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VirtualSociety: the virtual world serving autistic individuals

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VirtualSociety, le monde virtuel au service des personnes autistes
Image Written by Nicolas Gauville on 02/2/2024

Co-founder of VirtualSociety - PhD in Computer Science
Founder of the VirtualSociety project, and is in charge of the development and communication of VirtualSociety
After a PhD in autonomous robotics at Safran Electronics & Defense, Nicolas started the video game studio Cats & Foxes.

VirtualSociety: the virtual world serving autistic individuals

The primary mission of VirtualSociety is to be a game that serves the health of its players. We always keep in mind that its primary mission is to help. To help neuroatypical individuals live better day-to-day lives, to help individuals with phobias confront and desensitize themselves, and to help isolated individuals reconnect socially and break the cycle of loneliness.

In this article, we will explore a unique aspect of our game: its potential to support individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It's clear to us that VirtualSociety is not just a game; it's a platform that offers personalized experiences to assist those living with autism. Our mission is to create a virtual environment that goes beyond entertainment and serves as an educational and therapeutic tool.

Understanding autism

Autism is a spectrum, which means that each autistic person has a unique experience. However, many individuals share common challenges, such as difficulties in social interactions, heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, and challenges in managing changes and unfamiliar environments. These challenges can make daily life complex and often stressful.

For autistic individuals, the world can sometimes seem unpredictable and overwhelming. Since each person has a different experience, a one-size-fits-all approach is not sufficient to address the difficulties faced by neuroatypical individuals. This is where VirtualSociety's core features become a major asset. Providing a social sandbox means providing tools to easily design educational and therapeutic experiences tailored to individual needs. It's another opportunity to involve healthcare professionals, care facilities, and the support network of individuals, making serious gaming a flexible tool that constantly adapts.

Our goal is to create a safe space where players can practice and develop social skills, become familiar with new environments, and learn to manage sensory stimuli in a controlled manner. By providing a reassuring and interactive framework, we can make the world a little less intimidating, allowing everyone to approach life more serenely.

Tailored virtual experiences

In recent years, serious games have become more prevalent and represented. Unfortunately, they are generally "static" and cannot effectively adapt to different situations or societal changes. Our primary goal is to provide tools to modify these experiences as needs evolve.

Beyond issues of evolution, many serious games forget that they should also be games. The entire principle of gamification is to embed learning within an enjoyable experience, thus facilitating the process. Just as a mnemonic device aids in memory, a serious game should intelligently use classic video game techniques, playing on the fun aspect, rewards, etc., to help the player learn and improve. For us, VirtualSociety is a whole, it's just as much a fun game that can be played with friends as it is an educational platform serving health.

We are developing a series of virtual experiences specifically tailored to help autistic individuals overcome daily challenges and prepare for new or stressful situations. Among them, we can, for example, mention:

  • Simulation of unfamiliar environments: We create simulations of real places such as train stations, allowing players to become familiar with these spaces before facing them in real life. Such places, with many people, a lot of noise, and information, can be particularly anxiety-inducing for individuals with ASD.
  • Managing agoraphobia and sensory stimuli: Our simulations allow users to adjust the crowd and noise levels in a controlled environment. This can help autistic individuals gradually become accustomed to more complex social situations or other situations that are difficult to manage in terms of noise or information, such as thunderstorms.
  • Social interaction training: We are also working on simulations of job interviews, scheduling appointments, or even romantic dates, offering users a safe space to practice and develop social skills. These scenarios, designed to reflect real-life situations, allow individuals to experience and adapt to different social norms and behaviors while reducing anxiety related to these interactions.

These personalized experiences are not just learning tools; they also represent steps toward greater autonomy and confidence in daily life. By providing a secure and interactive virtual environment, VirtualSociety strives to provide concrete support to autistic individuals, enabling them to explore and flourish at their own pace.

A scientific and collaborative approach

Our approach is guided by collaboration. We have worked hand in hand with psychologists to define our initial experiences, after which we engaged with members of GEMs Autistique to inquire about specific needs of autistic individuals. This collaboration allowed us to define a vast list of virtual experiences that are not only enjoyable but also useful and relevant.

In our team, three of us have had the privilege of obtaining doctoral degrees, and this connection with research (along with our partnership with Inria and 2LPN laboratories) greatly aids us in scientifically validating our hypotheses, namely that VirtualSociety can significantly help its players live better day-to-day lives, particularly in the context of autism spectrum disorders, isolation, and phobias.

Over the coming years, we will work hand in hand with our research partner laboratories to study how our experiences affect the lives of our players and how we can assist individuals and their support networks in using our tools to improve daily living.

Let's create a safer and more inclusive world together

We firmly believe in co-creation and invite the autistic community, as well as their loved ones, to get involved in the ongoing development of VirtualSociety. Your participation and feedback are essential to shape a game that truly meets your needs. Join us on our Discord and Patreon to contribute to this exciting adventure. Together, we can create virtual worlds that makes a real difference.

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Image Written by Nicolas Gauville on 02/2/2024

Co-founder of VirtualSociety - PhD in Computer Science
Founder of the VirtualSociety project, and is in charge of the development and communication of VirtualSociety
After a PhD in autonomous robotics at Safran Electronics & Defense, Nicolas started the video game studio Cats & Foxes.

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skylostt and Mozillax like this post
1 comment
skylostt commented
Waw incroyable j'espère vraiment que dans le futur vs pourra venir en aide au maximum de personnes qui en ont besoin love sur vous :3
12 days ago
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