Gaming With A Cause: Ability 2016 & BrigadeCon 2016

I am awestruck with how much the gaming community has become actively more inclusive in recent years. It is because of charities like The AbleGamers Foundation and Child’s Play that gaming is spanning generations and breaking new ground in accessibility. This post is short notice, but I would be remised if I didn’t talk about some wonderful charity events that are happening in October.

Ability 2016:

This is a charity event put on by The AbleGamers Foundation and it’s TODAY, October 8th.

It’s a 24 hour streaming event sponsored through Twitch. You can go, register, and become a donor group. You can also donate directly on their website. You can start streaming a game via Twitch, and raise money for all the technological advancements that AbleGamers keeps delivering time and time again. The control scheme market wouldn’t have changed without their efforts, and I am proud to see how far they have come in recent years.

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I won’t be able to participate in streaming this year, but I urge you to check out what some awesome groups are doing today to raise money. I am sure you’ll find a game you’ll enjoy watching, or even a story that touches your heart. These players are phenomenal human beings. The thought that just one day of donations can get one accessible controller into a kid’s hands warms my heart.

Go support some amazing gamers and enhance the gaming community: Ability 2016

BrigadeCon 2016:

Now this charity is also one near and dear to my heart. I live, breathe, eat and sleep tabletop gaming these days. BrigadeCon was started back in 2014, and now it’s into it’s third inception and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this. The proceeds go straight towards Child’s Play, and it’s a charity that hits extremely close to home. I remember being that kid. I remember sitting in recovery rooms, having to find anything to occupy me while I recovered from surgery.

Gaming was my outlet. It was a way for me to connect with others in my worst moments.

We give back games, toys, movies, and interactive experiences to kids who are stuck in the hospital dealing with extremely trying, and emotional experiences. Child’s Play provides a sense of home, a sense of normalcy in a chaotic moment in a child’s life. I remember how much they did for me when I was growing up and I am so thankful for Seattle Children’s Hospital for starting such an amazing organization.

BrigadeCon 2016 is a 24 hour online gaming fundraising convention on October 29th.

All the games will be streamed via Youtube.

BrigadeCon 2016 aims to surpass everything we’ve done in recent years though, which is why you should be a part of it! You should care about it and get involved! If you love tabletop gaming as much as we do, I urge you to head over to: http://www.brigadecon.org; sign up, and register to be an attendant. You could run an event, play in a game, sit in on some EPIC panels – it’s all up to you!

Here is my buddy, Barker aka BeABetterGamemaster, to explain a bit about BrigadeCon:

I am going to be running a game and hosting a panel on voice acting this month.

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I hope to see you all there! Go out, game, and may that game make a difference in a life.

 

Inspirational Gamers: RPG Communities

Roleplaying games have been a part of my life since I was 14 years old. My first introduction to the genre was Baldur’s Gate, and then Neverwinter Nights grabbed hold of me from there. I had played RPG games on console before, but they’d always been solo endeavors. I remember getting Neverwinter Nights and being so excited that I could play a game with my best friends. Years of stories were crafted, characters made, and memories shared. These experiences lead me to find tabletop RPG’s with my friends Matt [ A Fistful of Dice ] and Darrin. We started playing home group tabletop games after that.

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I got inducted via Pathfinder and have, since then, never looked back. Now there are so many different RPG’s out there to experience, it’s hard to even know where to begin or how to get involved. I know the feeling, and it’s not fun. You’re a player on the outside wanting to find a community you feel will accept you into the fold. It’s what we all desire as gamers, a community that embraces our eccentricities and makes us feel loved and valued. Today I want to shed light on some truly inspirational friends that I have made over the past few years.

Each of the following communities has something to offer, and they all are filled with exceptional human beings. They aren’t only wonderful role-players, but the point of entry for getting involved in the community is really easy and they’re all willing and able to help. You have a place where you can learn new games, mechanics, foster creativity, and grow as a gamer. I’m going to go through each one of these and touch briefly on why I feel they exemplify accessible gameplay communities for those wanting to get into roleplaying games.

In this generation the concept of the standard “home group” table is hard to come by. These communities give those who can’t find that outlet an opportunity to do so.

