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Video Games Are a Therapy for Autistic Sufferers

Content Descriptions

  • What is Autism/ASD?
  • Story Telling is Good for Autism
  • The Center for Brain Health’s Video Game
  • Benefits of Video Games for Autisim

Practice Opening (for)

Video games, although generally played alone, are not an antisocial endeavor. Neuroscientists at The Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas have collaborated with video game developers on a counterintuitive innovation: a game for those suffering from any form of Autism to utilize as therapy. Creators, psychologists, and patients alike have attributed increased social and empathy skills within the players to their playing the game. Scores on psychologically based social tests improved, as well as displays of enhanced social interactions. In the game, players create an avatar and practice interacting in virtual simulations of real world experiences that they may have trouble navigating, like jobs interviews and behaviors in class. It sounds counterintuitive to prescribe autistic patients an electronic, fictional game to improve their social performance in the real world, but psychology, neuroscience, and the autistic players alike are all witnessing the positive benefits being exhibited.

Practice Opening (against)

Medical professionals may start prescribing video games to those afflicted with autism. Researchers and video game developers collaborated at The Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas and created a game designed as therapy for those on the autism spectrum to utilize. They purport that this creation provides the patients with a safe environment to develop their social skills. However, indulging in video games as therapy for autism is not a viable solution. Real world experience is crucial in overcoming social ineptness. Assuring those with autism that they can improve by sitting alone and controlling an avatar on a screen makes little sense.  Going out, meeting people, and becoming better at socializing in actual environments is authentic and will prevent a video game from becoming a crutch. A Pediatrics Magazine study found that autistic individuals are more likely to become addicted to video games than those without the disorder. Prescribing an abstract, unreal and addictive treatment method for autism is a very frightening idea.

Practice Opening (for)

An ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is a brain based disorder that greatly inhibits social skills and causes displays of unnatural behavior, such as resistance to change and repeated movements. Surprisingly, this life-altering disease can be alleviated by a video game. The Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas, teamed with neuroscientists, unveiled a game created to help those who are on the autism spectrum. Along with this specific game, storytelling video games in general have been found to improve social functioning in these individuals. Video games have become a feasible new therapy for an ASD, allowing sufferers to control characters in real world simulations that train their sympathy, empathy, and social skills without the intense pressure and societal backlash often faced by this group.

What is Autism/ASD?

Autism is a brain based disorder that impairs social functioning and communication skills. ASD stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism is four times more likely to affect boys than girls, and boys are typically drawn to video games.

Web MD reports common symptoms of autism: significant problems developing nonverbal communication skills, such as eye-to-eye gazing, facial expressions, and body posture. People with autism may have difficulty understanding another person’s feelings, such as pain or sorrow. Video games are a great place to practice these skills using virtual characters.

Story-Telling is Good for Autism

A German and Austrian study found the underlying motivations behind playing video games, and the benefits games can provide for those with autism. The psychological theory of mind is behind the positive aspects of video gaming. Theory of mind allows us to put ourselves in the minds of others, and storytelling in video games is very effective at immersing players in various points of views. Autistic players, who generally lack at figuring out the thoughts of others, are given a character to play as. They can learn to empathize with the person they are playing as, and begin to care about the fate of this virtual character.

Researchers tested two different video games on randomly assigned participants. One group played Gone Home, which involved players returning home from college to find an empty house; their goal was to figure out what happened to their family members using clues. The second game was Against the Wall, in which players scaled a wall with interactive bricks. This game, however, provided no story line or character development.” The storytelling games triumph over the nonlinear, arcade style games.

The Center for Brain Health’s Video Game

Traditional psychology often employs role playing between the client and the psychologist, who act out different social scenarios together. The Center for Brain Health’s new creation, backed by neuroscience findings, takes this role playing to a more realistic level. They’ve created a video game specifically designed to aid those with autism. Whereas some games, such as Gone Home, have been employed for this purpose before, this is the first actual game created solely for this purpose. This game provides players with a helpful experience: “using high-tech graphics, customized avatars, and real-time face tracking…to practice engaging in realistic social situations like job interviews, confrontations with neighbors or even dates — scenarios that are often vexing for individuals with an autism spectrum or anxiety disorder.”

Video games are fun, hold a player’s focus, and provide them a safe place to fail. Normal conversations can be outside an autistic person’s comfort zone, and this game gives them a relaxed and pressure-free environment to have authentic conversations through avatars.

Benefits of Video Games for Autism

Leading clinicians for the Center for Brain Health’s gaming project found progress in users within five weeks time. Scores on tests for emotional recognition rose, as did the ability to understand what others were thinking. (add benefits as found)

Working Hypothesis 1

Video games are a viable form of therapy for autism, giving sufferers a safe environment to hone their social and empathetic skills through realistic simulations.

Working Hypothesis 2

Prescribing video games for those with autism is not a productive treatment, for playing a fictional simulation is far inferior to gaining real world experience and social practice.

Topics for Smaller Papers

  • The effects of other specific games, such as Gone Home and Evo, on autism.
  • Video games are often said to be addictive for those with autism. I could devote a paper to weighing the benefits of playing the game against the negatives, namely the possible addiction that could develop.

Current State of the Research Paper
There does not seem to be a lot of information published about the effect of video games on autism. There have been several studies done on how storytelling games can aid the social skills of those with the disorder, and an entire game has been designed to do so. I will have to draw many of my own conclusions and find connections between the material that currently exists on the topic. This specific argument is challenging due to the little information, but the content that exists does strongly help the case for prescribing video games to those on the autism spectrum. I will try to focus largely on the Center for Brain Health’s game and the findings/research around it, and I will incorporate the findings of the effects of storytelling in games on autism.

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