Autcraft

James Parkinson
James Parkinson
Autcraft

Minecraft is one of the highest selling games of all time, and the blocky, 8-bit sandbox is especially popular with kids, due to the freedom its gameplay offers. But for children with Autism, that freedom is often challenged when playing online, where bullies and trolls are a barrier in their experience. This was a problem that Stuart Duncan set out to solve, creating a dedicated Minecraft server for Autistic kids and their families.

 TRANSCRIPT

STUART DUNCAN: What I have found over the years is that Minecraft, more than other games, isn't linear. Like, there's no structured way to play it. There is no levelling system, there's no experience points, there's no, you know, system that says “this person is more of a veteran than this person”. You join and you're in the same world doing the same stuff on day one. You can just do whatever you want, there's no wrong way to play it. So for any child, you know, you could play that for years, and years, and years and never get tired. But for a child with Autism, that's ideal. Because as much as you have the freedom to do what you want, you can literally create your own world. It's still a world that is bound by code, by rules, by laws, by boundaries. So once you learn these rules to the world, those rules never change. And so you know exactly what to expect. And for somebody who's a creature of routine, which Autistic people very much are, that's hugely important. You have to know that when you do ‘this’, ‘that's’ going to happen. And you don't get that in the real world.

JAMES PARKINSON: Growing up, Stuart Duncan could often be found playing video games. He was the sort of kid that loved a good puzzle and obsessed over the details, striving for that elusive high score.

STUART DUNCAN: We're talking like, Pong, Tetris, Pac Man, stuff like that. But I spent a lot of my childhood at the old arcades, where you put a quarter in the machine. And I would spend a lot of money at those arcades playing games all the time.

STUART DUNCAN: My childhood was a very lonely one. My parents split up and then I ended up with my grandparents who were living in the middle of nowhere, and didn't have any toys, there were no other kids or anything. For me personally, I was always a video game person, but that was because it was something I could do by myself. You know, when you have nothing else, a video game is a whole other world, right? Like, I could lose myself in the video game for hours.

JAMES PARKINSON: Stuart has Autism, but he didn’t know it, until the age of 36 and had a son of his own.

STUART DUNCAN: My wife and I were just talking about everything that he was going through, the way that he experienced the world and the unique challenges he had and everything. And we sort of just stopped for a minute and looked at each other, and went, “sounds a lot like me”. It really opened my eyes up to a lot of what my childhood was like. And as much as an eye-opener as it was, it wasn't until I actually got the actual - the doctor confirmed it and I had the piece of paper and I really sort of looked back I'm like, “well, that explains that, and that explains that, and that explains why I was like that”. Instead of just being weird, or a freak or the person that nobody ever understood or could never understand other people or had no reason for knowing why I was so different, now there's a reason, and you just can't explain what a life-changing moment it is for you.

JAMES PARKINSON: Although many people are diagnosed with Autism as children, a late diagnosis for adults is fairly common, and for Stuart, it changed his life in more ways than one. Initially, it impacted his marriage.

STUART DUNCAN: It basically became too overwhelming for her that I had autism and so did our son. I was already writing about Autism. So I was already doing interviews, and I was already talking about our life experience and stuff. But then also, I just didn't want to go out. I didn't want to be going to parties or to the beach and stuff like that, and she's an outdoors person. So it was just a lot of different things. And in the beginning, it was marriage, we were in love. But then it was, “okay, he has Autism, this is why all this stuff is happening”. But then as that passed, then it was just sort of like, you know, “I can't keep putting up with this”. And yeah, it was basically my faults were just too, too, too much. And we both agreed, so kind of split up.

JAMES PARKINSON: Now living by himself and seeing his kids every other week, Stuart suddenly had more time. And seven months later, he’d created a project that would eventually become a full time job; a Minecraft server for kids with Autism.

JAMES PARKINSON: I’m James Parkinson. From Lawson Media, this is Gameplay, stories about video games, and the virtual worlds that power culture and community.

