The Impact of Online Computer Games on Mental Health of Children with Autism or Hearing Loss.
Objectives: This study examined the role of online computer games to facilitate learning relationships skills and to help improve mental health concerns of children with ASD and DHH. This study approached the role of these games as potential beneficial educational or psychological interventions that might improve social relations, social skills development, and mental health and well-being. Minecraft and its autism-specific modification, Autcraft, were chosen as the focus of this study due to their popularity, accessibility, and the co-operative, rather than competitive, gameplay characteristics.
Methods: This investigation recruited parents of children and children in the United Kingdom (UK) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). It employed mixed methods data collection. It consisted of two parts: an exploratory questionnaire (n= 195) and a small selection of case studies (n=3), which consisted of post-surveys, observations, and interviews. Subjects for the questionnaire were parents of primary school children aged 8 and over from three groups: children with autism (n= 115), deaf and hard of hearing children (n=10), and children without a disability (n=41).
Results: Minecraft is a popular game among children with ASD and DHH conditions, especially in the UK sample. Positive associations were observed between children’s Minecraft gameplay and the quality of those children’s friendships and peer relationships, as well as home life skills. Adverse associations were observed between mental health difficulties and the ability to develop good relationships with others through Minecraft play.
Conclusions: Playful, creative interaction with others, such as peers, teachers and other experts is helpful in making learning socially meaningful. Minecraft appears helpful in giving players new freedoms to explore, to experiment, to fail or succeed, and to progress toward desired and self-created imaginative goals. Positive associations within the questionnaire data with Minecraft use suggest this sandbox, open world game might serve as an assistive or supportive tools that can facilitate social creativity and play to impact positively with psychological benefit. Concerns for possible adverse effects will be discussed, as well as current limits of research integrity. Altogether, these data suggest possible positive benefits for Minecraft gameplay for children with ASD and DHH that may be considered for incorporation into educational pedagogy or psychological support.