While playing a video game, it’s possible to escape into a world where you can do just about anything, from exploring unknown worlds, fighting monsters, or saving the universe. For kids like Ayden, escape like that can be sorely needed.
On February 7, 2016, Ayden was diagnosed with a heart condition where, according to his mother, his heart “blows up like a balloon." While the disease can be caused by several things, in Ayden’s case, it was a very rare gene mutation, with Ayden being only the second known person to be diagnosed with a heart condition from this gene and live. In February 2016, Ayden, then 15, had his first heart transplant. However, being a high-risk transplant, he underwent round after round of rejection, his immune system attacking the new heart each time. “His immune system is fighting with his heart DNA,” his mother said. The treatment of such rejection required copious amounts of medications and injections with adverse side effects of their own.
But while Ayden was going through the rejection, he was referred to Make-A-Wish to help make his one-true wish come true: to pitch a video game idea to a major developer.
He and his family traveled together to Washington, where the studio responsible for one of Ayden’s favorite video game series is located. Upon arriving, their hotel staff put Ayden in the best suite in the building, complete with a living room and two bathrooms. As they were just outside of Seattle, they also took the time to visit several landmarks of the area including the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, and Pike Place Market.
When their long-awaited day at the studio arrived, they began by getting a tour of the facility and got to see the development team up-close, hard at work on their upcoming game. While all Ayden wished for was to pitch his idea, when the tour was over, the studio then gave him the chance to do something he wasn’t expecting: be a part of their game. Ayden was up for it, and he was then escorted into a studio designed for recording motion capture performances.
After an employee outfitted Ayden with the proper gear including a special suit with motion trackers, the team was able to record any movement he made. Through this technology, Ayden was able to provide the animation for one of their new characters’ special in-game moves. They were also able to record a 3D version of his face which will be included in one of the game’s cutscenes.
As fun and exciting as the mo-cap experience was, it would not be Ayden’s last surprise that day. As he was finishing up, one of the developers pulled his mother aside, and asked her to distract Ayden for a moment.
“We have some people for him to meet,” one of the employees said.
In an alcove just outside the motion capture room, the two actors who provided the performances of his favorite characters from his favorite series were waiting for him. After changing out of his suit and walking out of the studio, Ayden saw the two discussing him. “There’s this really cool kid I had heard about and I want to introduce you to him,” one said to the other, acting as their character. “At first, Ayden was so shocked he was speechless,” his mother said. But when he realized what was going on, he jumped right in and started conversing with them like he was a character himself.
After eating some BBQ (his favorite food) with the actors, the time came for him to pitch his game. He walked into a conference room and sat at the head of the table, where all the other employees gathered around and listened. While he can’t reveal too many details, the developers in the room were all impressed with the pitch and Ayden’s well thought out ideas. “Seeing their reaction to what I had to say was amazing,” Ayden said. Whenever someone had a question, he had an answer, and his concepts left a lasting impression on the team. As they day went on, one developer told Ayden how his co-workers won’t stop talking about his idea. “They don’t even want to work on the game they’re supposed to be working on,” they said.
After all his hardships, Ayden is doing well now and his condition is stable, although he still must keep his immune system suppressed so it doesn’t attack his heart. He also recently started college, and despite his skill for video game design, he is currently studying microbiology and hopes to be a geneticist.
While his wish allowed him to meet the people behind his favorite games as well as showcase his own creativity and imagination, the main reason Ayden wanted to pitch his game in the first place was to get the chance to possibly do something for other kids like him. To give them something new to enjoy and escape into. For Ayden, that’s the real power of video games, and thanks to the kindness the developers showed him, they are something he will be a part of forever.