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A group formed by four of my best friends, Absolute Tabletop, is a community that embraces creativity. They are a third-party publishing company for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons supplements. They’ve just recently started, but in a year’s time, they’ve created a devoted community that thrives on inclusive, creative and productive tabletop culture. They acknowledge all players of all skill levels, and promote teaching the game to anyone willing to learn.

The brain trust that is Absolute Tabletop: Tabletop Terrors’ Tim and James Kearney; AFistfulofDice‘s Matt Click, and BeABetterGameMaster‘s Michael Barker are exemplary stewards of what this hobby is meant to promote. They define the family like quality that I feel every tabletop experience should be. They are not only DM’s and players, but they’re quite good at teaching others how a game system works. They do so each in their own way, but their styles mesh so well, and it makes the point of entry like walking into a new home.

The people in the community are active, loving, and embracing of all skill types. They foster creativity in a way I haven’t seen before in most online communities. You don’t have to be a part of Absolute Tabletop to feel like a part of Absolute Tabletop. The group is composed of players of all walks of life and play styles. It’s ideally for those wanting to get into 5th Edition, but so many of the topics presented are system agnostic. Feel free to grab a character sheet, a handbook, a drawing pad, whatever floats your fancy – and Absolute Tabletop will embrace your talents and interests.

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This was the first group I was ever introduced to when it came to online gameplay. Up until the Tabletop One-Shot Group, I was only ever playing home games with Matt and the rest of our crew. The One-Shot Group has had it’s ups and downs for me, but what I love about them is that it’s a space where you can taste all the options available in the RPG community. Not everyone is going to want to play Pathfinder, nor 5th Edition. Sometimes we find ourselves longing for game systems that challenge us. We search for new mechanics and new ways to play so that our gaming variety expands and we learn new experiences.

If this something that inspires you I urge you to take a look at it. Headed by the wonderful gentlemen: Ian Christiansen, Andrew Knapp, and Lee “Juce” Patterson. Each one of them has a deep passion for the roleplaying community. They keep the community a fun, inviting, and accessible homestead for learning new games. They promote players trying new games and inspire others with their Youtube channels and their gameplay. Each player in the OSG can find something that interests them without much struggle. Timezones can sometimes be a pain, but for the most part, you’re going to be able to find a game any time of day.

If you’re into gore: Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Fate of the Norns, and Savage Worlds.

If you’re into fantasy: Pathfinder, 5th Edition, Adventures in Middle Earth, Mouseguard, etc.

If you’re into sci-fi: Fate, Call of Cthulhu, Numenera, etc.

It really doesn’t matter what you’re looking for, the OSG has something to offer everyone. The point of entry is really small. Anyone and everyone willing to play is welcome, as long as you adhere to being a respectful, creative, and open minded gamer. Feel free to join and just hop in. There will be a game for you waiting, and hopefully you’ll find fellow gamers who will become life-long friends.

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A group founded by my friend, Jarin “DnD”, this is the pinnacle of tabletop accessibility. I remember when Jarin joined the OSG for the first time and mentioned that he wanted to bring a group together. He wanted to showcase that tabletop gaming could still be achieved by players with disabilities. This group immediately tugged at my heartstrings and I admire Jarin for all of the work and effort he and his fellow admins. have put together. He is constantly updating Power Up Gamers, giving feedback, providing numerous games, and giving a look into how to run games in a more accessible fashion.

He delivers reviews and discussions on how to provide a more accessible atmosphere for all gamers. This is especially helpful for designers, like myself, who want to build new experiences. The group is open and willing to bring in any players. Everyone has their own play style and Jarin recognizes this. Some players may need to take more frequent breaks, some may have trouble communicating their character’s actions, but whatever your play style Power Up Gamers accommodates it.

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If you are a fan of Star Wars, I highly, highly, emphatically suggest you hit up Tides of Change. This group, headed by Andre Martinez, is a Star Wars fan paradise. Andre and a number of exceptional DM’s have taken the mantle to provide a community for those who love all things Star Wars. You can play using the Fantasy Flight Games set of games that span the vast timeline of Star Wars stories. There is clearly something for everyone here.

You want to play a Sith? Play a Sith!