JAMES PARKINSON: Since its release in 2011, Minecraft has become one of the highest selling games of all time. It’s sold over 200 million copies, as of 2020, and the blocky, 8-bit sandbox is especially popular with kids, due to the freedom its gameplay offers. Minecraft has been praised for its ability to inspire creativity, and it’s won numerous awards, including a BAFTA for Best Family Game. Over one hundred million people play Minecraft every month, and many of them are kids with Autism. As Stuart explained at the top of the show, the game’s structure and mechanics are well suited to people with Autism. But playing online can introduce problems, as Stuart learned back in 2013.

STUART DUNCAN: I saw a lot of parents on social media saying that their children loved Minecraft, but when they tried to play on the public servers, because they had those extremes, they'd be really, really happy when they're happy or really, really mad when they're mad, or they wouldn't understand the social cues or whatever. So they go on these public servers, and they often would end up being bullied. And specifically, like trolls, they look for people that they can push, they want to see how far they could push somebody. And if an Autistic person reacts that way, they don't even have to know that they are Autistic. They just have to know that, “oh, that person got really angry when I did this, let's see how far we can push it”. And so, I saw a lot of these parents on social media, and I realised that they just didn't have any place for their kids to play together. There was no special server that would accommodate them. So I saw all these people saying, “I wish there was, I wish there was, I wish there was”, and I thought, “I can do that”. And so I did.

JAMES PARKINSON: Autism can be difficult to define, because everyone’s experience is a little different. It’s a condition that impacts how people feel, how they think, and how they interact with their environment and other people. Some Autistic people have trouble with communication and social interaction, and a variety of sensory problems.

STUART DUNCAN: That's the kicker, isn't it? It's really hard to explain. But for the most part - and this is probably why it's so different is - when you get down to like, actual physical differences, like actual neurology, if you were to take a brain scan of the normal, average, typical person, and then you were to take a brain scan of somebody that has Autism - any person that has Autism - what you'll find is that the electrical activity, the actual neurons that are firing, and the charges that are being passed around the brain are way more extreme, way more elevated in the person with Autism. Basically, there's just more activity. So now you have a lot more stimuli. You have a lot more, all the noises, you hear them all. Vision, like a lot of Autistic people can't go to see fireworks, all that sort of stuff. But then also communications and things like you're going to be extremely awkward because you don't know what to say. And when you do know what to say, what you do end up saying isn't what you're wanting to say, and it comes out, you know. Like, they call it a spectrum because you literally get every extreme, and somewhere in the middle, of every area and fabric of your life. And it's hard to imagine if you're not actually living it. It’s actually hard to imagine when you are living it. But that's what it's like.

JAMES PARKINSON: So, Stuart creates this Minecraft server, calling it Autcraft. He made a basic website and began inviting people to join. And because the server is only for Autistic kids and their families, you first have to request access on the website, and then be approved by Stuart - or 'AutismFather', as he’s known online. And the response he received was overwhelming.

STUART DUNCAN: My very first post on it was to Facebook, just to my friends list, which was about 300 people. And I got 750 emails in the first couple days.

JAMES PARKINSON: 750 emails!

STUART DUNCAN: I greatly underestimated just how many people, just how badly this was needed because it got shared around like wildfire, like in private. And it was great. But at the same time, like it meant that I couldn't be on the server - like I was answering emails right out of the gate. As soon as I posted it, I was answering emails and not keeping up.

JAMES PARKINSON: Stuart was completely caught off guard, and it meant he had to react pretty quickly, both from a management perspective and a technical one. Firstly, Mojang, Minecraft’s developer, makes it pretty easy to create your own server and get up and running.

STUART DUNCAN: You can go to their website, download the software, start it up, and presto, you've got a server on your computer. You have to know some networking and some technical stuff in order to have other people connect to your home computer, through your router, your network, blah, blah, blah. But you can have a home server for you and your family in a couple of clicks. To have something that's more public, worldwide or whatever, you can just go to Google and search, “Minecraft hosting”, and you'll find dozens of companies that, with a couple of clicks, you can sign up. Seven years ago, I was literally $2.50 a month for a starter package, to have a hosting service. So I paid the $2.50, I put in the name that I wanted it to be, and it gave me back a server address that I put into Minecraft and it'll connect and it was literally minutes.

