1 School of Technology and Management of Viseu and CISeD, Polytechnic of Viseu (PORTUGAL)
2 School of Technology and Management of Viseu, Polytechnic of Viseu, and Instituto de Telecomunicações (PORTUGAL)
3 School of Technology and Management of Viseu, Polytechnic of Viseu (PORTUGAL)
4 School of Education of Viseu, Polytechnic of Viseu (PORTUGAL)
5 School of Education of Viseu and CI&DEI, Polytechnic of Viseu (PORTUGAL)
6 School of Health of Viseu, Polytechnic of Viseu (PORTUGAL)
7 School of Technology and Management of Viseu, Polytechnic of Viseu, and Centre for Mathematics, University of Coimbra (PORTUGAL)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN21 Proceedings
Publication year: 2021
Pages: 9372-9379
ISBN: 978-84-09-31267-2
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2021.1892
Conference name: 13th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 5-6 July, 2021
Location: Online Conference
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects sensory processing and conditions the development of communication skills and social interaction. Literature shows that children with ASD are fond of technologies and videogames in particular. The predictable and constant behaviour of technological components, the visual appeal, and the challenges are often highly appreciated (Zakari et al., 2014). Besides, videogames typically allow users to play alone, which is adequate to the profile of such an audience. The use of videogames by autistic children has shown to be relevant, and studies are evidencing gains in several areas (Malinverni et al., 2017; Hedges et al., 2018; Ng & Pera, 2018; Valencia et al., 2019; Baldassarri et al., 2020). Even so, existing solutions that were specifically developed for this audience have assumedly pedagogical goals, which systematically compromises their ludic dimension (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015).

A study is being developed to design and implement a videogame that focuses on pure playfulness and provides an advantage to players who adopt specific strategies that rely on communicating with other players. This videogame is conceived for both intervention and research.

The game mechanics explores the flow theory (Csikszentmihalyi, 2011), in order to dynamically adapt the challenges to the skills shown by the players, trying not to let them reach states of anxiety (due to lack of skills) or boredom (due to lack of challenge). This reasoning is extended to motor skills, as autistic people may have difficulties. In this context, it is important to clarify that the study is limited to children with ASD without associated intellectual development disorders that compromise the viability of the very act of playing.

Also instrumental to the project, different scenarios are designed so that researchers can observe and collect scientific data, aiming at better understanding the related issues. Such scenarios support the analysis of the influence of physical proximity between the players, their prior level of familiarity, and their relative communicational abilities. Also under analysis is the impact of repeating the experience, both in terms of in-game performance and regarding a possible contribution to the relationship between participants and, eventually, with third parties.

The core of this paper is the presentation of the design guidelines that were created to support the videogame. The guidelines result from the contributions of experts, organised according to a Delphi technique (Green, 2014). The set of experts cover the fields of ASD, game design, special education, occupational therapy, rehabilitation, and educational research.

Also included is the description of the videogame development, which resorts to agile methodologies, allowing for an incremental and iterative production, supported by recurrent tests and consistently validated according to the intended objectives.
Autism Spectrum Disorder, children, communication, social interaction, videogames, playfulness, guidelines, game design, educational research.