“If You Make the Story Good Enough, It Becomes a Reward”: Designing a Social Emotional Serious Game from the Perspectives of Youth on the Autism Spectrum and Professionals

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
J. Tang1,2, M. Falkmer3,4,5, S. Bolte6,7 and S. J. Girdler3,8, (1)School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work, Curtin University, Perth, Australia, (2)Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC), Long Pocket, Brisbane, Australia, (3)School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia, (4)Curtin University, Bentley, Australia, (5)School of Education and Communication, CHILD programme, Institute of Disability Research, Jönköping University, Jönköping, Jönköping County, Sweden, (6)Center of Neurodevelopmental Disorders at Karolinska Institutet (KIND), Institutionen för kvinnors och barns hälsa (KBH), Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, (7)Karolinska Institutet Center of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (KIND), Dept. Women's and Children's Health, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, (8)Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC), Brisbane, Australia
Background:  While computer-based interventions (CBI) have shown promise in improving emotion recognition skills among people on the Autism spectrum, currently there is a need to improve the engagement and generalisation of skills to everyday environments. The Serious Game framework proposes five core design elements which potentially address the limitations of current CBI. It is likely that projects guided by this framework and inclusive of end-users in the development phase will be both more effective and engaging.

Objectives:  Employing the Serious Game framework, this study aimed to identify the motivating features of a computer game targeting emotion recognition skills from the perspectives of youth on the Autism spectrum and professionals.

Methods:  Four focus groups, three with youth on the Autism spectrum (n=11) and one with professionals experienced in social skills interventions (n=5) were conducted. Data was coded using directed content analysis and framed within the elements of the Serious Game framework of motivating storyline, goal-directed learning, rewards and feedback, progression in level of difficulty and individuation, and provision of choice. The perspectives of the youth on the Autism spectrum were taken as the central focus and were compared and contrasted against those of the professionals.

Results:  Both groups suggested several features under the five main elements of the serious Game framework. The participants on the Autism spectrum favoured including social dilemmas with a gaming environment that was unpredictable and varied. The youth appreciated that a game provided them with the opportunity to experiment with situations that were potentially complex and overwhelming in real life. The professionals emphasised aspects of the game that supported the transfer of skills to real life contexts.

Conclusions: The youth and professional held differing views, with participants on the Autism spectrum stressing the importance of incorporating ‘motivating’ features in a story-based game and the professionals focusing mainly on the generalisation of skills to every day contexts. In combination the views of the two groups addressed the two main aims of the Serious Game framework of creating an engaging learning environment and promoting the transfer of skills to real life contexts. The contrasting perspectives of the youth and professionals highlights the importance of involving end-users in developing CBI. To date, CBI have focused on improving skills paying less attention to strategies aimed at motivating and engaging players on the Autism spectrum. Findings from this research suggest that CBI which focus on enhancing these aspects will be likely to experience lower dropout rates than those observed in current effectiveness studies.