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 and 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.


The Puzzled Jungle: One Hunter’s Journey to Employment

For me, starting off in the workforce wasn’t as timely, or as easy as it would be for someone who doesn’t have my hang-ups. The first real job I had was at the age of 20, delayed by being in an Independent Living Program for two years, and it was as a bagger at a local grocery store chain. While many people would find a job like that easy, and possibly refreshing, I found it to be nothing more than very stressful. The anxieties of dealing with customers, and cart management, were intensified through my outlook, but also it was the endless futility of such a simple process as mopping the store floors. For some reason, perhaps motor skills-related, mopping was so difficult for me that I would mop the floors over and over again, with very little luck. Because of the stress, I went through burn-out, dusted myself off and tried to move on.

Unfortunately, getting a replacement job was a very difficult prospect. I couldn’t, and still cannot, drive myself so I was limited in my options. I had a few placements, but they didn’t last very long and weren’t hospitable enough for my livelihood. Most importantly, more than being unable to drive and just plain bad luck, I had to deal with two major obstacles while trying to procure a subsequent job: psychological assessment tests and my own shyness.

Through years of interviews, applications, and the like, I’ve also learned that many employers are uninterested in following anything up unless you are communicable enough to put their feet to the fire. I got to have an interview with an electronic retail store, of which I was told that if I did “very good”, than there would be room to grant me two more interviews. I remember being told those exact words, but it took 6 months to grant me a second interview, due to a disinterest in communication with me, unless I put their feet to the fire.

The six and a half years I spent at the retail store were to become a time of relief, but also a time of irritation and constant bitterness. One of the worst parts of working there was being required to work on the day of Black Friday.  While I hated it for other reasons than just for autistic-exclusive ones, anyone on the spectrum could relate to the stress and anxiety of having to work around all of those customers on such a frenzied day of the year.

In my anger over Black Friday and a feeling of exhaustion working in the retail industry, I started applying for jobs as fast as I could trying to get out of the “retail trap”.  Once you work retail, it is difficult to get interested employers besides sales companies, or more retailers.  One bit of rhetoric that I started using in interviews was how accomplished I was as an autistic individual in having gainful employment when so many of my peers were unemployed.

UN statistics cite the percentage as 80%.

Part of the problem is that many companies get very reluctant in hiring people with mental disabilities due to accommodation costs imposed from ADA regulations and the increased likelihood of layoffs.

Eventually, through continuous effort to find more satisfying employment, I found the Els for Autism Foundation. They gave me a job more suited to me as an individual, a way out from the mindlessness of constant customer service and the ability to help others affected by autism.


Do you have any stories of employment challenges of your own and how you overcame them?  We’d like to hear in comments, below.