JAMES PARKINSON: Stuart was a web developer at his day job, so getting started wasn’t a problem. But at $2.50 a month, the server would only accommodate about five players at once, and Stuart had around a thousand people wanting to join, within days of launching Autcraft. So after a week or so, his hosting fees were up to about $80 a month. And at the same time, a whole community of players is beginning to form, and Stuart quickly learned that he couldn’t manage the server on his own.

STUART DUNCAN: Right away, I had to go and talk to friends, I had to talk to people who were joining. So like, parents that would join with their kids. I would watch and if they were doing really, really well at helping people or encouraging, supporting people, talking the kids out of arguments and stuff - I would recruit them and say, “do you want to help me run this? Do you want to be an admin? Do you want to be a helper?”. And you know, I give you a role and you have more permissions to be able to help take care of the place with me. Probably the best move I ever made was just to say, “you know, you seem really nice, you're being really great with the kids. Can you help?”, and they did.

JAMES PARKINSON: Stuart now had a small team of volunteers. Admins helped with some of the technical stuff on the back end, and other staff were actively playing the game, alongside Autcraft’s members and ensuring the community remained a friendly space. Stuart was still doing the bulk of the work, and juggling Autcraft with his full time job, but he soon took on an even greater responsibility. Kids started coming to him with all kinds of problems and mental health challenges, and Stuart was there to listen.

STUART DUNCAN: It was very - it's still very exhausting. I've heard so many stories from bullies at school, to just not fitting in and feeling alone, to abusive parents or parents in denial, or just the whole gamut. And I'm not a therapist, and we make it very clear that we're not therapists. So we can't give them any advice. We can't tell them what they can do to solve these problems. But we can be a listening ear, and that's what we do. We give them as much time as they need, as many hours as it takes, as many days. Sometimes it's all the way through high school, like it's been seven years I've been running the server. You know, you talk to, like, a kid who says that they just want to end it all because it's also so hard, and you just tell them, you know, you understand and you've had to go through that too. And you know, that this community, all of us, we're here for you and it shows that you care, right? It shows that I care. It shows that we all care. And that's something. And you just be there, and after eight hours of talking to somebody and finally they feel better and they thank you, and they go to bed and then they’re there next day and they thank you again. It's the best reward you'll ever get in your entire life, but it's also the most exhausting, most stressful...like, I often say, like, “yeah, I'm sitting here in my chair at home, yeah, I'm sitting on a video game”. But this is the toughest thing I've ever had to do in my entire life, but also the most rewarding.

JAMES PARKINSON: Stuart had to learn to manage his own mental health too, stepping away to decompress and letting his volunteers take over for a while. But eventually, the workload was so great that he had to find a way to focus on Autcraft full time. And once again, he decided to reach out to its community, starting a Patreon, and asking for support.

STUART DUNCAN: And I set myself an account and then I turned back to the community and I said, look, I need to focus on my family or on you; your families, your players, your kids, and give you the proper time necessary. And for that, I need your support. And they did they did. The ones who could - obviously it's a free service and I want to keep it that way - but the people who could, they were willing to pledge monthly, a donation, in order to help keep myself and the server afloat. And it's been supported that way ever since, it's been my full time job ever since October 2015.

JAMES PARKINSON: Today, Autcraft has a volunteer staff of around 50 people, with over 12,000 members on the server from around the world - and that number is constantly growing. Stuart receives around 50 to 100 new applications every day. So the Patreon support doesn’t just cover hosting fees for the server, it allows Stuart to dedicate the time required to manage an active community of this size.

