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Therapeutic Benefits of Gaming

Gaming has long been considered entertainment, but its therapeutic potential extends beyond fun and escapism. In recent years, researchers and mental health professionals have recognised the impact that both video and tabletop games can have on individuals’ well-being, particularly those with neurodiverse conditions like autism. 

In this blog post, we’re diving into the therapeutic benefits of gaming for autistic individuals. We explore how it can promote cognitive development, social interaction, and emotional regulation for young autistic players. 

Cognitive Benefits of Video Gaming

Video games are often praised for their ability to engage players in complex problem-solving tasks, strategic thinking, and spatial reasoning. For autistic individuals who struggle with certain cognitive processes, video gaming can provide a unique platform for honing these skills in a safe and interactive environment.  

Research has shown that playing video games can improve attention, concentration, and executive functioning, helping autistic individuals develop adaptive strategies for navigating often real-world challenges.  

Gaming for Autistic Individuals - Benefits of Gaming - Ignition Gamers

According to Professor Stefan Greuter from Deakin’s Faculty of Arts and Education, some of the most valuable skills you can learn from video games include: 

  • Problem-solving 
  • Spatial reasoning 
  • Hand-eye coordination 
  • Communication and teamwork. 

Certain types of video games, such as puzzle-solving or simulation games, can also enhance memory retention and information processing.  

By immersing players in virtual worlds that require active engagement and decision-making, video gaming stimulates various brain areas, promoting cognitive flexibility and creative problem-solving abilities. 

Here’s another article you might find interesting about how applying appropriate virtual-based approaches could improve cognitive indexes in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  

Social Benefits of Tabletop Gaming

While video gaming offers many cognitive benefits, tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) – offered here at Ignition Gamers – help foster social interaction and communication skills.  

Unlike video games that individuals play as solo players, tabletop games encourage players to collaborate, communicate, and cooperate with others in real time. For autistic individuals who may face challenges in social situations, tabletop gaming provides a supportive and inclusive environment where they can practice social skills in a structured, safe and low-pressure setting.  

In role-playing games (RPG) like DnD, players take on different roles within a shared narrative, working together to overcome obstacles, solve mysteries, and achieve common goals. And, there’s also a lot of information players must retain. It’s not just roll the dice and move because you must remember everybody’s stories – within the overarching story.  

This collaborative storytelling experience promotes empathy, perspective-taking, and emotional regulation, helping autistic individuals develop meaningful connections and friendships with their fellow players.  

Finally, the open-ended nature of tabletop gaming allows for flexibility and creativity, empowering players to express themselves authentically and build confidence in their social interactions. 

Still not convinced that DnD is an excellent game for autistic individuals? Autism Actually has compiled a list of 15 Ways DnD can help Autistic Individuals – check it out!  

Emotional Regulation Through Gaming

Gaming also plays a crucial role in promoting emotional regulation and well-being.  

Autistic individuals can experience heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and sensory overload. Whether video or tabletop, gaming can offer a therapeutic outlet for self-expression and relaxation. Gamers, immersing themselves in captivating narratives or engaging gameplay mechanics, can temporarily escape from the challenges they face in their everyday lives and find solace in the virtual world. 

Emotional regulation through gaming - autistic gamer - Ignition Gamers

Gaming can also serve as a form of self-soothing or sensory regulation, providing individuals with ASD with a sense of control and predictability in an otherwise unpredictable world.  

Whether it’s the calming repetition of a puzzle game or the immersion in a role-playing adventure, gaming allows players to regulate their emotions, manage stress, and cultivate a sense of empowerment over their experiences. 

Therapeutic Benefits of Face-to-Face Gaming

Of course, we encourage you to explore opportunities for social gaming in a face-to-face setting – like what we offer here at our Ignition Gamers studio in Canberra. When considering this type of gameplay for autistic individuals, we consider that the therapeutic benefits of gaming extend to include: 

  1. Improved social skills: Face-to-face social gaming helps autistic individuals develop and practice essential social skills, such as communication, cooperation, and conflict resolution, in a supportive and interactive environment.
  1. Enhanced emotional well-being: Engaging in social gaming with peers in a safe space can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, boosting emotional well-being and fostering a sense of belonging and community.
Group of young men cheering as they participate in gaming as therapy as part of NDIS social activities provided by Ignition Gamers Canberra
  1. Real-time feedback and interaction: In-person gaming provides immediate feedback and interaction, allowing participants to adjust their behaviours and strategies quickly, leading to more effective learning and skill development.
  1. Building friendships: Face-to-face interactions create opportunities for genuine connections and friendships, which can be more meaningful and long-lasting than online interactions.
  1. Encouragement in physical activities: Many face-to-face gaming sessions include breaks for physical activities or other activities outside of gaming (like our recent trip to Holey Moley Canberra!), promoting a healthier lifestyle and reducing the risks associated with prolonged sedentary behaviour.

The Importance of Health Gaming Habits

We can go on and on about the therapeutic benefits of gaming, but while gaming can be incredible for autistic individuals, there are potential pitfalls to be wary of, including: 

  • Gaming addiction 
  • Poor sleep and daytime exhaustion 
  • Aggression and poor emotional regulation outside of gameplay 
  • Irritability when not gaming 
  • Social isolation 
  • Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts 

This doesn’t mean autistic individuals need to remove all gaming from their lives – it’s about finding that healthy balance. Parents or carers should encourage and support healthy gaming habits like taking regular breaks, staying hydrated, balancing gameplay with physical and outdoor time and setting limits.  

 

The therapeutic benefits of gaming are undeniable

Gaming provides young autistic people with a platform to explore, learn, and connect in ways that traditional forms of therapy and education may not. From enhancing cognitive skills and social interaction to promoting emotional regulation and well-being, gaming offers a holistic approach to supporting autistic individuals in their personal growth and development. As researchers continue to explore the therapeutic potential of gaming, it’s essential to recognise the impact gaming can have on individuals’ lives, providing them with opportunities for learning, connection, and empowerment. 

At Ignition Gamers, we use gaming to support the growth of young autistic individuals. Our face-to-face social gaming sessions offer a supportive environment where participants can build connections, develop skills, and reach their full potential. 

Ready to join the adventure? Explore our sessions today and contact us to learn how we can support you or your loved one’s journey through gaming. 

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