The Argument for Video Games and ASD

10 Oct

I do not have enough fingers and toes to count my clients who play video games. The intensity of their usage ranges from so-called addiction to highly regulated passion (by parents, of course). I could join the chorus of individuals (comprised largely of clients’ parents) whose attitude toward video games ranges acutely from direct loathing to suspiciously eying. After all, video games have been linked to poor relationships with family and friends, decreased reading and homework time among adolescents, and possible aggression. But, I’m not willing to “sell out”, as one of my client’s would say. I’m also not willing to recount the standard fine-motor, hand-eye arguments either.

The parents of my clients often describe playdates during which video games were the sole activity. Two kids staring at one screen for several hours. How is that different, they ask, from one kid starting at one screen for several hours? Typically, there are many ways I answer this question, depending on the situation. A small get-together two weekends ago has shed some light on video games.

It is 10:00 AM on a Saturday in late September. I pull up to a client’s house. Rex excitedly answers the door and runs to the basement. I follow him to the basement to see Theo, who always arrives before me it seems. Shortly thereafter, the doorbell rings. Upstairs Rex and I go, opening the door for George, who is closely followed by John. The four boys barrel into the basement, bags in tow. I know the contents. Not surprisingly, Shaw is late. They each unload their bags, frantically, dumping a pillow case on the living room floor on Halloween night. In a flash, Brawl is going. For those of you not in the know (which is, by the way, entirely acceptable and not surprising), Super Smash Brothers Brawl is a Wii game with many well-known characters (Mario, Sonic, Kirby) and some lesser-known folks (Samus, Wolf, MetaKnight) battling each other in comedic fashion.

After an hour, the boys tired of this game. During this hour, there was only joy. No arguments. No anger. No frustration. Voices were loud, they were happy, and they were joking. Surely, this is my proof of the value of video games, right? Wrong.

Three hours later, after lunch, hide-n-go seek, dart tag, and Yu-Gi-Oh card trading, we returned to the Wii: Super Mario Brothers, a game that’s difficulty increases exponentially with the number of players. The boys played with the max amount: four. Mario, Luigi, Blue Toad, and Yellow Toad worked simultaneously on the screen toward the same goal (completing “levels”). As a side note, I’ve played this game with one other adult and, well, let’s just say, we needed some alone time afterward.

For one hour of Mario Bros., there was chaos. Bossiness (“Hurry up!”), arguments (“But that was my mushroom!”), frustration (“Why can’t we beat this?”), anger (“I keep dying”), quitting (“You won’t let me have the green Yoshi, I’m done”) and…success. They worked together to “beat” 9 levels of the game, not to beat the others’ character for 9 battles. Was it easy? No. If you listened to them, did they sound “nice”? Not always.Was everyone happy? Nope. But, in the end, they worked together in ways unmatched by any other experience. No project at school, sport on the playground, board game at home, or activity in my office could do this for them.

So goes my argument for multiple sets of eyes staring at one screen.


Posted by on October 10, 2010 in Educating the NTs


4 responses to “The Argument for Video Games and ASD

  1. Stuart Duncan

    October 13, 2010 at 4:06 PM

    My son did very well with that game however, he also did very poorly with it as it seemed to have no end that could be achieved each day. This meant that turning it off each day meant turning it off in the middle of a game. Very frustrating.

    However, Mario Party 8 on the other hand has been absolutely amazing for my son! A huge turn around, got him talking more, was forced to learn turn taking, learned how to “point at the screen” with the Wii remote, learned a variety of techniques as there are dozens of mini games, and learned how to lose gracefully, since anyone can win any game.

    Mario Bros was a good start, but had it’s flaws, but Mario Party 8 I have found invaluable for my son with Autism.

    • jholverstott

      October 13, 2010 at 4:12 PM

      Hi, Stuart, I understand the concept of not achieving an “end” and how important that is. Mario Party offers almost unlimited opportunities for all of the skills you mentioned. Has your son tried the Wii Sports Resort game? It’s likely not as fun as Mario Party, but just a thought.

  2. Corina Becker

    October 14, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    Personally, I have problems with the Wii; my brain can’t seem to understand how to manage the controls. Also, it seems I have some motor/coordination issues that become more noticeable when I play video games, in general. It’s the only time I’ve been noted for long strings of swear words (to the bemusement of roommates) when attempting to get my fingers to respond the way I want them to (to make it clear, my roommates were laughing at the swear words, not me having difficulty in the game; you know, the fact that their pacifist friend actually knows those words).

    But yeah, I think that in the right setting, video games can be quite useful. I think that there needs to be caution to make sure that addiction doesn’t form, and that it’s clear that while video games can be an outlet for anger and frustration, in real life, we do not solve problems with violence.

    But you’ve demonstrated the potential for social interaction with video games. My family plays Wii Sports when we visit my brother, when we couldn’t decide on a board game.

    Also, in later years, it can provide other social interaction opportunities. Gaming clubs, for example. I know that my university gaming club is one of the most active clubs on campus, providing gaming and socialization opportunities for people interested in all sorts of games, from DnD (which actually can be VERY social), to video games, card games and board games.

    Responsibly used, I think games can provide many good things. There’s a book, for example, Gaming Geeks and Fantasy Freaks, that explores gaming culture, including the impact on persons with disabilities, and how it can provide social opportunities, anger therapy, and problem solving skills.

    So gaming isn’t just all violence and addiction.

    • Corina Becker

      October 14, 2010 at 2:20 PM

      plus, online “games” like Second Life, provides support groups. For example, the Gimp Girl Community, an online community for women with disabilities.


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