Abby Mank is an 8-year-old girl who loves video games. Her favorite game is Minecraft. She likes being her own little world, creating and tearing things down repeatedly. Like millions of other people, Abby uses video games as a way to relax and decompress. Games offer her escapism with limits defined only by her creativity.
Most kids Abby’s age aren’t thinking about the one wish they would make if they had the chance. Most kids haven’t faced the difficulties Abby has. When Make-A-Wish went to Abby and her family about granting her a wish, she knew exactly what she wanted—to be in a video game.
Abby was born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia. It’s a birth defect in which the diaphragm doesn’t form correctly. This allows the abdominal organs to push into the chest cavity, preventing the lungs from developing properly. Abby was also diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and had to have her colon removed. As if all of this wasn’t enough, Abby has had numerous other surgeries for other abnormalities.
Making the Wish Happen
“Abby is a person who always has a smile on her face,” her mother Anne said. “For all the things that have gone wrong, and her medical issues, she’s willing to try something else or new. She hasn’t let it hold her back.”
Abby’s life-threatening medical conditions made her a candidate for a wish to be granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Often stories of granted wishes will include celebrities visiting children in hospitals or something as elaborate as the 2013 Batkid wish.
Abby’s wish was referred to Make-A-Wish Wisconsin back in March. The organization went through the approval process for Abby’s wish and sent volunteer wish granters to speak with her about her wish. Since Abby doesn’t like to travel, finding a video game developer willing to put Abby in a game could have been a big challenge. A Make-A-Wish PR representative said they reached out to the national office just in case. Fortunately, someone knew of a local video game developer in Madison, about an hour and a half away from where the Manks live in Oak Creek.
The Perfect Game
Enter Filament Games, a developer of educational games for kids of all ages—from kindergarten to high school to college—on mobile and PC platforms. With Make-A-Wish having lucked out with finding a developer within driving distance, Abby’s good fortune continued. Filament just happened to have a game that required a new character design. The game had been in development since January. Most of the game had been built, but the client wanted to redo the lead character in the game.
“We were like, ‘Oh my God, this is exactly what we need,'” said Filament Games producer Maxwell Zierath. “If this is the game for her, this is going to work. We told them we would absolutely love to do it. We were 100 percent ready and committed to make this happen.”
Abby will star in Animobile Adventure, a game in which players drive around, exploring habitats, observing animals, and learning about their traits. Players will utilize what they learn to solve random challenges. Abby’s character Ruby is the player’s companion and guides players through the environments. The game is aimed at first-grade-level children in schools.
The last step was to get Abby into the studio to work on the design. Filament brought Abby and her family into their Madison studio in June and set to work on making her into her very own video game character.
“She was shy at first, but she’s really energetic,” Zierath said. “She was very particular when we were talking about her character.”
The Perfect Character
To the surprise of the developer, Abby didn’t want the character to be an identical representation of herself. She wanted the character to be named Ruby. She wanted Ruby to wear purple and to keep her hair up in a ponytail instead of down like Abby would wear. But the developer added Abby’s distinct pink-framed glasses to Ruby’s design in the game to help maintain some of Abby’s unique traits.
The dialogue for the character was already written, so Abby also spent part of the day recording audio for the game, seeing the game-development process, and trying out the other games Filament was working on.
Learning About Making Games
The granted wish was special for Abby, but her family benefited as well. Her younger brother and sister had time to see how games are made from inside a development studio, and they went hands-on with plenty of games too. Mom and dad got a chance to think about something positive for the time being.
“They had a lot of women there,” said Abby’s mom. “Abby got to see that it doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl. There are places you can have fun stuff on your desk, you can talk and do fun things, make music and draw, and you can have that be a part of your career.”
After the visit, Abby was excited about being in a video game. She’s even more excited to have people see and play the game she had a hand in creating. Animobile Adventure is scheduled to launch this coming fall when school starts up again.