Originally presented as a poster at IMFAR 2012, this project represents ongoing development of a therapeutic, physiologically-controlled video game that address autonomic and cognitive control issues in young people with high functioning autism (HFA). The game is intended to help young people with HFA learn skills to better manage anxiety and restrictive/repetitive behaviors (RRB). This project is supported by the Office of the Vice for Research and the Center for Applied Psychophysiology and Self-regulation at Rochester Institute of Technology.
MindGamers™ integrates (1) a multi-sensor, FDA(US)-approved encoder for physiological inputs; (2) evidence-based principles for treating repetitive behavior and anxiety associated with HFA; (3) customizable avatars, assets and game worlds meeting the user’s personalized therapeutic needs; and (4) a Dynamic Feedback Signal Set, (DyFSS); The DyFSS is a significant innovation that adjusts to each user’s unique and changing “stress-profile.” By integrating specific psychotherapeutic strategies with autonomic self-regulation, MindGamers™ links learning adaptive behavior with stress-lowering skills. Player strengths are assessed and represented by tools chosen for a utility belt worn by a customizable Goal-Directed Inner Motivational Projection (GDIMP). Players also create a Problem-Based IMP (PBIMP) to represent a RRB in the game. This first game level takes place in a school setting.
The project’s primary objective is to obtain feedback from young people 12-18 years of age with HFA on specific aspects of game design and play. These include: 1) which images are preferred to represent player strengths (i.e., on the utility belt); 2) which images are preferred to represent repetitive behavior (e.g., ears, eyes, body style, clothes, skin color of the PBIMP); and 3) preferences related to usability and biofeedback features.
On three separate occasions between summer 2012 and spring 2013, subjects play the most current prototype of MindGamers. After playing the game, subjects complete a survey that asks for preferences related to objectives one, two, and three above. Data will be collected on customization preferences for the PBIMP, strengths, usability and biofeedback features.
Comparative analyses will be made by means of ANOVA for all continuous variables. Age, gender, and diagnosis will be used as control variables in an effort to reduce their impact on the results. If the sample size permits, exploratory factor analyses will be used to identify the dimensions of variance represented in the data. Qualitatively, the feedback received from subjects will be used to refine game options, look, mechanics and feel.
Individuals with HFA are attracted to interactive games and media. Research with video games suggests that young people with HFA are receptive to therapeutic strategies in these manageable and controlled virtual worlds. Importantly, evidence suggests that young people with ASD are able to translate lessons learned in virtual worlds to real world experiences. Most existing physiologically-controlled video games neither utilize physiological hardware licensed for clinical settings or precisely integrate evidence-based psychotherapeutic strategies. Furthermore, licensed biofeedback packages are generally not as engaging as available videogames. This project includes innovations that bridge these gaps with a physiologically controlled, customizable, therapeutic role-playing video game prototype.