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How 'Caine's Arcade' raised $164,000 for a boy from East L.A. (+video)

The Internet short film 'Caine's Arcade' has touched an emotional chord among viewers, who have donated to a college fund for Caine Monroy. It shows how social media are reshaping fundraising.

A 9-year-old boy who built an elaborate cardboard arcade in his dad's used auto parts store is about to have the best day of his life.
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The success of "Caine's Arcade" – the Internet short about Caine Monroy, a 9-year-old who created a cardboard-box arcade in his father’s East Los Angeles auto-parts store – has gone beyond cute to cash: $164,000 and counting has been sent to the Caine’s Arcade Scholarship Fund at his website.

To some media experts, it shows the potential for social-media fundraising to harness the forces of the web for good. To others, it's a lightning-in-a-bottle moment that could become less likely in the future as copy-cat, me-tooism takes hold. 

But for the moment, it's another sign of how the Internet has allowed people with compelling stories to find an audience – in this case, an audience willing to open its pocketbooks.

“This is pretty amazing when you consider the new fundraising territory that is being broken by this story,” says Rick Lavoie, senior vice president for Levick Strategic Communications Digital and Social Media Practice.

Mr. Lavoie and others agree that "Caine's Arcade" worked because a filmmaker happened upon a kid who had done something heart-warming and worth making a film about. The emotional aspect of a young boy earnestly tending his homemade arcade is what has caused the outpouring of funds for his college education, they say.

But if the Internet becomes flooded with heart-wrenching pleas for donations, users might tune out. "Although I think it depends on the story, I’m thinking that over time there is a burnout factor in such stories, you can only carve the groove in the record so deep,” says Lavoie.

Others agree. “Crowd-funding only works when there's a crowd of people doing the funding, not a crowd of people asking for money,” says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for the Study of Television and Culture at Syracuse University, via e-mail. "If everyone in the subway was asking for a handout, nobody would get one.”

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