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”
Our design process has been guided by the design thinking model from the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University.
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.
We then mapped out the user-flow for our initial video game concept.
Prototyping & User-Testing
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.
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).
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
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.