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Go Go Games Studios Brings Gaming to ABA Therapy

This blog post was written by Alexis Hiniker, a co-founder of Go Go Games Studios. Go Go Games Studios was created by Joy Wong Daniels, Alexis Hiniker, and Heidi Williamson, who met as graduate students in Stanford University’s Learning, Design and Technology program. Daniels is an interaction designer, Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) alum, and former marketing director at The Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco. Hiniker is a former Microsoft engineer and manager, Harvard graduate, and a visiting researcher at the Stanford Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Lab studying cognition in autism. Williamson is an instructional designer, user researcher, and web developer with degrees in psychology and education.

You may not be surprised to hear that experts estimate that nationwide children on the autism spectrum receive far less therapy than is recommended. But did you also know that according to a 2011 study, kids on the spectrum love video games even more than their neurotypical peers? In fact, in the United States 41% of students with ASD spend the majority of their free time gaming.

In these two seemingly unrelated facts we saw an interesting opportunity. We wondered: would it be possible to take existing, evidence-based therapies and turn them into video games that students on the spectrum would want to play in their free time, just for fun? That was nearly a year ago, and the beginning of Go Go Games Studios: a video game studio and research lab that focuses on creating and evaluating educational video games designed specifically with students on the autism spectrum in mind. What started as a research project at Stanford University in the fall of 2011 has since become a business venture and labor of love for our team of three.

In October, we released Go Go Games to the iTunes store. Our first offering is a suite of three iPad games modeled on Pivotal Response Therapy and designed to help teach a specific perceptual skill that underlies learning and is especially challenging for those with autism. We crafted Go Go Games over six months, working with therapists, game developers, educators, and (most importantly) our exceptional user testers: thirty students on the autism spectrum who gave us invaluable feedback every step of the way. We worked with two phenomenally talented graphic artists to design themes, characters, effects and backgrounds that are especially engaging for our target audience.

The result of this process is three fantasy worlds where players manipulate trains, cars, and robots to find accurate matches. Players must notice and remember multiple aspects of each item they encounter in order to make progress in the game and advance to the next level. An algorithm carefully selects each item displayed on screen to gradually increase the demands on what the player must notice. For more details about Go Go Games, visit http://go-go-games.com.

 

Three key components are essential to making our games special. The first is identifying therapies that can be translated into games while preserving the elements that make these therapies effective. The second is making sure that the games are fun – a process that is much more complicated than it sounds! And the third is rigorously testing our games to assess whether they help students learn. This means more than trying our game out with kids (though we do a lot of that too!) – it means running and publishing empirical studies to form a scientific understanding of how players learn when they play. We are excited to be partnered with multiple research groups at Stanford University and the University of Washington to study the effectiveness of our game-based therapies.

Our next project is already in the works and we can’t wait to unveil it to the world! We hope you will keep an eye on Go Go Games, send your thoughts, feedback, and ideas to info@go-go-games.com and help us build games students love to play.