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Posts tagged ‘video games’

Video Games & ASD

In my previous blog, I wrote about some of the reasons why people on the autism spectrum might be attracted to anime, or Japanese animation. This time around, I would like to talk about something comparable: why video games are so appealing to us. Video games are not as niche of an interest as anime, and they are massively popular among plenty of demographics. However, every single person I’ve ever met with ASD, myself included, has been a huge fan of video games. Why is this? Many of the reasons are similar to those of anime, such as the presence of a wide, accepting community, but there are some unique reasons as well that make video games stand out. I will attempt to explain this appeal with a combination of research, as well as my own personal experiences and anecdotes.

Video games offer a wide variety of different ways to play, and there’s a genre for just about anyone. There’s single player, local co-op and online multiplayer, depending on what you’re looking for. As discussed in this article, video games can provide a level of escapism from the confusing real world, and into one where you, the player, control everything. You have the ultimate authority over what happens, and there’s an element of certainty and security. But security and comfort can’t last forever, and eventually you’ve got to deal with the harsh reality that sometimes things aren’t going to go your way. Video games are highly competitive and can be difficult, and if you play against other players, you’re going to lose. It may be hard to comprehend for people who have never played, but these games are high intensity and can get pretty heated. But if you stick with it, you’ll learn to not be a sore loser and accept defeat, a good lesson to learn for those with autism who always want things to go exactly according to plan.

Those are some of the main reasons that I personally agree with wholeheartedly, but there are other factors as well. One is the development of fine motor skills. It is well known that people on the spectrum often have issues in the development of motor skills (once again, I’m no exception), but video games can certainly help with that. Chief among these skills is hand-eye coordination, which video games teach you. I know that gaming helped me in that regard, as well as practicing typing. I overcame things I couldn’t do naturally through practice, and others can too.

One more important thing I’d like to mention is the element of problem solving. Games present a challenge much like that of a puzzle, where the solution is something you have to figure out on your own. As we’ve discussed before, many individuals with ASD have wonderful amounts of creativity, and can come at problems from unique angles. Video games are a perfect outlet for this, where the solution is always there, but it’s up to the player to figure it out. There is a terrific sense of accomplishment you feel when you overcome a challenge in a game; it instills you with confidence which is often lacking from those with autism, and that confidence can even carry over into real life.

For all their negative press, video games have a lot of draw to them, especially those with autism. And now, we’re discovering that they could even be an effective tool for teaching!

  • G. Sosso
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To the Moon and Autism

to the moon

I’ve been noticing something about myself recently; my interest in video games is declining rapidly. They simply don’t pique my interest in the same way they used to. However, something I do love is a good story, and story-driven games seem to be the one exception to this trend. So I decided to try out the 2011 title To the Moon, which I had heard good things about. I was expecting a solid, engaging story. What I got was so much more. It nearly brought me to tears, not only from the plot itself (which was terrific), but from two of the characters: River and Isabelle, both of whom are on the autism spectrum. So without further ado, here’s my “review” of To the Moon.

Brief Plot Synopsis
I won’t spend too much time on this one, since it’s not the focus of this blog, but it is important to understand the basic gist of what’s going on in this world the writers have created. Basically, the story takes place somewhere in the unspecified future, where a controversial technology has been created that allows those who operate the machine to enter someone’s mind and alter their memories. The fictional Sigmund Corporation uses this method to grant the last wishes of people on their deathbed, who want to experience something they never got to do in their life. Our story opens up with 2 Sigmund employees, Dr. Neil Watts and Dr. Eva Rosalene, who have been contracted to fulfill the last request of an elderly man named Johnny Wyles, who wants to go to the moon, though he is unsure as to why. Along the way, we see Johnny’s life unfold through the eyes of Neil and Eva. Most importantly, we see Johnny’s now-deceased wife, River, before, after and even during her diagnosis with ASD. I won’t spoil any of the specifics of the story, both out of courtesy and for the sake of time, but I truly can’t recommend it enough. You do not have to be a gamer to enjoy To the Moon (in fact, with the exception of an arbitrary puzzle mini game every now and then, there’s no actual game play here besides walking around).

Portrayal of Autism
We see two vastly different depictions of ASD in To the Moon, which I’m glad to see, considering how it is a spectrum and no two people on it act the same, something which is addressed in the story. As I mentioned before, there are two characters in the game with high-functioning autism (heavily implied to be Asperger’s, seeing as how this came out before ASD became the all-encompassing term), River and Isabelle. River never got diagnosed until she was already a middle-aged adult, and by that point it was too late for any real therapy. She spent her entire life being an outcast with little to no social skills, as well as habits that no one else could understand. The only people she connected with were Johnny and Isabelle, who could appreciate her. Speaking of Isabelle, she represents the other side of the coin. Her ASD was caught early on in life, and she was able to receive the help River never got, and as a result, emulate the behavior of the ‘neurotypicals’ as she calls them. You might think that Isabelle was the lucky one here, and in some ways you’d be correct, but Isabelle herself actually envies River. Since she went through so much therapy, she never really got to be her true self; she sees her entire persona as a mere facade. This really spoke to me on a deep level, because it brings up a major ethical question: is it truly better to change who you really are for the sake of fitting in with society’s expectations? For someone on the spectrum, whose way of life is preferable: River’s or Isabelle’s? To all the parents out there: do you think that treatments are worth it, if it means fundamentally changing who your child is? I don’t think that there’s a right or wrong answer either way; it’s situational and up to personal preference. But it’s a question that I certainly believe is worth asking.

Overall, To the Moon was a satisfying experience, and I’m glad I picked it up. It explores its narrative in a way that the medium is reluctant to emulate. If you want an interesting take on ASD, alongside an emotional, at times heart-wrenching story about loss, regret and the power of love, then I suggest you try it out too.

Written by Gage S.

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