STUART DUNCAN: I wake up at 5am. I get right onto the server right away, but I'm in what we call ‘vanish’, where the players can't tell I'm there, but I'm there. And what I'll do is I'll run around and I'll change the dates on signs and do, like, the odds and ends here and there so that everything is up to date for that day. And then I will go and answer emails, Facebook messages, I will check social media, stuff like that. And then what I do is whitelist applications, and I'll go through like 20, 30 of those, depending on how many came in, but it's a lot at all times. So I try to get as many of those done as I can. And then I'll go back to the game, and then I actually come out of ‘vanish’, and then I talk to people. And then I get what we call mod requests done, which are like support tickets. So like, if a player needs something, they don't ask an admin, they do a mod rec, and then we get to it and when we're ready. So anyway, I get all those things done, and I talk to the players and see how they’re doing. And I say hi to all the players in Australia, because it'll be nighttime for them when it's morning for me, and hear about their day. Then the UK players come on and I talk to them and stuff. And then I'll take a break around lunchtime, and then I have to do plugin stuff. So I’ve got to check for updates, I’ve got to check for updates for the server, I’ve got to check for any glitches, I gotta check for all that sort of stuff. I start working on - so I like to make custom mods. So Minecraft has zombies and skeletons and stuff like that. I like to make my own custom stuff. So then we're working on, you know, our own custom changes to the game. We have, like, a system where when you kill a monster or an animal, like a cow or a pig or whatever, it'll drop its head, sometimes, not always. And on very, very rare occasions, it'll drop a shiny head. It's a lot like Pokémon, you can get shiny Pokémon. So I like to go and find fun new things to do or to make things better, or I add in new ‘shinies’ that are not already there, stuff like that. That stuff gets done in the afternoon - and then I go back into the game again, out of vanish again, and then I'm talking to those players, and then we're playing and stuff. And then I'll get all the players together and we'll do like a big community fight with all the mobs and all the custom stuff I've done, and everything we all get in there and it's like a huge epic battle for an hour, and lots of people die over and over again, it's a lot of fun. And then when that's done, then I get you know, the evening mod requests done, and I wrap stuff up and talk to the players and stuff. And then the next admin or whoever will come on, and by then it'll be 10:30, 11 o'clock. So for me personally - the others are all volunteers, they do, they sign on, do mod requests and play with the kids and stuff. For me, I’m doing 18 to 20 hour days.

JAMES PARKINSON: Like most online communities, Autcraft has some basic rules that players must abide by, designed to keep the community safe and welcoming, and the game running smoothly.

STUART DUNCAN: They're pretty straightforward. There's a lot of them. But there's like no swearing, no being mean to each other, no talking about inappropriate topics. So we have players, like, as young as six years old, so we don't want them talking about, you know, teenage topics, relationships, or horror movies or things like that, right? Anything that's not appropriate for a six year old shouldn't be on there. And for the most part, everybody is cool with that. Other than that, it's a lot of maintenance rules. So for example, like you can't have 300 chickens at your farm because that's too many when once you consider that there could be 80 people on. If there's 80 people with 300 chickens each, that adds up to a lot of chickens, and then and then that takes up hardware, the CPU and the RAM starts to falter and the game slows down. So we've got like, you know, some rules for you can only build so much stuff before it starts to impact other people on the server. But yeah, for the most part, it's all, the rules are all about equality and kindness. And that's kind of what our system is based on. Like, we have things like Player of the Week and CBA’s - which are short for Caught Being Awesome. And that's our way of rewarding players for being generous and kind and friendly to each other.

JAMES PARKINSON: Caught Being Awesome - I love that. And these social rules and reward systems aren't the only thing that makes Autcraft unique. Stuart has also used Minecraft itself to create virtual spaces that are designed specifically for kids with Autism. That’s coming up, after the break.

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JAMES PARKINSON: In the physical world, multi-sensory environments are these relaxing rooms that are specially designed as therapeutic spaces for people with Sensory Processing Disorder. They have things like different coloured lights, glass tubes of bubbling water and objects with a variety of textures. They can be customised for different levels of sensory input, and they’re often found in schools, community centres and even airports. These kinds of spaces allow Autistic people to self-regulate, especially when they’re feeling overwhelmed. And Stuart wanted to recreate this experience within Minecraft.

