A recent study revealed why so many individuals diagnosed with the autism spectrum are fond of video games as a pastime. The new findings suggest that individuals with autism spectrum conditions may play video games for escapism, specifically self-suppressive escapism when experiencing negative moods and self-expansion escapism when experiencing positive moods.
The study, which appears in the journal Computers in human behavioradds to existing knowledge about the purpose of video games for those with autism.
The authors of the new study defined escapism as “an action that shifts the focus of attention from an unpleasant reality to a pleasant unreality.” The research examined two types of escapism, self-suppression and self-expansion.
The self-suppression style of escapism refers to “engagement in activity, including play, to suppress negative emotions, considered an avoidance of discomfort strategy related to negative affect (Stenseng et al., 2012, 2021).” Self-expanding escapism “facilitates autonomy, competence, and relatedness, … and harmonious, autonomous engagement.”
Research has found that those with autism spectrum conditions seem drawn to video games as an opportunity to escape and for a chance to be in control. In addition, playing video games can serve as interpersonal interaction practice when those with autism spectrum conditions play together. Anna Pyszkowska and colleagues set out to investigate the positive and negative motivations for video gaming in people diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions.
Participants were recruited from neurodiversity communities in Poland. Participants were required to have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, be over the age of 18, and play video games at least one hour per week. One hundred and eighty-nine individuals met the criteria and agreed to participate.
Participants took measures of escapism, gaming motivation, autistic burnout, affective outcomes (a measure of typical mood) and hedonic tone (ability to experience pleasure). Statistical analysis of these data showed that those with high levels of negative affect or autistic burnout were more likely to play video games for self-suppressive reasons. Additionally, repetitive behaviors, declines in cognitive and motor functions, failure to engage in self-care, and behaviors intended to avoid emotions were all related to self-suppressive motivations for gambling.
Those who scored high on the measure of hedonic tone (or how capable they were of experiencing pleasure) were more likely to report that self-enhancement was the reason for their video game pursuits. Self-enhancement as a motivation for video games was also linked to a desire for mastery.
Acknowledged limitations include the absence of a control group. Accordingly, we cannot conclude that these results are unique to the gaming or autism spectrum. In addition, the study had significantly more women (105) compared to men (50) or non-binary (34), and we therefore cannot know whether gender has an impact on the results.
Despite these concerns, the research team felt their work was a meaningful addition to what is known about gaming motivations and autism spectrum conditions. Understanding what might motivate a person with an autism diagnosis to spend time playing video games can help practitioners determine if gaming is being used to cope with challenges that can be addressed and addressed in a therapeutic setting.
The study, “Determinants of escapism in adult video gamers with autism spectrum conditions: The role of affect, autistic burnout, and gaming motivation,” was written by Anna Pyszkowska, Tomasz Gąsior, Franciszek Stefanek, and Barbara Więzik.