You want to be a droid? Be a Droid!

Want to be a Wookie bountyhunter fighting against the Rebel Alliance? BE A WOOKIE!

The possibilities are endless and the gaming community here doesn’t care about the depth of your knowledge. They are willing to take you as you are and indoctrinate you into the lore. They see all players as valuable and know how important the Star Wars franchise is to countless others. I haven’t had a chance to be in a Tides of Change game yet, but if you want a bit of Force in your life, this is definitely the place to start. If you want to see how some of these games work check out my buddies: Jarl DM, MikethePiper, and Red Dice Diaries.

They have dynamite games that show off the game system in a brilliant way.

These are all of my current favorites, and there’s at least one group you can jump into. I hope that by showing these, players who are still anxious about getting involved in a game will see there’s no fear here. I’ve spoke at length about how tabletop gaming is beneficial and therapeutic for many players, and so, if you’re worried at all that you can’t roll with the best of us – don’t be.

We are all gamers here, and we all love this hobby – one dice roll at a time.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Years ago, when I was a kid, I would have given anything to be Indiana Jones.

I was enamored with the world of archeology and that sense of adventure. When Naughty Dog released Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in 2007, I immediately gravitated to the franchise and Nathan Drake’s journey. Nathan became a staple of my gaming life, and I went on each Uncharted experience yearning for my childhood sense of adventure. Naughty Dog captured it all, and made me love what gaming could do on an emotional and personal level.

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End brings about all of the past joy and fun I had, while expanding on the narrative and making nostalgic and meaningful choices to Drake’s journey.

If you’ve never played a Naughty Dog game, the studio prides itself on making story-driven narratives that leave the player lingering on dialogue, enamored with setting, and emotionally drawn to the characters. They fulfill all of this in Uncharted 4 to a spectacular level and even bring in new mechanics that make the game more accessible for players.

You follow Nathan Drake on his last adventure, and in doing so, the studio has taken ample strides to really showcase that this is the end. There are no bits of treasure left undiscovered, nor maps to be followed. This is the end, and it feels refreshing to see a studio who acknowledges this and gives us the most heartfelt send-off to an iconic character. Uncharted 4 displays it’s usual sense of adventure and intrigue, while showing us that Nathan is not an invincible video game icon. He is human, he is flawed, and he is, as always, that quick witted hero – now facing the realities of his decisions at the twilight of this journey.

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It wouldn’t be an Uncharted game if you didn’t start with a cliffhanger [ quite literally in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves ]. In Uncharted 4, we’re given a glimpse into the life of Nathan Drake that we haven’t seen before. His personal life comes under a microscope, and it’s an emotional wave of happiness, sadness, and struggle. We get to see Nathan engage with Elena, Sully, and now his brother, Sam, in a way that past Uncharted games didn’t give.

They strip away the mysticism, the folklore, and the over-arching paranormal that usually pervades the Uncharted series. They give us a meaningful story about the people Nathan loves, and the chemistry between all of the characters is impressive to say the least. The journey this time isn’t some paranormal means of finality, but they simplify it to a simple search for buried treasure. That’s it. A lost city of pirate treasure,  begging to be discovered by Nathan’s long lost brother, Sam, thought to be killed 15 years ago.

Uncharted 4 explores what it means to be drawn into a passion with unbridled obsession, enough to even make a man forget what is truly important in life. Are you still going about ruins and exploring exotic locals, laying waste to countless mercenaries on your way to an undiscovered treasure? Absolutely. Are there still tombs and puzzles for me to solve? No doubt! Does it mean more, and are the relationship deeper than before? Yes. They are. What matters is that Uncharted 4 really provides depth where past iterations were merely scratching the surface of what it means to be Nathan Drake.

 

Mechanically, the game functions just as beautifully as it’s past predecessors. It focuses on that stealth cover and shootout gameplay that veterans of the series will love, but they’ve made the mechanics and ease of use seem simplified.  It felt more fluid than ever before to be Nathan Drake, and with small additions to mechanics, it didn’t overbear the user with a whole new set of tasks to undertake. In fact, Uncharted 4 gives the player a list of options to make ease of use and access to entry much easier from an accessibility stance.

