Over the last decade, we’ve had the honor to provide hospitalized children with sources of relief and entertainment through technology and the medium of video games.
In the course of our work, we’ve discovered games are a form of recreation that often empower patients to re-engage in play when they otherwise have limited mobility, or are unable to access activities away from their bedside. In certain instances, they’re even a tool used in therapy.
Some of our team members can speak to the value of games in hospitals from firsthand experience.
Back in 2014, Ryan “Fwiz” Wyatt joined the board of Gamers Outreach. While Ryan is known to the video game community for his work in esports and on the YouTube gaming team, his career trajectory could’ve easily been derailed by circumstances surrounding his health.
As a child, Ryan was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – a type of inflammatory auto immune disease which affects a patient’s digestive tract. There is no cure for the disease, and patients who experience severe symptoms sometimes undergo multiple surgeries to lessen its complications. Ryan was one such patient.
In this interview, Ryan shares his perspective as a “frequent flyer” in the hospital, the role games have had on his career, how games made a difference during his stay, and why he’s made giving back a personal obligation.
Thanks for making time to share your story, Ryan. For those who aren’t familiar, mind giving us an introduction? Who are you and what do you do?
Sure thing. My name is Ryan Wyatt and I run the global business for gaming and VR/AR at YouTube. My day-to-day job consists of working with game publishers, creators, and partners to find success and execute on bringing incredible content to YouTube.
That’s quite the day job! Let’s go back to your roots. Where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in the Midwest, around the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. I was a big fan of Cleveland sports growing up. I went to college at The Ohio State University, and moved to Los Angeles about 8 years ago for my work in the video game industry.
What are your earliest memories of video games? When did you first become a gamer? When did you know you wanted a career in the video game industry?
I started gaming at the age of 3 after my mom bought an NES for my two siblings and I. My earliest memories of gaming were of my brother, sister, and I surrounding a giant tube TV, playing Mario Brothers 3. I fell in love with gaming. It was a more immersive experience as opposed to watching television. I’m now 31 years old and at no point in my life have I stopped playing video games.
I never thought about the legitimacy of working in the video game industry until my final years of college when I met Hector Rodriguez through the Major League Gaming (MLG) Call of Duty scene and started to learn about the world of esports.
I found out there was opportunity to volunteer for the website and administer matches. I spent 10 to 20 hours a week overseeing tournaments for free while I was in college. I progressed as a volunteer and eventually got promoted to a paid role as head of online tournaments. The stakes were a bit higher because people were paying money to enter those tournaments. I remember looking at a game called Halo and realizing how big that game was for competitive players. There were full-time professional gamers competing in those tournaments, but Call of Duty wasn’t getting the same support. That seemed odd to me because Call of Duty was a bigger game from a sales perspective. Me and another player named Hastr0 decided to commentate these tournaments. We felt we could bring more attention to these events if they were streamed.
MLG was supportive, despite our broadcasts being incredibly humble. I would commentate from my bedroom dressed in nice clothes with a red drape behind me so people didn’t know where I was. It was “low budget” for sure, but I wanted to make something out of it.
Hector really introduced me to the world of YouTube, and how people could make careers out of creating content and uploading it to the site. That’s when I started to realize if I stuck with gaming, I might be able to make it into a career.
That passion is something all of us gamers can relate to. It seems many who work in the industry have their own version of your “I made a way” story. You were at the front lines of the growth we’re seeing in esports now!
Let’s switch gears and talk about another experience you had as a child. Tell us about your time in the hospital. We know you were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – but for our readers, can you explain what that is and how it impacted you?
In simple terms, Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease and impacts the lining of your digestive tract. It’s categorized as an auto immune disease because your own body attacks itself. For me, Crohn’s affected my small intestine. It can cause a lot of symptoms, but the key characteristic is that it brings on inflammation – which causes issues with stomach pains, and can make you sensitive to a variety of foods. There are thousands of people affected, and unfortunately there’s still not a good understanding of how it develops. A lot of the symptoms that occur are mainly abdominal pains.
How did learning you have Crohn’s affect you as a child?
I was diagnosed at 10 and had my first surgery at 14. It was a weird thing to get diagnosed with. It’s not well explained or articulated, and I had it bad. I was really underweight. I didn’t eat much. I was in pain all the time. I didn’t have nearly the energy other 10 year olds had. It was scary going to school, having to go to the bathroom, and not being able to participate in other activities kids could. During my very first surgery, they removed 12 inches of my small intestine.
After the surgery, I looked at my circumstances as a chance to not be sad for myself. This was my challenge. I think having Crohn’s has made me a better person. On the outside, any of us could look like we don’t have anything wrong. It reminds me of that quote, “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Dealing with Crohn’s really made me take that to heart.
What does the treatment process for Crohn’s look like? How long were you in / out of the hospital?
I was in the hospital for 4.5 weeks during my first surgery, and it was miserable. It was a whole ordeal, and I had to make a lot of trips back to the hospital post-surgery for medications. I still have a 6 inch scar on my stomach from the procedure.
During your time at the hospital, what role did video games have in your recovery?
I was treated at Cleveland Clinic, and during that time, they had a super Nintendo cart they’d push around to each room. Kids would play for 30 minutes each. The cart had NBA jam, which was my favorite game. I remember thinking it was so cool – I would plan my whole day around waiting to get that cart. Aside from that, myself and the other kids had nothing. I was bored out of my mind. We didn’t have laptops or phones, and it felt so amazing to just get 30 minutes every day with that Nintendo cart. It really made an impact, and I can remember to this day my doctor playing games with me every time he came in. I always really appreciated it.
Why do you feel it’s important for you to be involved with Gamers Outreach, or charity in general? What does being involved in a cause like Gamers Outreach mean to you?
I believe life is largely based on “paying it forward.” I feel an incredible sense of duty and obligation to try and help others. As a child, there were people who took care of me and went out of their way to ensure I was OK. I think when we become older and self-capable, it becomes our turn to play that role.
Getting involved with Gamers Outreach was a no brainer for me. As soon as I heard there was a company that was building gaming carts to put in pediatric hospitals – something that had been profoundly impactful in my own life – I wanted to get involved. Gamers Outreach felt like the cause for me. It’s been a very natural fit for me to be readily available to help.
For any young gamers who may be facing similar circumstances: do you have any words of wisdom to share that may be of guidance during treatment?
There are a lot of challenges life throws our way, some more visible than others. Do everything you can to learn from those trials, and figure out ways you can help others or channel what may seem negative into something positive.
When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s, I thought of it negatively. I was being treated differently than others, I couldn’t participate in activities the same way, and life seemed unfair. But I came to realize my experience with Crohn’s made me appreciate life more. As a kid it’s hard to have that foresight – but if you believe everything happens for a reason, you can channel your struggles into positive actions. If I had the opportunity to change the past, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. It’s been a blessing in my life, and I think it’s allowed for great things to happen. I’d be a different person had I not had the opportunity to learn from my challenges.
Powerful words. Thanks for making time, Ryan! We appreciate it!