Game changer: Exploring the role of board games in the lives of autistic people

LIAM CROSS, Francesca Belshaw, ANDREA PIOVESAN, GRAY ATHERTON*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

Abstract

This mixed methods paper reports findings from three studies examining the overlap between autism and hobbyist board gaming. The first was a quantitative survey of over 1600 board gamers, showing that autistic individuals are overrepresented in this hobby compared to the general population and that autistic traits measured by the AQ are significantly elevated amongst board gamers. Study 1 also assessed gamers’ motivations and preferences and reported key differences as well as similarities between autistic and non-autistic gamers. The second was a qualitative study that reported the results of 13 interviews with autistic individuals who are hobbyist board gamers. Using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), four key themes were uncovered, including a preference for systemising, escapism and passions, the social lubrication effect of games and difficulties with deception. In the third, 28 autistic individuals were introduced to board games in groups of 5-10 over an afternoon. Subsequent focus groups were then analysed using IPA. This analysis uncovered themes around how board games are challenging but encouraged growth and how they were an alternative vehicle for forging social relationships. Through this paper, we discuss how and why board games may be a popular hobby amongst the autistic population, and its potential utility for improving autistic wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 May 2024

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