What is ‘cosy gaming’?

This is a guest post by Angeline.

Video gaming without the meltdowns: Welcome to the world of cosy gaming. Non-competitive and relaxing gaming is perfect for autistic children.

Why is gaming a good hobby for neurodivergent kids?

Are your kids as addicted to video games as ours? Most evenings we barely make it through the door before the words “can I play the Switch?” have burst from at least one child’s mouth! Video games can be a wonderful outlet for neurodivergent kids. They can provide a non-social way to wind down at the end of a tough school day. They can offer social connections with peers that are otherwise hard to make. But they can also be the source of huge, frustrated meltdowns when the kids get stuck or lose a game to their siblings! There are a number of reasons that neurodivergent kids (and just kids in general) are attracted to video games:

Why do neurodivergent kids love games?

Games have concrete rules that are predictable – very few video games rely on social nuance or reading social cues. If a character wants something from you – they’ll usually just get straight to the point and tell you what it is! (Or at the very least explicitly tell you that you need to build your friendship with them before they’ll trust you with a task)

Unlike the real world – video games provide do-overs. And there are usually handy internet guides to help you when you get stuck. Lost to the boss? Just heal up and try again! Don’t have the objects you need to craft an object? Someone has prepared a step by step guide for you to find them! How many real world scenarios have that sort of scope to try again and again until you find success?

Speaking of success – video games let you “be the hero”. Often you start small, just an ordinary person much like our kids – but build yourself into a hero. Video games allow kids who may struggle to find success in the real world a chance to see themselves as someone who is liked, valued, and looked up to. This can be particularly valuable for kids who struggle with social relationships and self worth in real life.

And finally there’s the reward factor. How many real world tasks reward your every action? When’s the last time you got rewarded with a cool set of armour for finding someone’s lost keys? Or got given a recipe just because you said hi to someone a few days in a row? Much like being rewarded in real life – games celebrate success in a way that gives our kids brains a hit of dopamine. Something that many neurodivergent kids don’t get from everyday tasks.

What is cosy gaming?

For my daughter in particular I could see the potential outlet that video games could provide her – if only we could get past the meltdowns. Which is how we arrived at cosy gaming. So what is cosy gaming?

For our purposes we decided that for a game to qualify as cosy it needs to:

  1. Be non-competitive and/or not having explicit “winners” and “losers” (sorry MarioKart!)
  2. Be, for the most part, free from combat or explicit violence
  3. Have a relaxing, slow pace, and not be subject to time pressure
  4. Bonus points if the game itself is calming, repetitive, and can be played more or less on autopilot to give the brain time to wind down.

Some games that we might categorise as cosy include:

  • Animal Crossing
  • the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons franchise
  • Yonder
  • Song of the Evertree
  • Stardew Valley
  • Minecraft Creative
  • Capybara Spa
  • puzzle games, virtual pets, life simulations, and story based games

How can cosy gaming help autistic kids?

So how do cosy games help prevent meltdowns? By removing the competitive elements kids are able to bypass any potential big feelings or loss of self esteem they may suffer from being cast as the “loser” of a game. The lack of violence or combat in games means that players are less aroused, and less likely to carry any fear or anger they experience in the game across to the real world (nightmares from video game bosses anyone?). Cosy games can still fulfil kids’ desire for screen time without setting them up for failure. 

Cosy games also rely on similar controls and mechanics to other, more competitive games. Practising swinging an axe to chop down trees is pretty similar to swinging a sword in other games. Running away from angry wasps requires the same skills as dodging a boss’s attacks. Cosy games can give kids a practice ground to learn the skills, and practise the motor coordination needed to play harder more competitive games. By spending time playing cosy games, kids are building the skills and resilience that they need to play with their friends in a non competitive setting. 

Finally many cosy games themselves provide an avenue for social connection with peers. Animal Crossing might be a cosy game but it has a huge mainstream following. Lots of other kids that your child knows are likely to have played it. This can provide an avenue for building real world social skills – and an easy way to connect with peers.

Keep an eye out for our game reviews coming soon – complete with a cosy capybara rating to guide you towards games that won’t end in meltdowns!

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