Video games historically have had a reputation of being addictive, violent, and/or harmful. However, as more research is performed and as educators implement esports/gaming programs, the narrative about video games is changing.
One of the attractive qualities about video games and esports is that they can be inclusive. This inclusivity births hundreds of thousands of diverse gaming communities all across the world. These communities involve people from all walks of life, including those diagnosed with autism.
There are over 200,000 new cases of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) per year in the United States. The symptoms of ASD can vary in type and severity, and are typically recognized in early childhood. Commonly, those diagnosed with ASD struggle to communicate in social groups, making it frustrating to feel included and understood in their day-to-day interactions.
Being a part of a community is a human need. However, this need can be more difficult to fulfill if diagnosed with ASD. Luckily, video games have an unmistakable natural quality: they bring people together to form communities.
Many diagnosed with ASD feel drawn to video games. Whether the reason for that is due to the immersive storyline, beautiful artwork, or a guild full of friends, video games have the ability to empower those with autism in some massive ways.
1. Video games promote natural social interaction
Children and adults on the autism spectrum may have trouble developing language skills and understanding others. They can also struggle with nonverbal communication. Video game communities can aid in developing some of these skills through regular interaction with other players.
Most video games have communities of people that gather on platforms like Discord and Reddit to discuss gameplay tactics and to recruit others to play together. This opens up opportunities for players to interact with each other independently and in groups from all over the world.
The organic discussions happening in these communities usually surround the games that are being played. This helps those with ASD feel at ease discussing a topic they’re passionate about, via text or voice chat, with minimal social pressure.
2. Video games are great for learning how to accept mistakes
It can be hard to accept losing a game, especially when up for promotion in ranked. When playing video games, mistakes and failure are unavoidable. Yet, we keep coming back to try again.
Whether losing a life to a flying fire stick in the Mario franchise or getting defeated by the computer player in Mortal Kombat, there are countless ways to make mistakes in games. However, those with ASD can sometimes experience extreme stress about making mistakes.
Video games can teach us that not everything is perfect. We can’t always win. Gamers with ASD are encouraged through their gameplay to become more comfortable with the idea of imperfection.
Some of these failures can be learned from and avoided in the future. However, there are also some losses gamers simply have to move on from in order to progress. This encourages gamers to continue moving forward despite facing hardships along the way.
3. Video games improve flexible thinking
Whether it’s a new update or reaching the next level, players are often faced with new challenges as they progress through their favorite game titles. As such, repetitive and inflexible behaviors are a recipe for disaster in nearly any game. In order to progress in video games, players must be adaptive.
Those with autism can sometimes struggle with rigidity in problem-solving and accepting change in their environments. Video games are an excellent avenue for autistic players to learn to become more flexible thinkers. This is due to the constant and unavoidable flow of new challenges.
Getting lost, changing plans, and getting stuck on levels are common occurrences in most popular video games. This makes them a safe environment for those with autism to practice transition skills and expand their range of activities.
Video games offer a lot more than a source of entertainment. While researchers are still weighing the pros and cons of using video games as an avenue of learning for those with autism, the benefits cannot be ignored.