By Luke Blackwood, Registered Psychologist
Minecraft is an open world video game that has become popular amongst children and adolescents, particularly neurodiverse youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Minecraft is often compared to virtual LEGO as it involves using blocks to build structures in an online world by mining for resources and creating tools. This game can be played solo or on online platforms called servers.
Neurodiverse youth often experience delays in social learning and may not develop social skills through intuition. They often analyse social interactions using ‘cause and effect’ relationships to predict the intentions and behaviours of others. This can lead to social errors, anxiety and exhaustion. Minecraft has been acknowledged for its potential in facilitating the development of social skills by providing a safe, more predictable social world which can be used to scaffold learning. However, many children and parents have reported that they experience bullying on a number of online games including Minecraft.
Autcraft is a Minecraft server that was developed in 2013 by Stuart Duncan and his son who both have autism and wanted to create a safe place to play. This server has administrators who are parents of children with ASD and help to supervise the play to reduce the likelihood of online bullying. Autcraft has banned the confrontational interpersonal components of Minecraft such as killing or stealing and rewards players for cooperation and kindness.
Players can earn hierarchical ranks such as ‘Buddy’, ‘Helper’ or Senior Helper’ for demonstrating friendliness, willingness to help other players, patience, understanding and kindness. These higher ranks allow players to do more sophisticated gameplay, such as fly or teleport, which reward the child. These features can facilitate social learning and make it preferable when compared to other forms of online gaming.
Stuart Duncan completed at a TED talk on Autcraft which provides a detailed overview of the server and how it can be used to help neurodiverse children, this can be found using the following link.
Autcraft is free to join after the purchasing PC version of Minecraft, however they do ask for donations to pay for their ongoing administrative costs. Children will need permission from their parents to sing up to Autcraft, which can be done using the following link.
Ringland, K. E., Boyd, L., Faucett, H., Cullen, A. L., & Hayes, G. R. (2017, June). Making in Minecraft: a means of self-expression for youth with autism. In Proceedings of the 2017 conference on interaction design and children (pp. 340-345). ACM.
Riordan, B. C., & Scarf, D. (2016). Crafting minds and communities with Minecraft. F1000Research, 5.
Zolyomi, A., & Schmalz, M. (2017). Mining for social skills: Minecraft in home and therapy for neurodiverse youth.