Pico’s Adventure: A Kinect Game to Promote Social Initiation in Children with Autism Spectrum Condition



Pico’s Adventure is a Kinect game for children with autistic spectrum disorder, aimed at promoting social initiation. The project was part of the European Project “M4all: motion- based adaptable playful learning experiences for children with motor and intellectual disabilities” and developed in the collaboration between the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and the Specialized Unit on Developmental Disorders of the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu.

My role

During my Phd  I have been working in the design and evaluation of the game “Pico’s Adventure” . Specifically, I focused in the requirements elicitation, participatory design, evaluation and reporting.

Defining the project

schermata-2016-10-17-alle-19-47-31Context: European Project “M4all: motion- based adaptable playful learning experiences for children with motor and intellectual disabilities”

Goal: Develop  a Kinect-based game for children with Autistic Spectrum Condition aimed toward promoting social initiation, understood as the promotion of behaviors such as approaching and looking for others, trying to start social communication and producing any verbal or gestural behavior for communicative goals.

Target users: 4-6 children with Autistic Spectrum Condition

The concept:  THE GAME AS A MEDIATOR OF SOCIAL COMMUNICATION = Design situations that:

  •  Are valuable for the children to communicate about them
  • Integrate therapeutic techniques used to facilitate social initiation
  • Require the child to look for external collaboration


  • Make an experience that is relevant for children and effective in terms of therapeutic goals
  • Orchestrate requirements from therapists and children’s interests
  • Test the therapeutic effectiveness of the developed game

The Design Approach

  • Elicit and combine requirements from therapists and children

Approach: Narrative- based elicitation to combine narrative structure and therapeutic techniques

Method: Participatory Design with Children and Focus Groups with therapists




  • Iterative Design and Evaluation : field notes, video analysis, questionnaire for stakeholders feedbacks

The Game

During the game, the children will be introduced to a fantasy world inhabited by a friendly mascot (the virtual agent), named “Pico”, who will accompany them in the journey toward social initiation. Children – either alone or in collaboration with adults and peers – will have to help the mascot, an amicable alien, who landed on our planet Earth after having some problems with its spaceship. Children will have to help it in overcome different missions, each one designed to address a targeted behavior related with social initiation. Within that, major emphasis will be posed on designing game situations that require the child to seek for the collaboration either of an adult or a peer.



The evaluation

The game has been evaluated in two stages: a first exploratory stage aimed at evaluating its acceptance by the child, and a second experimental study oriented at assessing the effectiveness of the game in trigger target behaviors related with social initiation.

Experimental study

schermata-2016-10-17-alle-21-38-09Population: The study  involved 15 boys with ASD between 4 and 5 years old.

Goals: In the study we compare social interaction between free-plays activities and games activity

Methods: For the analysis we employed systematic video-coding by focusing specifically on: Social requests, Social initiation, Responses, Gestures



schermata-2016-10-17-alle-20-41-27Results show a significant increase of social initiation behaviors in 1st and 4th game sessions compared to free play (p< 0.05)





Lessons Learned

  • The use of narrative resources showed to be an effective mediator between different disciplines, framework and generations.
  • We develop a set of effective participatory design methods for populations with special needs
  • Effectiveness of immersive, bodily-based interaction to support social initiation and collaborative behaviors

Related publications

Malinverni, L., Mora-Guiard, J., Padillo, V., Valero, L., Hervás, A., & Pares, N. (2016). An inclusive design approach for developing video games for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Computers in Human Behavior.

Malinverni, L., MoraGuiard, J., Padillo, V., Mairena, M., Hervás, A., & Pares, N. (2014, June). Participatory design strategies to enhance the creative contribution of children with special needs. In Proceedings of the 2014 conference on Interaction design and children (pp. 85-94). ACM.

Mora-Guiard, J., Malinverni, L., Pares, N., (2014) Narrative-Based Elicitation: Orchestrating Contributions from Experts and Children, in CHI ’14 Extended Abstracts Proceedings of ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Toronto, Canada

THE GAME “PICO’S ADVENTURE”  IS AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOADING FOR WINDOWS 7 or WINDOWS 8 in the following webpage: http://m4all.widetesting.info/

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