MMO Gaming May Help Mitigate the Effects of Autism

MMOs May Help Mitigate the Effects of AutismVideo games and mental health have an interesting relationship with one another and some even feel massively multiplayer online (MMO) gaming can help mitigate the effects of Autism. The media feeds off of the assumption that video games cause violence and often point to school shooters playing games such as Doom, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and more. However, many of these school shooters were also bullied in school, which is where mental health and video games make an intersection.  The goal of this article is to point out the positive aspects of video games and mental health rather than the negatives that the mainstream media likes to magnify.

A very simple phrase, correlation does not imply causation, is overlooked when trying to link video games to actual violence.  In the world of science and statistics, this means that a correlation between any two variables; in this case, video games and violence, does not necessarily imply that one causes the other. Often times, there are deeper issues involved other than playing video games and people use video games as a way to cope with issues. In particular, how massively multiplayer online games (MMORPGs) such as World of Warcraft can help those with mental conditions cope with their condition.

In the spring of 2010 a college senior wrote a thesis for his Bachelor of Arts in Communication at Saint Mary’s College of California covering the subject of MMORPGs helping those with communication disabilities. Professor Edward Tywoniak was the thesis adviser. It was concluded that although it would not be the one solution to help those with communicative disabilities, it would greatly help those with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.  These two most common communication disabilities mitigate one of the biggest symptoms of the condition, social interaction.

Social interaction is a very important part of human life and also is a key factor in gaining employment and thus, self-sufficiency. According to the Department of Labor 7.2 percent of people who could work were unemployed as of September 2013, but among those with communicative disabilities such as autism the unemployment rate was 81 percent, according to the Montana Autism Society of America.

Autism is also one of the fastest growing conditions in America. Autism diagnoses went up 172% in the 1990s and 1 in 100 children are diagnosed every year. The economic impact of autism is at $90 billion and growing along with the diagnoses. Therefore, it is important that we help those with autism become self-sufficient to mitigate these costs as well.

World of Warcraft is an MMORPG, which requires players to seek out other players to complete tasks such as dungeons, raids, quests, battlegrounds and arenas. To progress in the game you have to work as a team and be able to take directions, which are two extremely important aspects of employment. This requires someone to be adept at social interaction, something those with autism and other communicative disabilities struggle to develop.

However, there is a big issue with autism, fixated interests to the exclusion of all other things, which is a common symptom in autism. Like all things there should be moderation when a person with autism plays World of Warcraft. There are many stigmas not only concerning those with mental conditions but also those who just love games. There was a growing movement to include video game addiction on the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) which was released just this year, however it was rejected and it was listed as a Condition for Further Study. Autism was also listed in the fourth edition DSM-IV in 1994.

It is believed that if those with communicative disabilities play World of Warcraft on a frequent basis with the support of the community, they can help develop competency in social interaction. However, it is not recommended to replacing any current treatments for autism and other communicative disabilities, but rather as a supplementary treatment to help people interact with others, work as a team and take directions well.  If it works to enhance their ability to interact sociably they can use the skills learned while playing MMOs as a stepping stone to gain employment and self-sufficiency.

By Jose Luis H. Alvarez



Montana Autism Society of America
CBS News
Daily Free Press
WSMV Nashville

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