Confronting autism with videogames

Autism is still very much a mystery. Its cause is largely unknown, and has been inaccurately attributed to many things. It is a spectrum disorder and the way it manifests itself differs greatly from person to person. For those with high functioning autism, navigating the social world can be a baffling mystery. At Wired, Ryan Rigney talks about the effect videogames may have on this group:

A player with the username “Clearasil” said on the game’s official forums that online voice chat has improved his social skills.

At first, he wrote, the idea of talking to others caused him great stress. Now he’s worked at his voice communication skills so much within WoW that he’s unafraid to talk to anyone in-game, including strangers. “Step by step I got over it,” he wrote.

In 2010, Kim Enders wrote about using WoW as a learning aid for her 8-year-old son Thomas, who has Asperger’s. Thanks to the game, Enders says that Thomas has had plenty of opportunity to develop his social and communication skills, and she believes that the MMO’s math-heavy focus has benefited his understanding of numbers as well.

But it’s not a panacea:

For many gamers with autism, MMOs are a double-edged sword, according to experts interviewed for this story and anecdotal evidence from the gaming community. The extremely complex game systems can be particularly attractive to the autistic mind’s love of minute details. And for gamers dealing with social interaction problems, MMOs can let them talk to people in more abstract, less stressful environments. But their addictive nature and social elements might also cause players with autism spectrum disorders anxiety, fear, or paranoia.