Why I’m traveling to the United States as Part of the Churchill Fellowship

Dennis Kinghorn

My goal is to create a video game that would teach people about autism and other differences, which is also made with a team of autistic people. While in the United States I’m looking for input (see below).

By Dennis Kinghorn

Who am I?

I’m an autistic adult and I live in Northumberland, England’s most northern county and one of its most rural. I live only thirty miles from a major city so it’s only rural by English standards.

On March 30 I will be flying out to the United States as part of the Churchill Fellowship to learn about organizations that help autistic people in a similar way to the projects I’m leading. Before I say more about that I want to explain what it is I do.

Churchill Fellowship

I’m travelling to the US as part of the Churchill Fellowship. So what is that?

The Churchill Fellowship was set up after Winston Churchill’s death who was famously Britain’s prime minister during the latter half of World War II.

When he died a lot of people wanted to do something in his honour. Because of his love of travelling and learning, they set up the Churchill Fellowship which funds Fellows to travel around the world to learn about innovations and best practices for a variety of issues.

For me I have funding to go to Japan and the US to learn about how I can best run the game projects that we are running in Waffling On.

Waffling on and SpLinter

For starters, SpLinter is a group that is run by and for autistic adults. We organize a variety of events for our members including trips, bowling and other social activities.

Waffling on is a project that SpLinter members run. One of the things we do is run a stall where we sell waffles and get people to try out a quiz about autism. The name “Waffling On” came from the idea that when asked, a lot of employers say they know what autism is but when you try to pin them down on it, they just waffle on.

I’m Waffling On’s Games Coordinator. I run a game making project, SpLinter’s Games Night, helping with the organization of autistic friendly gaming events as well as assisting in the opening of an autistic friendly gaming café that we will run.

Project: Games Night

Because of COVID, our ability for us to meet up in person was all but gone. Borrowing an idea from a video game group I had been a part of, I began running a Games Night.

On Sundays we begin the session at 6:30pm and it lasts around one and a half hours to two hours.

These sessions include…

• Jackbox Party Pack games. I run the games off my computer and then screen share on Zoom. To take part in the games, a player needs to go to the Jackbox.tv website, enter their name and the room code.
• Sometimes I make quizzes using PowerPoint and have players answer using Google Forms. After I have finished the quiz, I mark everyone’s forms and reveal the winner.
• I made a game called Enlisters. Using Microsoft excel, I write a list. For example I might write a list of the twenty most populated countries. I then tell the players the title of the list but not the answers. Then players take it in turn to name something that’s on the list. If a player is correct they have to wait for everyone else to have a try before having to name something again. If they are incorrect they are out. You win if you are the last person standing or you are still in when every item has been named.
• Another competition I run is Song Quest. I gave people a theme. For example in the past I have given “Difference is good”, “Road Trip” and “Halloween”. Players have around three weeks to find a song that fits the theme. Afterwards we at SpLinter judge the songs based on how much we like it and how much we feel it fits the theme and give points accordingly.
• Once a year, I run my own poll for the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s a massively popular competition where European countries enter songs and compete against each other. Using our poll we are able to determine which song is SpLinter’s favourite.

Project: Video Game Making

Because of my qualification in video game development, when I joined SpLinter, we came up with the idea for a video game project that I would lead.

The basic idea was to create a video game that would teach people about autism and other differences, which is also made with a team of autistic people.

I’m working with another SpLinter member, Callum who has an interest in writing stories. Since we had a writer and no artists on board yet, we thought it would be best to make a simple game that heavily uses story which is why we decided to make a visual novel.

A visual novel is a story based game told mainly through dialogue. Typically in this genre on occasions players will have to make decisions usually for the main character. This will change the later events in the plot.

Because of Callum’s interest in history, he decided to set the world in a medieval setting.

Here’s the plot. A group of three friends try to find a job. However they realize that’s easier said than done because of their respective differences, until one day they get an opportunity to work on a mission to save the prince. One of the characters’ differences is autism.

In our game the decisions the players have to make only start when the actual rescue begins. This was because we wanted to train players to pay attention to our main characters’ flaws and advantages and be able to use that knowledge to help them during the latter part of the game.

While the script is in a finished state and the backgrounds have been made, the music, character artwork and the user interface (for this game that refers to the menus, buttons and the dialogue box) are yet to be made.

Project: Autism-Friendly Gaming Café and Events

Despite the reputation that video games have a negative effect on people’s ability to socialize, in my experience, the opposite has been true.

Most of the friends I’ve made have been through our shared interests in gaming. I love going to video game events and it’s encouraged me to travel across Britain to places such as Aberdeen, Manchester and London.

Using the power of video games we wanted to create our own autism-friendly gaming events.

We began running events by hiring PCs, video game consoles, monitors and a VR system for the day.

Since then we have begun buying our own stuff so we can run events on our own. We recently used them during the summer to hold pop up events.

We are currently in the process of opening our own autism-friendly gaming café in Cramlington, Northumberland, England.

What am I doing in the United States?

I will be traveling to the San Diego and Dallas areas from the 30th March to the 17th April. I’ve already set up some meetings but I still have some space to visit more projects.

If you think your organization fits my study and we can learn anything from each other then contact me on my email at kinghorndennis@gmail.com

My main for goals study trip are to learn the following…

• How to use the digital arts and gaming to help with socialization.
• How to best support and maintain autistic led enterprises as well as looking at the benefits of it.
• How to best run teams with autistic people.
• How to best use media to raise awareness of autism and finding out what already exists in this field.

Dennis Kinghorn

Dennis Kinghorn is an autistic adult from North-East England. He’s the games coordinator for Waffling On where he runs various projects including game making, once a week online games night and the opening of an autism friendly gaming café.

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