STUART DUNCAN: So what we tried to do on Autcraft was simulate that, so we created rooms that have changing lights that will flicker all over the place. We have some that just have flowing water, we have one that is completely black, it's all darkness except for little white dots, which simulates being in outer space. We have one where it's low gravity, so you can jump up really, really high and then float back down to the ground. And all these rooms have the chat turned off. So there could be 50 people on the server all talking about all kinds of different things and you go to one of these calm rooms and the chat just stops, there's just no more talking. And you go in there and you're listening to the lava bubble or the water running or watching the lights move, or you're in darkness or whatever. So anytime you're feeling overwhelmed by real life, or you're feeling overwhelmed on the server, if there's just too much activity or whatever's going on, you don't have to leave the game. You can still be on the server you want to be on, and you just go take this little break in this calm room until all that crazy activity in your mind calms itself down, and then you can come back out of there and rejoin and keep on playing.

JAMES PARKINSON: Autcraft has received widespread media coverage over the years, including the BBC, Buzzfeed and PC Gamer. Stuart even gave a TED Talk in 2017. And Autcraft has also caught the attention of researchers.

KATE RINGLAND: I started my PhD interested in designing assistive technology, so technology that could support people with disabilities. And very quickly, after I started my program, I came across the Autcraft server and found kind of a happy place between my interest in supporting disabled folks and video games, which is like a personal hobby and passion of mine. So it kind of just all clicked together.

JAMES PARKINSON: This is Dr Kate Ringland.

KATE RINGLAND: The first time I logged on, I was completely overwhelmed. It was a lot, the very first day, because the kids are all in the text, chatting. There was just a lot to take in all at once. But once I kind of figured out what was going on and oriented a little bit, everyone was super friendly, everyone came and said hello, kids came up and gave me things, they shared their stuff with me, they invited me to come play with them. So it was a really kind of wonderful, almost surreal experience, as someone who's been in less nice gamer spaces, to really have that kind of really positive, welcoming experience.

JAMES PARKINSON: Kate spent a lot of time within the Autcraft community, observing and interacting with players. And she discovered that a lot of these kids, who may have difficulties with social interaction in the physical world, were having a very different experience within Minecraft. One example was a boy who had recruited other players to help build a huge mansion.

KATE RINGLAND: So I got to just ask him questions; how did he build it? What inspired him? Things like that. And he described to me this entire process where he had talked to other kids in Autcraft, told them he really wanted to build something, they kind of formed a little team - so it was kind of like he was like this little project manager. And they worked together, they went on Google and found images of buildings they were interested in, they translated that into something they wanted to build in the game. And they worked together as a team to put all this together. And for me, the thing that was really striking is these are potentially kids that are struggling in school or they're being bullied in other places or they're having trouble making friends. And here's a space where they're able to not only, you know, hang out and be friends with other people, but they're doing teamwork, they're working together in some really meaningful ways, and they have a real tangible kind of output afterwards. I really liked that. I think that that was perhaps the most impressive part of the entire Autcraft experience for me was seeing the actual creative artefacts that were coming out of these kids, and coming together as they were collaborating and doing things that we often really dismiss, when we're thinking about those with Autism. So the big takeaway from Autcraft in general is it was this kind of space where kids are able to do that. And I think a lot of that, you know, is kind of a combination of the game Minecraft, but then also the very kind of special experience that is created within the Autcraft community itself.

JAMES PARKINSON: Kate’s research found that Autcraft is empowering Autistic kids to customise their own experience, and express their creativity, all within a space that’s safe and consistent. They’re also developing communication skills, self confidence, and learning to self-regulate, both their mood and sensory experience.

KATE RINGLAND: So the great thing about spaces like Autcraft, is it kind of takes away some of those barriers that are being created in the physical world. So it takes away the barrier of having to worry all the time about making eye contact, even though it's painful for you, or having to interpret a lot of non-verbal cues that you might find completely incomprehensible. So all of a sudden, you're able to do kind of these more social play type activities. and explore yourself in new ways, because you're not worrying about those other things that people keep expecting you to have to do. So it's kind of nice in that way, in that kids are able to then relax a little bit and be their more true self, and in that, then learn who they are and you know, who they want to become.

