Sunday, May 17, 2015

Video Games and Autism - GJG

Continued from the original post in ...

There is an audience of autistic gamers

I will pose a question for the readers out there who happen to be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Doesn't it feel like sometimes that even though you are included in gaming activities you are still, in one sense, excluded and ignored? You wouldn't be alone if you do feel that way. While numerous companies in the Video Game Industry have at least attempted to reach out to this specific audience of gamers, the fact remains that even today there is some sort of disconnection in communication.

It's hard to know what degree of autism a person has when you first interact with him or her, which makes it difficult for any group or organization to know what to do to accommodate that said person. Some gamers have high-functioning autism while others have low-functioning autism. It really does vary.

It does help that game development companies and gaming organizations are pitching game accessibility programs to these audiences. I believe there is a legitimate purpose for these programs. We want to give autistic gamers the same kinds of opportunities that other gamers receive when it comes to interacting with gaming content. However, I have said this countless times both in-person and online, which is that it's one thing to promote and spread Autism Awareness to other people, but it's another thing to really develop a true understanding of what autism is about. These aren't one and the same.

When coming up with some sort of blueprint as to how to tackle this issue, I really don't think that you need to make this complicated at all. There are a few basic things that I think are needed to properly tackle the issue of how to open up to autistic gamers. I will run down a short list just to start this conversation.

Give Autistic Gamers a Chance to Share Their Opinions

When the time comes that an autistic gamer is truly willing to express his or her feelings on gaming content or on gaming topics, game development companies should allow these gamers to speak their minds. What's on the mind of an autistic gamer when he or she plays a video game? Where does that mind wander off to? What's mainly important to these kinds of gamers? Game development companies won't know unless they are willing to ask.

Give Autistic Gamers Legitimate Opportunities

This has been at the core of my struggles in obtaining official work with a game development company. Obtaining an opportunity to work on something official in the Video Game Industry doesn't come every day, and when an opportunity does come, you really can't pass it up unless there are circumstances that prevent you from plunging in.

It's hard for people who are outside of the Video Game Industry to obtain work in an industry that they are truly passionate about. On the surface it feels like 100-1,000 times harder for an autistic worker to obtain any kind of position on a game development team. The reasons are obvious. However, you do hear of some stories here and there where autistic workers can tell success stories in working on video games.

I have said in the past that if companies, no matter what industry you are in, utilize the strengths of autistic workers and not dwell on the weaknesses of them, then there will be rewards in store for that company. What does an autistic worker do best in game development? Put that worker in a position where he or she will feel comfortable and where that worker will maximize his or her potential with time.

Whether it's trial runs, part-time work or the like, there has to be some way to utilize the autistic worker in the game development workforce. The Video Game Industry is in part about creativity, so how much creativity is developed in this industry concerning this issue? Some companies get creative in this aspect while others miss the boat completely.

I have been trying to scratch and claw my way into the Video Game Industry as a content-generating writer because I thoroughly believe that I have what it takes to be a game writer. I have shown samples of my work to some game developers already and I have contacted many game development companies, but to no avail. I have played the Waiting Game for some time now, and sometimes I do wonder if the reason why companies pass me up is because of me being autistic, and NOT because they're just not hiring any writers at the time.

One use of a Game Accessibility Program

Don't Belittle Autistic Gamers

I know in many video games we see scenes unfold where stereotypes are made fun of, whether it's just for fun or if it's actually intentional. In this case, I don't find it to be a laughing matter if video games ever take a shot against autistic people just for the sake of cracking a joke. I know that we are viewed differently by other people, and I know how hesitant other people can be when they are around us, but I would appreciate it if you wouldn't belittle us in subtle "read between the lines" ways. I'm mainly talking about the big time AAA game development companies here. You can say that you support autistic gamers, but if your actions are far from that message, then I can't take your company seriously at all.

When You Say Game Accessibility, What Do You Mean?

Speaking of sending the right message, what is your message exactly? What do you say about Game Accessibility for both physically and mentally disabled gamers? You provide a platform for autistic gamers to be themselves while they play their favorite video games, sure, but what does it actually mean to you? How much do you, as a company and as an industry, value Game Accessibility? Is it something you see as being important, or is it more likely an afterthought?

Autistic children need to find a way to improve their social skills and having them socialize through the act of playing video games certainly helps. No doubt about that. However, what are you ultimately trying to achieve through Game Accessibility programs? Are you trying to build these children up to experience bigger and better things down the road? Are you intending to prepare them to experience a possible future career in game development? What will the Video Game Industry as a whole take from successes in Game Accessibility?


In the coming years, I would like to think that there will be more success stories concerning autistic workers right around the corner, especially for autistic workers in the Video Game Industry. However, I am somewhat worried by the false perceptions that some game development companies have of autistic gamers and workers, and if these same false perceptions will end up hurting us autistic people down the road. Not all companies think and operate the same way. All companies have different business models, methods of using creativity in game development, and views on tough topics such as Gaming and Autism.

And by the way, don't steer towards Autism Speaks anytime soon. Autism Speaks is an organization that views Autism as an illness that needs to be cured, which is a view that I personally don't share. Instead, I suggest that if you want to give an autistic person some help, feel free to contact the members of this organization called the Autism Self-Advocacy Network. Thank you.

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