Don’t Drop That Phone: Why autism and video games click

(Phone reference is to mobile phone/iOS games such as  Cookie Clicker)

It’s that time of year again.

The biggest video game convention in the world!  E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo, #‎E32016), has been running throughout the second week of June in Los Angeles, California. Ever since 1996, it has been “the place” to watch trailers for new, upcoming games, witness the big shots of the industry present these games and the visions of each of their respective companies, along with the big bad tech by console (or game machine) developers themselves.

If you are a gaming enthusiast, E3 is like going to the Detroit Auto Show for motor enthusiasts in North America.

For the past five or so years, I’ve never missed an E3 conference. I’ve always wanted to know what Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft can cook up to impress me, along with other development companies. I regularly go to websites like Siliconera.com and Destructoid.com to read up on the latest gaming news, and I have a long, long web history that deals with the gaming community, along with lasting friendships based on the medium. Gaming has been my first love ever since I was 5, when my father bought me a NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) from Sears with the two-in-one pack of “Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt”, and I have great memories just sitting in front of a TV, controller in hand, ready to go through whatever epic chronicle was ahead. To me, any of the programmers who worked on these games would be automatic heroes, people to admire and cherish.

So you may be wondering what any of this has to do with autism. After all, video games, like movies, books, and sports, rely on systems that can be universally applied but which can also either nurture or turn off a person’s perception of their abilities or disabilities. Not everyone with autism likes video games in the same way that another person with autism does, either. But if you think that there may be a connection, well I’m here to affirm and explain it to you.

First, individuals on the spectrum can value routine and repetition, and what can be more routine and repetitious than video games? For example, the original NES “Dragon Warrior” game asked the player to engage in random encounters, or command-based fights, multiple times in order to progress through the game, typically utilizing the same commands each time.

Second, it feeds into the analytical reasoning of many on the spectrum. Certain genres, like “Puzzle”, “Adventure”, or “RPG”, use routines but analytical skills are required in order to add depth to the game’s mechanics. In “The Adventures of Lolo”, a puzzle game for the NES, you are tasked to move Lolo to the back of a room in order get through a labyrinth in order to save your love, Lala. To do that, you must assess each room to understand how to get Lolo to the doors, safely, without getting hurt.

Third, even with the multiplayer revolution, most games can be simply enjoyed alone, with the abilities to configure everything for an incredibly relaxing, and non-stimulating, experience. So I’ve discussed about analytical reasoning, and routine, but beyond that, most games can be greatly personal, while being greatly impersonal, experiences. It’s a way for individuals with autism to feel a strong sense of self-worth, to actually become a hero, in a world where they may have to deal with unforgiving parents, or pitiless bullies, and they don’t have to be forced into awkward social situations while doing so. Plus, because video games are all about gameplay, you can turn all of the sound effects and music completely off while still fully enjoying the experience.

And the icing on the cake is what is called the special interest component. Many games give lots and lots of reasons to become fully engaged, from Easter eggs (hidden developer messages in video games), to replay value, to having complex, but simple, systems that encourage analysis, experimentation, and discovery, like Pokémon. It is easier for an autistic individual to get completely sucked into a game world, than in any other form of media.

Hopefully, this will explain why so many people with autism really like video games a lot. As for me, I’m into them because I love them, simple as that.

Note from Els:

We invite all gamers to join us playing “Trivia for Good”, a new game that incorporates video clues. The fastest and most accurate player wins 80% of the $100,000 prize while 20% goes to charity, and we’re thrilled to be one of the beneficiary organizations.

What is your favorite video game?  Are you on the autism spectrum as well?  We like to hear your comments.

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