Can Video Games Improve Social Interactions?

video games for autism

Many people today have mixed feelings about using technology. While some use it to connect to people all over the world, others use it as a way to retreat from society altogether.

It comes as no surprise that autistic people often use it for the latter. It is easy for them to immerse themselves in a virtual world, where they are isolated from the clamorous demands of reality. Parents may complain that staying up in their room all day watching YouTube videos or playing video games is antisocial.

However, that notion may change in the future. New research into nonviolent video games promoting storytelling over action may have social benefits for people with autism.

Previous research on this subject suggests that games provide a more immersive experience and “enhanced” interest when they provide motivation to continue playing and satisfy the social needs of the player.

According to Daniel Bormann of the University of Freiburg, “The motivation to engage in and enjoy video games corresponds with principals that apply to human motivation in general.”Moreover, he adds that successful game franchises give players a wide variety of options to develop the game’s story or environment, provide well-balanced challenges, or “meaningful social interactions.”

The aim of this new study, published in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Science, was to find out whether this immersion is created by storytelling and whether it affects players’ ability to evaluate the mindset of other people.

The researchers assigned participants to play one of two games–– “Gone Home” or “Against the Wall.”

“Against the Wall” requires players to scale an infinite wall in a fictitious landscape. “Gone Home”, however, is a story-based game where the player takes on the role of an American college studentwho returns home from studying abroad to discover that her family is missing and their house abandoned.

After playing these games for 20 minutes, all participants took part in a task requiring them to “assess the emotions behind facial expressions” and did a survey on the degree of immersion they experienced while playing the game.

The study shows that players of the narrative-based game were more immersed than players of “Against the Wall.” Feedback generated from the survey suggested that this immersion in the game’s plot helped the players better perceive “opportunities for meaningful choices and relationships.”

Researchers found that the narrative elements of “Gone Home” also improved the players’ theory of mind: their ability to assess the mental state of other people.

Though the authors acknowledge that the effects of game-based storytelling needs further examination, the results are still promising. Clinicians and game developers could use this knowledge to develop treatment methods for people with impairments in social skills, such as autism spectrum disorder and social anxiety.

Written by Nina Bergold

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