Gaming is a hobby that many people enjoy. From casual games on your Android or iOS device, to console games, and even fully decked-out gaming PCs, video games are a huge part of some of our lives. The way we play video games can sometimes be taken for granted, as not everybody has the same functionality in their hands and arms. AbleGamers is a charity that is focused on making games more inclusive and accessible to gamers with disabilities. The AbleGamers Fellowship is a $10,000 scholarship and mentoring opportunity to help people with disabilities enter the videogame industry. After narrowing the field of applicants, a winner for the first AbleGamers Fellowship has been chosen.
Alex James Ryan (AJ) is a 22 year old graduate of Northern Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Informatics, with a focus on game design. AJ was born with Arthrogryposis, a condition that causes weakened or even missing muscles and nerves throughout his body. Due to this condition, AJ is unable to use his arms, but has learned to function using his feet. This includes typing and even playing video games. He enjoys a wide variety of games, but fighting games are his favorite. He’s gotten to the point where none of his friends can keep up with him on fighting games.
While playing games was always a passion of AJ’s, a meeting with Jay Moon — developer on games such as Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and NBA Jam on SNES — inspired him to learn to code and create his own games. He worked as a mobile developer at his school’s Center of Applied Informatics, and later turned to one of his passions: retro gaming. When SEGA announced that it would support mods on SEGA Genesis games on Steam, AJ immediately got to work.
What AJ did was create “Chill Edition” mods for games such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Golden Axe. These mods included infinite lives, extra time and tweaked elements of the games to make them easier, with the goal of allowing gamers to experience them at their own pace without fear of failure, a mode of play he also refers to as “God Mode.” While accessibility was at the forefront of his decision to publish these mods, the response he got was overwhelming.
It is not only his achievements in developing games and mods, but also his attitude that drew accolades from the AbleGamers Fellowship Selection Committee. Mark Barlet, Executive Director of AbleGamers had this to say about AJ’s selection:
AJ is the kind of person you want pushing for accessibility. Passionate, driven and never takes no for an answer. People with disabilities like AJ can offer brilliant insight into the world of accessibility from first-hand knowledge and game development experience combined.
The fellowship win not only provides AJ with a monetary prize, he will also be given the opportunity to learn from industry veterans, which is equally exciting for the fellowship winner. You can read an extended interview with AJ at the source link below, and see the full press release announcing his selection after that.
FULL PRESS RELEASE
Harpers Ferry, WV (June 1, 2016) – AbleGamers – the leading charity and organization wielding the power of gaming to break down the barriers of economic and social isolation for people with disabilities – is thrilled to announce a winner has been chosen for the first AbleGamers Fellowship. As a first of its kind award, the AbleGamers Fellowship was created to help people with disabilities enter the videogame industry by providing scholarship money and internship opportunities enabling new game developers with disabilities to affect real change from within.
After carefully reviewing dozens of applications, the winner has been chosen from a select few elite finalists by the Fellowship’s primary sponsor Trion Worlds. Congratulations to Alex James Ryan!
AJ, as he is known in disability and gaming communities, is an extraordinary individual with the kind of drive and passion AbleGamers and all of the sponsors of the Fellowship were looking for. He uses a combination of assistive technology and superior feet-skills to destroy the competition in Mortal Kombat and one day the game development field. With dozens of independently released titles already under his belt, we know AJ will go on to do amazing things for the game accessibility movement.
“Anyone who cannot use their arms and plays Mortal Kombat with their feet, and is setting up his own game studio is a winner,” said Russ Brown, COO of Trion Worlds. “The world needs more Alex James Ryans.”
“AJ is the kind of person you want pushing for accessibility,” said Mark Barlet, AbleGamers Executive Director. “Passionate, driven and never takes no for an answer. People with disabilities like AJ can offer brilliant insight into the world of accessibility from first-hand knowledge and game development experience combined.”
AbleGamers would like to thank Trion Worlds, Motiga, and the International Game Developers Association for helping begin this annual award. Without their help, none of this would’ve been possible.
The AbleGamers Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charity that wields the power of video games to break down the barriers of economic and social isolation for people with disabilities. Through received support and donations, AbleGamers provides disabled gamers with assistive technologies (including their Expansion Pack program) that allow those with limited real-world mobility to experience what it is like to walk, run, climb, drive and even fly – in a virtual world. Via their Includification initiative, AbleGamers additionally advises developers and publishers on how to best incorporate accessibility options so that their video game titles may reach and appeal to the widest and most diverse audience possible. To read AbleGamers articles, or to find out how your support or donations can help them positively impact an even greater number of individuals with disabilities, please visit www.ablegamers.com.