USC students create video game to help children with autism

New game Social Clues aims to teach children to make eye contact and recognize others' emotions.

by

A team of students at the University of Southern California has developed a game called Social Clues, but not for profit, at least not right away. The 35 USC students, who have backgrounds in fields like engineering and design, have made the game to help autistic children. Specifically, the game aims to teach children to make eye contact, listen to others, and recognize others' emotions.

In Social Clues, children play as one of two characters: ParticiPETE or communiKATE. In an effort to find their lost toys, they must then converse with characters in virtual depictions of real-world settings. Along the way, USC says, children will "learn the dos and don'ts of social interaction."

In one scene, children must correctly identify the emotional state of a non-player character (NPC), while another asks users to drag an arrow until it aligns with another character's eyes to teach children about the importance of making eye contact during conversation. A friendly parrot named Sherlock helps the children along the way.

"What we’re trying to do is break down everyday interactions into something very understandable, very manageable," USC Marshall School of Business MBA student Jeremy Bernstein said in a news release. He worked on the game as its project lead, alongside his wife, Karen Okrent, who is a speech pathologist.

The skills that Social Clues teaches effectively serve as a "road map" for children to use when they are away from the computer simulation, Bernstein said.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that around 1 in 68 children have autism spectrum disorder, which USC said shows that the need for a game like Social Clues "has never been greater."

To make Social Clues, USC developers met with more than a dozen autistic children, as well as therapists. Feedback derived from these working sessions inspired changes to the game's user interface in the interest of clarity--bright colors, simple characters, and big buttons were added.

Social Clues itself came out of USC's Advanced Games course, which sees a game through from inception to completion over the course of two semesters. USC reports that the designers continue to work on the game as they explore the possibility of a commercial release.

USC's Advanced Games course also spawned 2010's The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, which was published by Borderlands studio 2K Games.

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch
Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Discussion

35 comments
The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

Nice to see that there is some shred of good left within society. 


+1 faith in humanity restored.

ZeroRaider
ZeroRaider

I thought this game already existed? (it's called Sonic)

Holy-Rapture
Holy-Rapture

This is great, I love how people are making games or modifying gaming for persons with special needs as a means of teaching and therapy. I've been thinking about getting into the gaming industry and this kind of thing has been getting my attention more and more. Might finally know what I want to do with my life haha

staticsnake87
staticsnake87

How about we make a game to teach parents and teachers how to recognize autism, especially asperger's, and to deal with it by recognizing that the kid is a person too and there's nothing wrong with them. Too many of us were always in trouble because we were "different" and didn't respond properly in social and educational settings all the time. So instead of recognizing that perhaps autism played a role, we just wind up in the principal's office.


Honestly, I think this game comes off as a bit offensive. We have a larger problem of autism barely being recognized and accepted and instead we feel the need to "fix" those of us with autism.

DrKill09
DrKill09

"Specifically, the game aims to teach children to make eye contact, listen to others, and recognize others' emotions."


I HATE when people make constant eye contact.  It is creepy.


Why not just accept not everyone is some cookie cutter conformist?  How bout THAT?!

sephsplace
sephsplace

Well, I have worked in a School for Autism in the UK for 10 years, and this looks like a really good tool to aid some children (and adults) with Autism. a few hours in a game like this learning in an environment of there choosing could teach a person more than I could in a couple of years!

RC-Sev
RC-Sev

Hey, this can be an awesome RPG. Just no DLC, yeah?

CalculatorRamza
CalculatorRamza

Are any of these 35 people on the autism spectrum themselves?

warriors30
warriors30

This is a good thing. I have nothing but sympathy for those people, I used to work with autistic children as well.

nparks
nparks

Or we could all just wear reflective face masks like Master Chief.  No eye contact, no emoting, no problem.  Just let your two favorite guns do all the talking.

SoulScribe
SoulScribe

Minecraft killer in the works here people.

leakingdogmilk
leakingdogmilk

Perfect for the average gamespot user or anyone from any gaming community,

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@staticsnake87 When I was at primary school I was forever getting in trouble because I had aspergers. The teachers wouldn't believe there was something wrong with me -the head mistress was an idiot however who didn't deserve her position- and said I was just a naughty kid. 


Thankfully, we have the NHS over here. I got diagnosed -while being taught at home because of bullying- and got the support I needed in high school. My high school had a small special needs department and it was a great help. Thanks to that help -which I never recieved from the stupid primary school- I was encouraged to develope as a person and can now largely go about my day to day life without anybody even noticing something is wrong. I can make eye contact, can converse easily with people and make friends where ever I go.

Pr1v1t
Pr1v1t

@staticsnake87  Get over it. It doesn't matter if "there's nothing wrong with them". It is not a school's job to like you just the way you are. It is a school's job to prepare you for the workforce. Regardless of whether or not you have autism, you are expected to conform to certain social norms in the workplace. If you can't do so, you will not stay at said workplace very long. If you can't understand basic social interactions, most employers will either have no use for you or continuously overlook you when handing out raises and promotions.


TLDR: Society does not care about you. Society (and employers) only cares that you can fit in.

Senor_Kami
Senor_Kami

@staticsnake87  The needs of the one vs the many.  Give one kid the ridiculous amount of attention they need at the expense of literally everyone else in the class and down grade the quality of education that majority gets... or get rid of the distraction.  They made the right choice.  Parents need to recognize autism so they can enroll their kids in some autistic private school suited to their needs rather than put them in a public school and have them be a distraction to everyone else on top of the autistic student not getting the education they need.

