Acmetonia Elementary student tackles inclusion, named finalist in video game design competition

An Acmetonia Elementary student is a finalist in a video game design challenge for a game he coded to raise awareness about accessibility in gaming.

Video games were never a big part of Owen Gamble’s life until the pandemic happened.

The 12-year-old would hop on his computer for a gaming session with friends on games like Roblox to socialize with them.

But he encountered one problem — most games his friends would recommend playing were not accessible for Owen.

“The main thing that was hard is most games I had to use my right hand,” he said. “My right hand isn’t as fast, so other people can react faster.”

After having a stroke in the womb, Owen was diagnosed with right hemiplegia at 10 months old. The disability results from brain and/or spinal cord damage, leaving paralysis of the right side of the body.

The disability limits his mobility to keep up with the fast-paced motions required with both sides of the body in gaming.

His mother, Stacie, said her son has to go out of his way to modify games to make them functional for him to play.

“The gaming world is not as inclusive as you think,” she said. “With everyone moving to online, it was a stark awareness of the games that were not inclusive.”

Noticing the lack of inclusion in gaming, Owen had an idea. He said he wanted to code a game showing the reality he faces trying to play right-handed dominated games. He created the game “undestined” through a computer gaming program called Scratch. He said the game plays from the perspective of a person whose dominant hand is their left one.

Sue Mellon, the gifted support and enrichment teacher for Allegheny Valley School District, said creating the game was a part of the national “Games for Change Student Challenge” competition. Middle and high school students (grades 5-12) submitted original social impact games for the chance to win prizes, including a $10,000 scholarship, she said.

“I am always looking for different programs for the kids to do, and I knew the kids loved games,” Mellon said.

Students were able to base their games around three social impact themes: “Shaping the World for Difference,” “Sustainable Cities” or “Voice of a New Generation.”

Owen’s game landed him as a finalist in the “Shaping the World for Difference” award category.

“I am so excited for him. He is such a nice kid,” Mellon said.

Owen said he didn’t think he would get far in the competition.

“It feels pretty good. I didn’t think 100% I would get that far,” he said. “I just did it for fun.”

His mother credits Mellon for providing the opportunity for her son to experience the competition. She enjoyed seeing his progress throughout the project.

“It was nice to see his hard work pay off,” she said. “It was the first time he sparked that kind of interest, and seeing his idea come to life on screen.”

Owen will find out where he places in the competition on June 16.

Tanisha Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tanisha at 412-480-7306, or via Twitter .

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