For individuals on the autistic spectrum like myself, there are sometimes situations where I want to be able to keep myself calm, but worry about the social consequences of doing so. Like many autistic people, I engage in self-stimulating behaviour (“stimming”), which is basically a series of repetitive movements designed to instil a sense of control and routine into a stressful or unfamiliar environment.
It’s why you’ll sometimes see autistic individuals rock back and forth, flap their hands, or make other similar repetitive movements when experiencing an excess of emotion, positive or negative. In a world that gets overwhelming, it’s a way to introduce predictable sensory information to the world, and it’s the core concept that things like Fidget Cubes are based around.
Still, sometimes I just want to be able to stim inconspicuously. It’s not that visible stimming is a bad thing by any means, but I know people who don’t know me will feel the need to ask if I am okay and make a big deal of my stimming, which sometimes I just don’t want to deal with. In these situations, it’s really useful to have covert tools.
Possibly the most useful covert stimming tool around is a smartphone, a device that’s societally acceptable to sit fiddling with in busy situations. As such, I decided to put together a list of some of my favourite video games that can help scratch that stimming itch, without encouraging people to ask you to explain autism to them.
All of the following games are playable without game audio, and none of them are balanced to push microtransactions on those prone to addictive behaviours.
Themed around training the world’s biggest underdog Pokémon to be the best useless flopping fish it can be, Magikarp Jump has a really satisfying gameplay loop with multiple types of interactions to engage with. Collect fruit, collect coins, activate your Pokémon to bring in more coins and fruit, spend the coins to get better fruit, activate a number of training missions, fight other magikarp, return to the start of the cycle.
The experience kind of goes nowhere, but that’s okay: fill bars and get the feeling of progression while following one very solid routine loop; get occasional small upgrades that all fit within the predictable structure of the game; get little bits of cute lore about a Pokémon that just wants to be loved for who it is, not who it will be.
It’s ultimately just a tapper / clicker game, but one with a lot of heart, different gameplay loops to switch between, and no pressure to buy things with real money. The perfect way to satisfy a tapping-with-repetitive-movement-patterns stim itch.
Threes / 2048
While people will always have their personal preference between Threes and 2048, both serve a very similar purpose if you’re looking for stimming aids: swipe squares in one of two directions, with the squares combining if swiped the correct way. It’s just two simple axes, two basic movements, and a repeated goal to combine matching numbers with each other. If you need to be swiping something, or adding things together, Threes and 2048 are big enough cultural touchstones that nobody will bat an eyelid at their use.
While the name is a little unfortunate given the list it’s appearing on, Compulsive is a very satisfying game for visual stimming. A game of matching coloured squares, when played in zen mode it provides a visual focus on colours, patterns, matching and routine that can be really helpful for tuning out visual sensory overload.
Flow Free, a simple game about connecting coloured notes using lines, is a simple, low-energy game that satisfies the urge to connect data points and complete sets of information, with set, finite end goals. It’s calm, relaxed, and works really nicely if you just need to be assembling things over and over for a little bit.
The most mechanically simple of the games on this list, Timberman sees you chop down an impossibly high tree by just tapping on it over and over. It’s cute, it requires little thought, and is just about watching a repetitive visual while a number rises.
I’d love to see some recommendations in the comments, because god knows I could use more stealth stimming games in my life.