Thursday, January 26, 2006

Massive Multiplayer Online Game helps those with Aspergers

The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Nightime gave a unique insight into Asperger's Syndrome, related to autism, where people have problems in understanding other people’s thoughts and dealing with social interaction.

John Lester, from the neurology department at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has used MMOG Second Life as a learning tool for those with Aspergers. He bought an island, Brigadoon, essentially a world within a world, set up within Second Life. "I want to give people an environment where they can practice their socialisation skills and learn more about Asperger's, and help them help themselves," he said.

The residents create their atavars, kit out their homes and communicate with each other. Groups get together regularly and suggest meetings on the island. The many social misunderstandings, a feature of this condition, are then managed through reflection and discussion giving people informed support. It’s all about a virtual environment where people can safely learn from their peers, experiential learning without the harshness and consequences of making those mistakes in the real world.

The learning is a three stage process, first getting better at communicating with others on the island and making friends with people they’ve never met, then taking that experience to improve communications in the game at large, then in the real world. Many with Aspergers/Autism are already highly computer literate and active in online communities. They are also used to altering their physical world to cope with the real world, so this opportunity to build a virtual world and deal with others online makes sense.

If you have any doubts about how wonderful this idea is, read the following blog, largely with entries from people with Aspergers/Autism. Who said that games are socially isolating phenomena?

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