Game to Grow

SDG3 target 3.4: By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being

Where: Hong Kong

The challenge:

Autism affects almost 2% of children but many parents find the therapies and interventions are too isolated, behaviour-based and don’t translate very well into real world benefits. Children with autism want to grow up in a world that understands them – and that isn’t necessarily the one that currently surrounds them.  We needed to devise a safe space that autistic youngsters would actively embrace and where they could take risks and develop social and problem-solving skills. 


The execution:

The answer lay in gaming – but not digital gaming. Critical Core is a tabletop fantasy role playing game devised to help players build social skills and confidence. Each encounter for the gamer in Critical Core’s fantasy world helps build strength in areas related to challenges associated with autism spectrum disorder. 

We worked with not-for-profit Game To Grow to create a gaming experience that would involve and engage neurodiverse youngsters. In the Critical Core world, they get to create and adopt a magical character and then must successfully work through a series of encounters role playing this persona. They have teammates and learn collaborative and interpersonal skills. 

The gameplay tools provided to parents and therapists help to make the gaming experience effective without it feeling like an imposed therapy session. Autism advocates, parents, therapists, and educators all had input into the game’s creation to make sure it would meet the intended goals. 

The game’s foundation is based on Dr Stanley Greenspan’s human development model DIR/Floortime and the player’s in-game encounters map to a Function Emotional Developmental Capacities (FEDC) framework. 

The results:

After successfully running the system in therapy groups in the U.S. and Hong Kong, Critical Core was launched on Kickstarter and was successfully funded in just eight hours. We found more than 2,600 backers from over 30 different countries and over 40% of backers pledged to donate a Critical Core set to an organisation in need. 

Check out more inspiring examples of our work on SDG3.