Go Go Games


Design Principles

This application has two primary goals – to teach multiple-cue selectivity, and to be highly motivating. Our driving objectives are to:

  • Make it Therapeutic
    • Leverage existing techniques known to be effective
    • Map level progression to therapeutic progression
    • Minimize negative feedback
  • Make it Fun
    • No experience necessary –  players learn to play by playing
    • Draw inspiration from games already popular within this group
    • Leverage known successful reward mechanisms and build in a variety of motivators
    • Monitor player stress and maintain a consistent level of “pleasant frustration”

Design Process

Our design process has been guided by the design thinking model from the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University.

Figure 1. The Design Thinking Process at the d.school

Empathy (Needfinding)

We started our empathy work with three different sets of immersion activities: understanding ASD, PRT, and video game design.

In order to best understand our potential users, we began by interviewing  and observing four different families with children with autism. In addition, we conducted interviews with autism therapists and specialists at the Stanford Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic, Wings Learning Center, and Arbor Bay School, as well as video game designers from Moonshot Games, Microsoft Game Studios, Motion Math, and Injini. During this four-month period, we learned about a variety of challenges common to children with ASD and the therapies available to help build skills in these areas.


From the insights we gained from our needfinding phase, we defined a particular user need to focus on:

How can we help children with autism spectrum disorders to recognize multiple features of the elements in their environments in order to improve their interactions with the complex world in which we live?


From there, we began brainstorming: How might we design a learning tool that enables our target users to practice pivotal response therapy anytime, anywhere while engaging in fun game play that they are naturally attracted to?

At the onset of the project, we knew that 41% of children with ASD spend “most of their free time” playing video games (Mazurek, Shattuck, Wagner, & Cooper, 2011). We explored various gaming platforms, but ultimately decided that the mobility of the iPad, as well as its easy touch-and-swipe screen interface was ideal for our users who tend to be active iPad gamers.

We created rough sketches and storyboards of potential interactions.

Intersections design concepts

Figure 2. Early game concept of user-interaction on the iPad.

Intersections design concepts: settings

Figure 4. Storyboard sketches of game settings and options.

Intersections storyboard

Figure 3. Storyboard sketches of potential game play.

We then mapped out the user-flow for our initial video game concept.

Intersections user flow

Figure 5. User-flow diagram (version 1).

Prototyping & User-Testing

Paper prototypes

Figure 6. Preparing paper “matching” games for user-testing sessions.

Paper prototype testing

Figure 7. User-testing with Brandon, a 7-year old boy with ASD.

Although we started with paper games to get a baseline idea of our users’ matching and multiple cue selectivity abilities, we wanted to make sure to have a working “interactive touchscreen” prototype since the senses vary per child. Our users are largely non-verbal and cannot express what they are thinking, which is why it has also been important for us to watch them interact with an authentic interactive experience.

Figure 8. Early Interactive Prototype

Figure 9. Brandon, age 7, test drives the “Intersections” prototype in his home.

After testing our first “Intersections” prototype (Figure 9.), we learned that the quarter-turn swipe motion from our original prototype was extremely difficult for autistic children, especially those with fine motor challenges. In response, we carefully thought through the problem and iterated the design by using curved roads for a smoother, more natural user-interaction (Figure 10).

Figure 10. User-testing an iteration of the car design with Bradley, age 6. We witnessed that he had difficulty with noticing the specific features of the cars (i.e., number of doors, passengers, etc.), which means that he falls into the category of our target user.

Based on the observations and insights from our user-testing sessions, we continuously iterated the design of our prototypes by:

  • Increasing the usability of the game interface
  • Improving the touch-sensitivity and responsiveness of the interactive elements
  • Prompting users with audio instruction
  • Providing positive feedback with enthusiastic verbal praise
  • Adding graphical hints to demonstrate the game objectives and mechanics
  • Varying game themes, backgrounds, and diversifying characters to encourage engagement
  • Conducting a learner study to assess players’ (short-term) gains as a result of playing the game

Iterative Design

Although we initially started our project with the intention of creating one game, we were inspired to design and build three fantasy adventures that reflect the varied interests (trucks, trains, and spaceships) of many children with autism with whom we’ve tested the game.

Figure 11. User-testing the initial “Build-a-Train” interaction with JJ, age 8.

Figure 12. Sydney plays the “Build-a-Train” game at Arbor Bay School with Director, Susan Rose.

Figure 13. Conducting our learner study with “Build-a-Train” at Wings Learning Center in Redwood City, CA.

Our final product was unveiled at Stanford University’s Learning, Design & Technology Expo on August 3, 2012.