Behind the Autism-Friendly Minecraft Server, Autcraft

Friday, November 1, 2013 View Comments

We recently wrote about Blogger, dad and gamer Stuart Duncan's Autcraft server. The server’s website describes Autcraft as “the first Minecraft server committed to providing safe, fun [learning] environment for children on the autism spectrum and their families.” The hugely popular game Minecraft lets players design virtual worlds block by block.

Stuart was diagnosed with Aspergers as an adult and he has a son on the spectrum as well--both are avid gamers. We talked to Stuart about the huge success of Autcraft and where he got the idea.

Why do you think Minecraft resonates with people on the autism spectrum?  I was asked to describe Minecraft once and I realized that I really can't. Some people call it a "sandbox" game and others compare it to LEGO. In Minecraft, you can build, hunt, fish, farm, dig, explore, create machines... you can recreate Rome or you can live in a cave. Really, there's no one way to describe it. Your imagination is the limit with what you can do in Minecraft.  Much like a sandbox or LEGO, there's no right or wrong way to play. There's no end goal.

It's this freedom that appeals to autistics the most I think. They're free to focus in on what interests them most.  They don't have to conform to what the game wants them to do. They don't have to take the path that it sets out for them. You do what you like to do and you do it as much as you want.

What is your goal with Autcraft?  When I created Autcraft, my goal was for each child (and adult) to realize just how awesome they really are. I know, it sounds corny but I actually have that written down in my notes. When I made the website, I wrote about keeping players safe, making sure they have fun and even making it a learning experience. But those are the methods that I had planned on using to reach my goal.

It's a very simple thing really. These kids really are awesome. And everyone that has ever visited the server can see it. The players are very nice, super friendly, they welcome each new player with 30 "Welcome!"s and even give them gifts. They play extremely well together.

But most of these kids don't see it. They don't see it in themselves. They have a lot of insecurity and feel that they're not good enough to play on other servers with other people. And overcoming that, I believe, is the secret to them doing well elsewhere.

See, I never started this server with the goal of having a lot of players. I don't want to be the biggest server out there. I want children that can't cope well on other servers to learn and grow on Autcraft so that one day, when they're ready, they can go out to those other servers and do just fine. They'll know the rules, the structures and what is expected of them. More so than that, they'll feel secure enough in themselves that they won't let the bullies get to them.

How does the high demand to join Autcraft make you feel?  Besides overwhelmed? It's incredible! I remember getting the server online and signing on for the very first time. I decided where "spawn" would be and started making a welcome sign and a lodge for players to meet. And as I placed each block, all by myself, I imagined how great it would be to have a few players running around here and there. I thought I'd be super lucky if I could get 100 children all playing on there together.

Within the first 7 days though, I had received over 700 emails and had to upgrade the server 8 times. Now, 18 weeks later, we're approaching 2000 names on the white list.