-hour live stream after all; and Rik had only six hours of sleep under his belt. “The last couple hours were rough,” he said. But having 140 viewers during the wee hours of the morning helped him get through.
Rik’s live streams usually average less than 150 viewers. This 24-hour live stream event had 256 viewers who stayed with him; there were 200 around the 10:00, 11:00 a.m.
The live stream already exceeded his initial $2,000 goal by then; the goal was pushed up twice, to $5,000 then $7,000. By the end, the RJC Memorial Charity Livestream for Autism raised $8,271.
“The vanity in me is glad I didn’t hit $10,000,” said Rik, with a chuckle. “But the entertainer in me wishes I did.”
To chalk it up to beginner’s luck would be an understatement. Rik was “choked up by the support,” and Stephanie conveyed how ASF was “thrilled with what happened.”
On July 15th, ASF began soliciting applications from researchers for a bit of funding to help with, for example, publishing their results, or “conducting research more efficiently.” Thanks to Rik’s campaign, ASF will be able to distribute to these mini-grants, up to $5,000, to “assist researchers in getting their results out into the world,” said Stephanie.
What we laypeople refer to as autism isn’t one condition but a range of brain disorders more accurately described as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Autism isn’t a one-size-fits-all condition. Some with autism are fairly high-functioning, needing minimal assistance. Some with autism are low-functioning and require substantial help to get through each day.
For some, autism is a deficit of social and communication skills. It might look like always missing social cues; or it renders some noncommunicative – no eye contact, no response.
Autism could be repetitive or restrictive behavior. At best, it’s a fixation on an area of interest or mechanical activity, like computer science or dishwashing. The latter would make it more challenging for an adult to live independently.
Some of the restrictive behavior stems from hypersensitivity to various kinds of stimuli – dim light will be blindingly bright, a whisper might resound like a shout. The resulting “overstimulation” can be debilitating.
All this to say that autism makes navigating through life, interacting with people, and making sense of the world difficult to some degree, not just for the patients, but for their families, too. This is what brings urgency to the mission of organizations like ASF.
Rik found the outpouring of support from the NGNG community towards the cause of autism research “overwhelming.” He heard frequently from viewers and donors, “I know someone…” who has autism.
It would seem that the ASF has their work cut out for them. Because of the success and the fun had by the RJC Memorial Charity live stream, it seems like the NGNG community will also have their work cut out for them.
There’s been discussion within NGNG of doing charity events twice a year, and the RJC Memorial Charity live stream could be an annual event.
Robots weren’t the only things that were blown up in the twenty-four hours of the live stream; and Rik is quick to pay homage for the shattered expectations of his first but certainly not last fundraising endeavor.
“I just put on the show but the community deserves the credit,” said Rik.