JAMES PARKINSON: Stuart says that some kids were even non-verbal when they first joined Autcraft, but being part of the community helped them develop those skills.

STUART DUNCAN: One of them, that I'm thinking of right now, she's actually a helper, she's actually earned a rank and she helps to run the server and, you know, settle arguments and stuff like that. She didn't really - she said words and stuff - but she wasn't really a verbal communicator before having joined the server. It gave her those skills, the confidence, learning what to say, how to communicate effectively and stuff. Even if it was in text, gave her what she needed to be able to speak. But more so than that, I hear from a lot of parents who say that their kids are making their first friends ever. And, like, in real life, not just on the server. And that's because they're learning how to make friends on the server first. So they're learning how to forgive mistakes, how to have accidents, and not feel so devastated and guilty about it that, you know, they just learn from it and move on. How to be a friend, not just have a friend. They learn a lot of the skills talking to each other here, in an environment where it's safe to do that.

JAMES PARKINSON: A great story that Stuart points to a lot is where one child came up with his own solution to make the in-game chat easier to read. He’d use rows of single characters as line-breakers. But the other kids got upset, thinking he was just spamming the chat.

STUART DUNCAN: What I did was I had already been in contact with his guardian, who I believe was his grandmother, and I messaged her, and I said, “it seems out of character. Can you tell me why you think he would be doing this?”. And she said, “oh, he pretty much lost his vision in one eye, and he started to lose it in the other eye too. So he's having a really hard time keeping up with the chat, with reading the chat, but especially when it starts going fast.” And so what he's doing is, when he does like a long line of A's and the chat is he’s breaking it up into pieces. So now he's got a top half and a bottom half of the chat to read. And I thought, that's actually pretty clever. So I actually got together with a guy I know, who does code, he does plugins and stuff and we sat up all night overnight. And we came up with a brand new plugin, where you could do a command, which was split-chat, and then whatever character you wanted. So you can put in a dash, equal signs, asterisks, you can put in the letter A, or you can put in like a blank space, or you can do whatever you want. And then when you press ‘enter’, that becomes your line splitter. So then in between every single line that appears in chat is your separator. So you can even do, like. rainbow, you can do colourful letters and stuff. And it'll do like a rainbow in between each line. And it separates everything that makes it more visible for everybody to see. But we also took it one step further, we made it so that your name - if somebody says AutismFather in chat, I will see my name standout because it'd be a different colour. Nobody else will see it in a different colour, just me. So your name would be highlighted. We added chat channels. So now not only can you go to a calm room, where chat is turned off, but now, if you and two other people want to play or you're just building something together, you're mining or you want to play hide-and-seek together, you go into a chat channel, and now only the three of you are talking and you don't see the rest of chat, and the rest of the chat doesn't see you. So we added a bunch of features like that. And it was basically to accommodate this one kid, but everybody on the server uses all of those features every single day.

JAMES PARKINSON: The chat-splitter was so useful that Mojang have now implemented it in Minecraft as a standard feature.

JAMES PARKINSON: Kate Ringland’s research has received several Best Paper awards and nominations, and has helped spark conversation, encouraging people to think differently about assistive technology. She spent around 80 hours in the Autcraft community and the findings she collected and published were shared openly for parents and anyone else to access. It’s clear that a space like Autcraft offers a lot of benefits and opportunities for kids with Autism. However, there are still many legitimate concerns over the impact of video games on children with ASD, like behavioural problems and a higher risk of addiction. But it’s also going to be different for each individual, and it’s ultimately up to parents to monitor what they’re child is playing, how much they’re playing, the influence it’s having, and finding a healthy balance.

KATE RINGLAND: Truly finding that balance is something that's going to look different for every family. It's difficult, especially if this is their safe space, it's going to be hard. And I’ll say here too, video games have gotten a really bad wrap and we still have a long ways to go, in kind of changing public opinion about, you know, kind of some of the more controversial aspects of them. But I feel like the tide is changing. And we are seeing, kind of, more positive game spaces. And as the, kind of, more academic research community shifts their gaze, I think that that eventually will trickle down to the rest of society.

