Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Is your Aspie a born gamer?

So, as I am sure many of you know, a large number of Aspies seem to arrive with an inbuilt love of technology and all things digital.

My oldest son is no exception!

I have found that above all else, gaming is the best way to engage him in true, meaningful learning experiences that are self-motivated and highly rewarding (the virtual trophies, the new high scores, the online competition and the ultimate goal of game completion).

I have often felt conflicted about the benefits of gaming and about the level of his obsession,but as time has passed, I have learnt, read, watched and experienced so much that I no longer feel any conflict.

I hope that by writing this, some of you, who are perhaps still skeptical, might gain a new perspective and understanding, and perhaps even support your child's less than 'politically correct' hobby.

A bit of background.

Dominik was obsessed with the computer from around the age of 3. He would repeatedly attempt to 'break into' our family pc by trying many different passwords over and over again, giving up and switching it off by the power switch to just begin all over again! Eventually we decided to teach him how to use it rather than constantly having to do pc maintenance because of repeated, unnecessary rebooting!

He had some simple games revolving around 'Thomas the Tank Engine', 'Dora the Explorer' and 'Bob the Builder' to begin with and invariably completed them on the first try so we expanded his horizons to BBC Bitesize, OMGPop, National Geographic Kids and a few other 'kid friendly' sites that I have long since forgotten.

He would spend hours watching his dad playing 'Morrowind', 'Evony', 'Kings Bounty', 'World of Goo' and playing strategy/tower defense, puzzle and brain training games on King.com!

So, after several more years, along came 'Minecraft'!

I introduced Dominik to 'Minecraft' when he was just over 7 years old when the game was still being heavily developed and improved.

Well, it was like I had opened Pandora's box! 'Minecraft' combined his love of the PC, Lego, sand box games, YouTube research, real life physics, multiplayer servers and much, much more. He was in love and still is to this day. We have 'Minecraft' on our tablets, on our PS3, on our XBox and on our PC's.

If you are unfamiliar (or even skeptical) of the benefits of 'Minecraft', here are some useful links:

Minecraft In Education
Hey, Parents. What Minecraft Is Doing to Your Kids Is Kind of Surprising. (includes some excellent videos too)

The Benefits of Minecraft for Children

I could go on, but, if you are truly interested, you will have the idea by now! If not, then you should probably stop reading here as it is only going to get more controversial from your point of view!

During this time we also played many games that used real-life physics engines: 'The Incredible Machine', 'Happy Wheels' (yuk) and 'Crayola Physics' to name a few.

We played 'Bookworm', 'Scrabble', 'Spore', 'Worms', 'Little Big Planet' and countless 'Lego' games!

Using the 'Minecraft' multiplayer model, Dominik moved onto 'Steam' games ('Team Fortress 2', 'Portal', 'Half Life' and 'Binding of Isaac' (yuk)). 'Steam' offered him further opportunities to make new and interesting friends from around the world (some of whom he still speaks to to this day on 'Skype'), as well as improving his typing, reading and social skills (all unexpected and welcome events).

We bought ourselves a second hand Wii gaming system for his 8th Birthday and the fun just kept on coming! 'Mario Kart', 'Wii Sports' 'Raving Rabids' and the 'Zelda' games just expanded our repertoire further and allowed us to incorporate more gross motor skills into our learning, as well as continuing to improve his fine motor skills.

Whilst the learning is taking place, there is another important factor to consider...the family time! The joys of racing each other, out-shooting each other and sabotaging each other cannot be underestimated! We have had so many hours of laughter and family bonding over the Wii it is worth its weight in gold as far as I am concerned.

At this current time we have the following gaming systems in our house:

PS3 (x2)
Wii (x2)
Nintendo DS
Nintendo 3DS
XBox 360
Tablet (x3)
Laptop (x3)
Super Nintendo

So, as you can tell, I have now fully embraced my sons expensive hobby!

Some more games that stand out as being instrumental in his learning have been:

'Guitar Hero'
'DJ Hero'
'Band Hero'
'Portal 2'
'Mirrors Edge'
All of the 'Call of Duty' games
All of the 'Sonic' games we have
All of the 'Lego' games we have
All of the 'Mario' games we have
'Tomadachi Life'
'Angry Birds'
'Plants vs Zombies'

I am sure you are asking yourself how it is possible that these games could lead to learning experiences, well, I am going to tell you!

