Het Maatje (Or The Buddy) is supposed to be the central hub for a new range of games that is being developed for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This range of games is currently still in development and have the goal of improving social skills in these children. This game is centered around a buddy, a character the player can talk to through the means of multiple choice options.
The goal of this game is to improve the ability of children with ASD to uphold a conversation, as research showed they lack this ability. They are taught this through scripted conversations, pre-written conversational options they get to pick from. Besides the conversations, the player can adapt their buddy, change their hair, skin colour, eyes and clothing. Clothing items and environmental changes can be unlocked by talking to the buddy, the more the player talks and practices, the more they unlock and the more currency they gain with which to actually buy items.
One of the biggest challenges accompanying this target audience is the fact that children with ASD cannot learn by mimicking and need to very clearly see the consequences of their actions. This is why we built an emotion system which allows the buddy to respond to what the player says realistically over a longer period of time. Repeatedly being mean to the buddy will make him less positive towards the player and more likely to be unhappy, sad or angry. While being nice to the buddy will create trust and liking.
As stated at the top, this concept was developed to be the central point for a range of games, which all need to be linked into it, which is why there is also the possibility to play games with the buddy. These games would consist of other serious games that aid their social skills, or of regular entertainment games which will build on the motivation of the player, as they cannot play games without speaking to the buddy first.
The game was made for android, as these children tend to have access to tablets or smartphones and they are used and well-adapted to playing games on these platforms. It was developed in careful cooperation with Accare and a dedicated Psychology student.
Best Student Game: Het Maatje is a game developed by a group of six second year game design & development students from the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen, in cooperation with a Psychology student from the RUG. It was completely designed and developed over the course of five months, which is including the extensive research that came before the actual design phase.The game was received by Accare, who, in cooperation with the Hanze, NHL and Windesheim universities, are currently writing a proposal to request funding to allow for extensive testing into the effectiveness of the game.
Motivatie 2e categorie
Best Serious Game: The game was created with the aim of improving the lives of children with ASD, who struggle daily with simple social interaction. Autism Spectrum Disorder can be diagnosed at a younger age, which means it can also be treated at a younger age. A research by Accare recently showed that the current Sociale Vaardigheidstraining does not have the level of effectiveness that was originally thought. To improve the quality and effectiveness of these therapies, they now turn to serious gaming.
The buddy was created together with treating therapists, a small sample of the target audience (children with ASD between 4 and 8 years of age) and a dedicated psychology student with the aim of finding a way to truly help these children on a daily basis.
When designing “Het Maatje”, our first step was to do extensive research into our target audience. This preliminary research made clear that we had some hurdles to cross in terms of stimuli, one example being that we had to use a very specific colour pallet to minimize distractions and discomfort for our players.
We also had to keep in mind that we were dealing with a spectrum, a range of children with a range of different issues and challenges, which is why we concluded not to make a single game, but a range of games for a range of problems. The buddy is the central point for these other games, as it tackles an issue all of these children have: how to uphold a conversation.
During the early stages of design, we had several meetings with small samples of the target audience, to give us more of a feel of what we were dealing with. We also used these meetings to show some concept art to get a feel for their preferences in terms of visual details. The main conclusion from these focus groups was that the spectrum has a clear split. Some children need detail to make sense of what they are seeing and are bothered by a lack of it, while others are distracted by details like cracks in the roads or leaves on a tree. These children prefer plain shapes.
The playtest of our first prototype showed that the children enjoyed the visuals but were overwhelmed by the amount of answer options. As a result we cut down possible answers from five to three and worked on more conversational and visual content.
Evaluations were conducted with the target audience concerning usability and specifically, their times of play. As the game requires a lot more content for it to be truly effective, we investigated what kind of conversations need to be created. In order to do so, we conducted research into time and duration of playtime. A second prototype was given to a sample of 6-8 year old children with ASD. Over the course of two weeks, they were able to play it on their usual gaming devices, while their times and frequency of play was tracked. The results showed clear peaks in the late afternoon and after school. Accordingly we added more conversation topics for the afternoon, asking about their day, school or leisure activities.
Our education is currently working together with other institutions to request government funding for a proper evaluation of the effectiveness of the game. Should they receive this funding, a research project will be set-up. This is necessary because of the complex target audience and the difficulty that comes with proving the effectiveness of medical treatments and therapies. A recent study disproved the effectiveness of current treatment methods, which is why Accare (our client) is interested in this product as an innovative addition to their therapy.