I discovered a new game. I keep running into references for it. On an Autism chat board I found a whole thread on it. In the typical Aspie way, one fellow had gone on and on in detail about what he was doing in it. I ran into it again today when I clicked on a reference from a reference and pulled up a paper by a teacher.
Shaun Loeppky's paper, Gaming and Students with Asperger's Syndrome: A Literature Review, discusses his experiences watching his students, with and without Asperger's interact around Runescape. "In the past few years, I encountered students playing an online game set in a virtual environment (VE) called Runescape. My interest was especially piqued when I noticed students with special needs, especially those with Asperger's Syndrome(AS) playing the game and exhibiting positive social and cognitive skills that he would rarely demonstrate in a traditional classroom environment."
Loeppky quotes another author I keep running into references from, Parsons. "Over and above the general benefits of being computer-based, VEs offer great potential for people with autism. Perhaps the most important advantage is that users can role-play in an environment designed to mimic specific social situations. The growing sophistication of VEs means that tasks and skills can be practiced in increasingly realistic settings. (Parsons, Mitchell and Leonard, 2004, p.450) ... Parsons & Mitchell (2001) argued that interactions via computer virtual environment technology (CVE) tend to be slower than face-to-face interactions, and that slowing down the rate of interactions may provide users with autism with time to think of alternative ways of dealing with a particular situation."
Interestingly enough, Loeppky (a teacher) does not include these attributions in his references.
Loeppky concludes with a summary. Avatars "assist students with AS overcome difficulties communicating due to the absence of verbal cues and a reduction in the speed of those interactions. ... Affinity groups/virtual learning communities allow gamers, including persons with AS, to become part of a learning community and engage in meaningful social interaction."
Not a scientific paper, but an interesting opinion and observations from a teacher.