Pr1v1t
Pr1v1t

@DrKill09  Because the "cookie cutter conformists" or those that can act like one during office hours, tend to be more successful in the workplace.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@DrKill09  

Coupled with your previous publicly viewable comments on this site, I get the impression that you are a self-centred sociopath.

Senor_Kami
Senor_Kami

@DrKill09  I love how simply having the confidence to look someone in the eye when speaking to them is spun as "cookie cutter conformity".

phbz
phbz

@DrKill09  This is one of the weirdest posts I´ve seen this year. 

RedWave247
RedWave247

@DrKill09  It's not about constant eye contact. It's about making eye contact at all. Because eye contact shows that you're actually listening to the person or paying attention to them. It's a sign of respect.

gamerboy100
gamerboy100

@warriors30  I am 23 years old, and I am a high-functioning autistic. I am very thankful that there are people out there who are trying to help us.

cagedwolf
cagedwolf

@leakingdogmilk  What, people of the gaming community are socially awkward and undeveloped? No, it couldn't be. Now back to my dank dark office I go haha

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@Pr1v1t Wow... glad you don't control society. Thankfully, awereness and support are growing over here so that we can get the help and support we need. Over the border -in Scotland- things are even better. One business guy up there -who has an autistic son- even open a large it facility and only employs the autistic.

Also, any society that doesn't care or take care of it's members doesn't deserve existance. 

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@Senor_Kami @staticsnake87Completely wrong. As I posted below:


"When I was at primary school I was forever getting in trouble because I had aspergers. The teachers wouldn't believe there was something wrong with me -the head mistress was an idiot however who didn't deserve her position- and said I was just a naughty kid. 


Thankfully, we have the NHS over here. I got diagnosed -while being taught at home because of bullying- and got the support I needed in high school. My high school had a small special needs department and it was a great help. Thanks to that help -which I never recieved from the stupid primary school- I was encouraged to develope as a person and can now largely go about my day to day life without anybody even noticing something is wrong. I can make eye contact, can converse easily with people and make friends where ever I go."

staticsnake87
staticsnake87

@Senor_Kami @staticsnake87  Autistic students are not a distraction. The distraction is the onslaught of people who think these kids are just bad kids and responding simply with principal's office and suspensions. Your response scares me cause you think we should just pen these kids up somewhere else cause they don't fit in. Autistic kids most of the time are smarter educationally than most of everyone, especially the asperger's ones, so your assumption there is pretty null and offensive. These kids will probably succeed better in school and go further in life than most of the non-austistic kids if people will just stop essentially bullying them into being normal simply because they don't recognize that the kids are autistic in the first place. What's distracting are the mis-informed classmates and teachers who assume these kids are "weird" and need to change, when in fact it's all misunderstandings and the kid simply doesn't understand certain social issues. Responding with punishments doesn't help anyone learn anything.

staticsnake87
staticsnake87

@MegaMark1991 @DrKill09  "You sound like a retarded aspy, with no social skills."


I really hope an aspy is your boss one day and makes your life a living hell.

staticsnake87
staticsnake87

@gamerboy100 @warriors30  The larger issue is people understanding us. I never learned about it until college and spent torrential years in K-12 grades with people assuming I was just a weird or bad kid and punishing me for never responding properly or for thinking unacceptable social things were okay. I never really learned or understood why I was in trouble most of the time. It's fine to teach us how to function better in society and all, but I think a larger issue is how tired I am of people just "reading" me wrong. Most people never like me when they first meet me cause my asperger's shows no matter how hard I try not to be weird. It gets old being judged so much and having to work so much harder, especially now that I'm interviewing for professional jobs and I feel like people are thinking I won't fit in well enough since I'm focusing on the job mainly and what skills I can provide. Social skills matter too much to people. Some of us are weird, people need to get over it.

hystavito
hystavito

@staticsnake87 @Senor_Kami  "These kids will probably succeed better in school and go further in life than most of the non-austistic kids if people will just stop essentially bullying them into being normal..."


There is a problem here, and it's specifically related to the "further in life" part.  Many of those differences just won't work well in the regular day to day world, especially in the workplace.


That is part of a larger problem that goes beyond this particular subject.  I guess it's kind of like a "tough love" issue.  Schools are trying harder and harder to accomodate but as people always say, you won't find that kind of accomodation in the "real world".  People, like employers of course, just won't care.  Have you ever worked with someone that was highly intelligent but had terrible social and related skills?


I'm not saying we need to be mean and bully or really harshly force things, but some level of pressure is needed to prepare these kids for later life.

neroist
neroist

@staticsnake87 An old friend of mine is a school admin of a school that that teaches children with aspergers. Those kids are not pinned up... They receive the help and teaching that they need to excel. A parent not getting involved and putting if off on the teachers. Instead of seeking the help the child needs is the problem.

Pr1v1t
Pr1v1t

@staticsnake87 @MegaMark1991 @DrKill09  The suffering of others is only fulfilling when YOU are the one to cause it. Letting someone else do the torturing takes all the fun out of it.


Instead of hoping someone else makes his life miserable, you should begin plotting your revenge.