I am going to focus on the 'shoot-'em-up' type of game as I think this is the most controversial type of game in the grand scheme of things but here are some links to general gaming benefits/pitfalls:


10 Benefits of Video Games

Video game play may provide learning, health, social benefits, review finds

Are There Benefits in Playing Video Games?

The educational benefits of videogames

Gaming Can Make A Better World

Benefits of Gaming - A Graphical Representation

So, the 'Call Of Duty' series and others like it, were the games that I resisted buying for the longest period of time. I am an anarchist (please look up the definition if you think it is synonymous with violence of any kind) and a pacifist and I hate the idea of warfare full stop.

Buying the first game (which I bought last Christmas after having had the PS3 for two whole years prior to that), was a big step for me and a huge leap of faith.

I spent many hours watching Dominik playing these games trying to ascertain what the benefits are, as I was certain there must be some given the level of popularity of this particular genre.

He has learnt the following from these games as far as I can tell (this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • remarkable hand eye coordination
  • problem solving
  • strategy and planning
  • teamwork
  • focus
  • communication
  • patience
  • logistics
  • weapons expertise
  • history
  • military history
  • geography
  • English

The reason I decided to write this blog entry happened last night. Dominik chose to buy a new shoot-'em-up' game yesterday called 'Battlefield 4'.

As I watched him, I noticed that the graphics were of outstanding quality....such outstanding quality that the glare from the sun can affect gameplay and requires you to plan your strategy. The game engine is so precise as to allow you to walk on girders (if you are able), to plant bombs in rail cars and then close the doors to remote detonate them if an enemy enters the area and to parachute into areas occupied by the enemy and infiltrate their base. This particular game has an added element that intrigued me enough to actually play!

You can download and install, on any tablet, an app called 'Battlefield Commander'. This allows you to join the server that you are playing on on your PS3 and 'command' the gameplay. This enables further strategy and planning, the use of EMP's to disable to enemy teams communications and so much more.

Yes, not nice I hear you cry! I agree! I DO NOT envisage my son being military material and yes, I hate the idea that he is being 'trained' in modern warfare, but the long and short of it is, he is.

And he is extremely good at it.

The benefits of watching (and playing) these games with Dominik are that I am able to discuss some of life's' bigger questions with him within a context that he understands and loves.

How does he feel about war?
How does he feel about unmanned drones?
How does he feel about remote warfare?
Does he realize his skill set is one of a 'soldier of the future', where robots and unmanned vehicles will be the norm?
Does he realise that being able to control machines via game console controllers is something the military are really interested in? (Game Controllers Driving Drones, NukesArmy fly UAV spyplane with Xbox 360 controllerUs Army Remote Vehicles Using Xbox 360 Controller?Wii All You Can Be? Why the Military Needs the Gaming IndustryWar Games and the list goes on).

Whilst Dominik is uncomfortable with this reality, even he has to concede that I have a point! Through these discussions and many others like them, I hope that (as he matures), he will be able to make the right choices for himself...whether I agree with them or not.

It is not my place to make decisions about how he should prepare for his future. I do not have a crystal ball. I do not know what the future holds.

I want my children to make decisions that are right for them, not me. It is my job to ensure that he is fully informed and that he has a moral grounding that is sturdy. I am doing that to the best of my ability whilst enabling him to pursue his interests.

Whilst people are frowning upon 'gamers' as a group, they might want to consider that one day, in the not too distant future, a gamer might be responsible for saving their life.

The technology is not going to go away.
The horse has already bolted.

My son, and the millions of others like him, are being trained for war and they are the future.

I wonder what it will hold.



  1. My son is no exception either! he's on the spectrum with language order. he was accidentally introduced to minecfrat by his cousins at the age of three and now he's 5 now and has gained so much knowledge and skills!! we haven't introduced him to online portals yet because he's not interested in playing with other kids, but I'm sure when the time comes he'll be excited to be able to share his passion with like minded boys like your son!

  2. My son is no exception either! he's on the spectrum with language order. he was accidentally introduced to minecfrat by his cousins at the age of three and now he's 5 now and has gained so much knowledge and skills!! we haven't introduced him to online portals yet because he's not interested in playing with other kids, but I'm sure when the time comes he'll be excited to be able to share his passion with like minded boys like your son!

  3. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your story Emiko. I think digital and virtual media are a safe-haven for our children and I for one am very glad they exist. My sons life would have been far less rich and far more isolated were they not there.
    All the best.