Upon opening the game, beyond the opening music that always gives me chills, I investigated the Accessibility Options menu. Yes, the game has it’s own Accessibility menu. I was blown away by the plethora of options that gave more ease of use, even to players who have full functionality. If it’s modality you’re worried about when asking yourself, “Can I play Uncharted 4?” the answer is, “Yes. You can!” They’ve identified trouble areas from past iterations such as:

  • Repeated Button Presses – Player to hold button vs. pressing in QTE’s [ Quick Time Events ]
  • Camera Lock On – This allows you to use the Lock On function with just one stick.
  • Aim Lock On – This allows for the gun to snap to an enemy automatically.
  • Vehicle and Camera Assist – To allow ease of use by moving the camera around the player.
  • Subtitles – Detailed subtitle settings for deaf/hard of hearing players.
  • Colorblind – Minor changes in color setting for Multiplayer teams.

All of these features made the game accessible, and even for an able-bodied player like myself, I found them useful and helpful in regards to experiencing the journey at it’s full potential. I got to experience new mechanics, like the grappling hook, without feeling overwhelmed. I wasn’t bogged down with mechanical hang ups, which allowed me to focus intimately on the story that unfolding in front of me. I laughed, I cried, I shot thugs in the face – and it was magical.

Wrap Up:

My journey with Uncharted 4 has been a long one, but one that I feel has come to one of the most satisfying conclusions in the history of my gaming life. There are countless fan service easter eggs tossed about this journey, and the fact that Naughty Dog went about making it so that these moments could be accessible to more than just the able-bodied community is a blessing in and of itself. Thank you Naughty Dog. Thank you Nolan North. Thank you to everyone who has been a fan of this series, and who has been given the opportunity to be the most bad-ass, charismatic, and memorable treasure-hunter since Indiana Jones.

There are no cheap sells of a half-assed prequel or sequel on the horizon. Naughty Dog gave a memorable story, combined with accessible use, exquisite storytelling, and characters that breathe. They actually have goals, fears, obsessions, and for me – that’s what sells a game. A game where I can FEEL the story. A game where I’m not restricted to my real life, and I can view myself as Nathan Drake for at least a few hours more… and that’s all I can ever ask for.

Thank you Naughty Dog. These past few years have been a blessing. I look forward to the next story you write, as I watch Nathan Drake fade away into treasure-hunting retirement.

I am fulfilled, satisfied, and damn it – I want to go treasure hunting now.

PNW RPG Research – RPG Therapy

In a previous blog post a few years ago, I mentioned the social and developmental benefits of roleplaying games.

Tabletop gaming has come a long way in terms of popularity, and I’ve found that there is research out there that supports the use of tabletop gaming as a form of therapy. I want to thank, Nate from WASD20, for bringing the following organization to my attention.

On January 29th, 2016 – PNWATRA comes to Portland, OR.

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The American Therapeutic Recreation Association specializes in providing rehabilitation and recreational therapy services to promote health and wellness in patients. I am fascinated by ATRA’s work, and I wish I could attend this year. Presenter, Hawke Robinson, will be presenting a discussion on RPG’s as a form of Modality Therapy.

It may not appeal to everyone, but I urge you to take a look at his former presentation, or even visit his seminar this year. He gives insight to how we can take the RPG community to a level where it goes from just a fun past time, to a meaningful, viable form of therapy for people with OT/PT/ST treatments.

The social interactions alone speak volumes and, I can say from personal perspective, that I would have loved to have RPG’s as a form of therapy in my youth. A patient dealing with modality complications can improve their confidence, social interactions, mobility, and interpersonal goals in recovery through RPG therapy.

The RPG community is vastly becoming viral, mobile, and inclusive via Facebook, Google+, and Youtube. If patients/players are wanting a more face to face interaction though, I highly recommend you check out this wonderful project being headed up near my own neck of the woods:

THE RPG TRAILER:  https://www.gofundme.com/rpgtrailer

This project is being headed by Robinson in Spokane, and unfortunately, he hasn’t seen enough traffic to make this happen. It’s been 7 months, and not much has changed. Hawke, I love what you’re doing sir and I want to see this come to life. RPGs offered so much for me as a child and, even now, as an adult.