KATE RINGLAND: As technology becomes more ubiquitous, having these skills to be able to converse online, and kind of get some of the technical knowhow that comes with playing video games, or chatting and learning about the best practices for using social media, learning what safety looks like, if you're talking about yourself on the internet, these are all going to be increasingly essential skills to have because we are we are now in a world where technology is ubiquitous. People are online, our relationships online are just as real and important, and sometimes as impactful as what we are doing in the physical world.

JAMES PARKINSON: As someone who grew up playing video games, without a community like Autcraft, Stuart Duncan believes it could have been a positive influence for him, if something like it existed when he was a kid.

STUART DUNCAN: If I had Autcraft, I would have been able to talk to people, I would have been able to interact with people my own age, I would have been able to share and have people share with me, I would have been able to have fights, and learn how to, you know, work things out with people that I had fights with. I honestly believe my life would be completely, 100% without a doubt, totally different if I had Autcraft in my life when I was young.

JAMES PARKINSON: For Kate Ringland, Autcraft highlights that creating safer online spaces that cater to more diverse people is possible. And also that more games can and should be designed with accessibility in mind.

KATE RINGLAND: I think one of the big takeaways about this for me was there, there are a lot more gamers out there than game designers are necessarily thinking about - and not every game has to be an open, modifiable world, I understand that there are lots of different game experiences that people want to have. But I think that, that this is just another signal to game designers that there's a lot more diversity in the game players than they then they might have previously thought. And so, maybe we can start thinking about, what does it look like if we have, kind of you know, cross-ability teams playing a game? Or what does it look like if we have someone who needs a different sensory experience? How do we build that into the game and still keep play fun?

JAMES PARKINSON: Thanks so much to Stuart Duncan and Kate Ringland.

JAMES PARKINSON: Given the incredible influence of Minecraft and the freedom it provides, it’s been used in some really cool ways, like staging virtual concerts, and as a tool for teachers to use in their classrooms. One community in Ethiopia even used Minecraft to design urban spaces. That story is next on Games Archive, right after this.

CREDITS

JAMES PARKINSON: Gameplay is a production of Lawson Media. This episode was written and produced by me, James Parkinson. Research and pre-production by our student intern, Maddie Spencer.

JAMES PARKINSON: The Gameplay theme was composed by Breakmaster Cylinder, our artwork is by Keegan Sanford, and all other music in this episode from Breakmaster Cylinder.

JAMES PARKINSON: You can follow the show on Twitter, Facebook and Twitch at gameplaypodcast. We’re also on YouTube, and Discord. You’ll find those links, plus transcripts, further reading and so much more on our website, gameplay.co.

GAMES ARCHIVE SEGMENT

JAMES PARKINSON: In 2019, a local community in Ethiopia's capital city, Addis Ababa looked to turn an informal waste dumping site into a vibrant urban park, and they did it with the help of Minecraft.

JAMES PARKINSON: The Urban Natural Assets: Rivers for Life project is funded by the city of Addis Ababa, UN-Habitat and SwedBio, and it aims to revitalise natural urban spaces. Over a 4-day workshop, they engaged the local community, including women and children to redesign the area. Minecraft enabled people to work collaboratively and creatively, and think outside the limitations of the real world environment. They submitted 12 designs which served as the foundation for the final construction, giving people tangible input into how community spaces can serve their own needs.

JAMES PARKINSON: The park was re-opened on World Cities Day in 2019, and includes a playground, bike path, benches, lawn areas and gardens. Life was brought back to the river that runs through the park, and the people began to return too. The city was even able to provide jobs to locals to take care of the space.

JAMES PARKINSON: I’m James Parkinson, thanks for listening.


References:

Autcraft.com

How I use Minecraft to help kids with autism [TED Talk]

“Autsome”: Fostering an Autistic Identity in an Online Minecraft Community for Youth with Autism

Video games can remove challenging parts of social interaction for people with autism, expert says

Video games and autism: helpful or harmful?

Video game use and problem behaviours in boys with autism spectrum disorders

Using Minecraft to redesign urban spaces



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