It means so much to me that you’re passionate about this goal of inclusion and developmental research. I want to reach out and help promote this goal, because I know many more than myself could benefit from such a wonderful service. If you ever need a DM to help run games for this when the trailer is finally finished, please feel free to contact me.

God Bless you Hawke!

You make so many people’s lives better through this research.

It’d be a blessing and a joy to bring recreational enjoyment of RPG’s to others!

If there are others out there, who would love to experience 5E, Call of Cthulhu, or many other RPG’s and use it as a form of therapy, I recommend checking out the Tabletop RPG One-Shot Group or Absolute Tabletop, or – if you’re into Star Wars: The Tides of Change Roleplaying Game Club. All of these groups are highly inclusive and provide opportunities for online gaming experiences to all.

This loving, caring, fantastic group of individuals has really helped me open up socially, and I know that they’re willing to introduce and embrace others in the love of RPG’s.

Let’s help Hawke achieve his goal, and may your dice roll high!

 

Game of the Month: That Dragon, Cancer

Cancer.

It is a perplexing demon that seeps into the lives of even the most innocent. A tar-like dragon that rears its maw, and devours our hope. It attacks the ones we love the most, and it tears us from them, unceremoniously. In a year that’s already started off with many of our beloved musicians and actors succumbing to cancer, I wanted to take the time to share a game that truly evokes the challenges that cancer brings with it. I hope that the personal story of developers, Ryan and Amy Green, touches you and moves you to be inspired as it has me.

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I had been following the developers of That Dragon, Cancer since they started their Kickstarter campaign for the game back in 2014. I was immediately drawn to the personal story and emotional love letter that the Green family had created for their son. It tells the emotional journey of their family as they dealt with the devastating news that their son, Joel, was diagnosed with AT/RT. An aggressive form of brain tumor that would require tireless hours of care to try and combat, when he was only one.

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In March of 2014, Joel passed away. In the wake of this tragedy, The Green Family made it through with faith and hope. They decided that the best way to honor their son was to share with the world their personal journey: the joys, the falls, the faith, and the feels. It’s all present, and I can’t even begin to express how beautiful I think this game is. It’s not just a game, and so I can’t rate it as I would others.

This is a family’s journey.

A way to give hope to those who are also dealing with these ordeals in life.

A look at faith, family, and much more.

I could go on and discuss the game mechanically, visually – the surrealist artistry of how you take this journey through a series of emotional mini-games, but I won’t. I can’t say enough about this game. It’s breaking the boundaries of what we consider “classic” game motifs. That Dragon, Cancer, defies AAA titles and states that games can be far more evocative than developers had ever imagined. Ryan and Amy, I am honored to have played your game and it brought me to tears. Your devotion and faith is astounding and That Dragon, Cancer should be seen/played/heard by as many people as possible.

In an era where cancer is devouring, you are bringing faith and hope back to people. Your family is showing that, even in times of deep distress, faith can change anger into hope.

God Bless you Green Family!

I highly recommend you pick this game up. It was released on January 12th, which would have been Joel’s 7th birthday. It’s currently on Steam, PC, and Ouya for $14.99. It’s one of the most beautiful expressions of love, hope, and faith that I’ve ever seen in gaming and I hope that, through their testimonial, we’ll be able to finally shed light unto that Dragon’s lair – and end cancer, and it’s hoard, once and for all.

That Dragon, Cancer: http://www.thatdragoncancer.com/preorder/

Family: http://www.thatdragoncancer.com/our-family/

Blog: http://www.thatdragoncancer.com/thatdragoncancer/

 
Now, I’m going to eat pancakes in honor of Joel, as I wipe my tears from my face.

Inspirational Gamers: A Knight’s Tale

It is rare that we find aspects of our life that evoke so much passion for us on a daily basis. I recently read a series of articles written by blogger T.R. Knight and his wife, Angie. These articles were so moving and evoking of what I aim to shed light on in the gaming universe that I couldn’t hesitate to share them with you all. I hope you read through these articles and you share in the same joy, respect, and admiration that I have for this couple’s commitment to each other in gaming and in life.

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T.R. Knight is a fellow blogger and gamer whose personal journey in gaming brought me to tears the first time I read his article. He and his wife, Angie, are living a gamer’s life and making it work even through the struggles of MS. Angie was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in July 1997, and yet, that hasn’t slowed down this couple’s love and drive for gaming. It is their passionate and loving story that I am so attached to. Tabletop gaming has become an outlet for them, as it helps fit within Angie’s current MS symptoms.

I will admit, as a writer and gamer, I never thought that tabletop gaming could be used in this fashion. A therapeutic, social interaction that allows for those with agility/mobility and memory issues to still be active within the gaming community. T.R. and Angie are sharing with me a whole new outlook on how to run games, what aspects to focus on, and what styles of gaming are most accommodating to patients with MS. I am blessed and honored to be sharing their story with you now.

T.R. has taken it upon himself to give a valuable resource of MS symptoms and how they have impacted Angie and their gaming life in his most recent blog. Angie has also taken to his blog and posted her personal perspective on what games appeal to her. I’m going to definitely take these aspects into account as I go forward and progress as a game designer. I hope, T.R. and Angie, that one of these days I’ll have helped a company build a game, or design my own, that both of you will be able to enjoy.

Please feel free to read through all their articles, as they are a joy to read and offer amazing insights into a side of the gaming universe I think many of us rarely see, or forget exists.

Freelancer and Care Giver: Freelancer and Caregiver

Accessibility in Game Design: Accessibility in Game Design

Angie’s Perspective: Angie’s Perspective

T.R., you are truly a knight among men sir. I am honored to be among your supporting guild, and will continue to share the knowledge you and Angie have to give the world. God bless you both on your path as family, loving companions, and exceptional gamers!

 

Accessibility for All. Happy gaming to you and your family!

Inspirational Gamer of the Week: Keith “Aieron” Knight

It’s been ages since I’ve posted one of these, but this story hit my desk this morning and I felt compelled to share it:

How many of us have lost loved ones to some form of physical disability? – some form of debilitating disease? Well in the case of Keith Knight – he’s losing many. He, along with many of his friends, deal with a variation of muscular dystrophy. Knight, though not having dystrophy himself, suffers from a condition known as Amyoplasia Arthrogrypos. This condition caused him to be born with less muscle mass than he was supposed to be born with. The condition has worsened over time – causing his joints to stiffen and fuse. He has an intimate and close relation with those of the MDA community. A friend of his recently passed away due to complications with the disease. In honor of his friend’s passing it has inspired him to take a stand for the MDA community in one of the most positive ways I can ever dream up.

This guy is truly a Legend in my book!

He intends to play games for charity.

Knight has been streaming his play sessions of Guild Wars 2 and League of Legends  in efforts to raise money for Walk for Muscular Dystrophy that took place in Canada on Sept. 22nd, 2012. Now certainly we’ve heard of people playing games to raise money for charity. I make mention of it all the time on here, but why is this special to me? – because of how Knight does what he does! You would never think that he could play like he does because of his stiff joints and lessened mobility, but he has found a way to make himself competitive despite his physical hardships. I’ll gladly try and embed the stream link on this article for you all to follow today and tomorrow. This guy is fantastic and an inspiring hero for people struggling with this disease.

He may not be able to walk, but his message will reach millions.

He uses his face for all of the inputs! He uses his chin to move the joysticks, and his nose and lips to input button presses. He has since moved on to PC gaming, as you can clearly see, but he still remains competitive. He places the mouse next to his cheek and uses a pen to provide for the button inputs! He’s remarkable and Keith, if you get a chance to read this, just know that I love what you’re doing man. You are truly an inspiration – not only to the MDA community – but to people around the world. I admire you for your strength and positive outlook in times of hardship and I can’t wait to show your video to everyone to get the word out.

So, please, if you have a moment – stop by his Twitch.tv thread and watch him play.

It’s pretty amazing to watch, and thank you to all who donated to this wonderful cause – Keith raised over $ 7,797.00!

Keith – more power to you man! I noticed in the article that you’re an aspiring game designer: Let me know when you graduate man. I would love to work with you some day, as I’m sure many of my fellow readers would as well. You are truly someone special and meaningful to this world sir!