People who’ve never made friends before are now making friends, and parents not only have less meltdowns to help their children through, but they’re now bonding with their children in ways they’ve only ever dreamed of before.” – Stuart Duncan aka. AutismFather

In mid-2013 Stuart Duncan, better known as AutismFather, created a Minecraft server that is designed specifically to be a safe haven for children on the autism spectrum, and their families, to play Minecraft together.

Stuart Duncan's Minecraft avatar, AutismFather

Stuart Duncan’s Minecraft avatar, AutismFather

With a few plugins and some careful supervision, Autcraft protects its players from bullying, stealing and swearing, allowing them to just play and socialise however they like.

Stuart says he expected “a few dozen players” on the server from time to time, but ended up getting over 700 emails within the first two days. Parents, he says, “spread the news like wildfire”.

Autcraft has a tightly controlled ‘whitelist’, but Stuart kindly allowed me onto the server to get to know the community and find out for myself what makes it special.

I decided that this would be the perfect learning experience for me. I have no family connection to autism at all and, somehow, I had reached the age of 27 without ever actually spending any time with anyone I knew to be on the spectrum. I’d never played Minecraft before either, but it took less than a minute to download and I consider myself to be pretty damn proficient with video games, so I figured I could probably speed through the entire game in a couple of hours.

So, with my fairly limited knowledge of autism, and even more limited knowledge of Minecraft, I thought it best to have a chat with Stuart before I logged onto Autcraft, to find out what I should expect.

“Most of the time,” Stuart told me, “the children behave in-game as they do in real life.”

“Some of the children have tried to play on other servers before coming to ours and were bullied, killed, threatened, teased, stolen from and griefed.”

“Most people would have thought that putting a whole bunch of anti-social and prone-to-meltdown (rage) children together on a server would never work, even those who know autism well.”

“But what we’ve proven is that not only does it work but it’s become one of the most friendly, socially positive and extremely caring communities in all of Minecraft.”


By the time I was done bombarding Stuart’s inbox with questions, I’d played a good few hours of single player Minecraft and I was pretty sure I had the beating of it. I’d managed to cobble together an effective tree house using dirt and wood planks, I’d crafted a wooden sword and I was even starting to survive the odd night without being savaged to death by zombies. I considered myself to have pretty much completed the game (a quick look at the Minecraft wiki would probably, at this point, have been well advised).

I’d noticed by then just how easy it was to become entranced in what I called a ‘Minecraft vortex’ – a quick twenty minute game, after which my watch would mysteriously allege that three hours or more had passed. I’d heard previously that this game had an unusual effect on the flow of space-time and I’d also heard it was popular among those on the autism spectrum, but didn’t quite know why.

“Sort of,” said Stuart, when I asked if there was an inherent harmony between the gameplay of Minecraft and the psychological processes of minds affected by autism. “It’s more so that Minecraft gives them [autistic children] the freedom to express themselves in whatever way they want. This is why LEGO, sandboxes and, of course, solitary play are all big favourites with those on the spectrum.”

A plaque, dedicating a lighthouse in Autcraft to Start Duncan

A plaque, dedicating a lighthouse in Autcraft to Start Duncan and his team – “without whom countless spectrum kids would surely have struck a rocky shore.”

“All children want to just do the things they want to do but those on the spectrum are especially focused and difficult to redirect. With Minecraft, they can be as technical or creative or artistic or even do as little as they want and have a ton of fun doing it. The more they do it, the better they get and no one tells them to stop and do something else.”

“I started the server with the intention of just giving the players a safe place, free from bullies and griefing and swearing, somewhere that they could be themselves. I always knew that they’d ‘blossom’ on their own and do well.”

“However, even I wasn’t prepared for just how much they could grow just by being given a bit of safety.”

“Some children are reading and writing at high school levels when they couldn’t read or write at all before, while others are building extravagant castles even though their first building when they joined us was nothing but dirt, cobble and planks.”

“It’s not without its hiccups as some children are still learning their ways around a multiplayer environment but I can safely say that, with over 3200 players now, most of whom are autistic children (others being family), our community is nothing short of incredible. Even more so than even I thought it could have been.”

Stuart’s talk of ‘dirt, cobble and planks’ should’ve been my first clue that I was perhaps not the Minecraft master I considered myself to be. When he mentioned ‘extravagant castles’, I assumed he just meant ‘tree houses made of cobblestone instead of dirt’.

By the time my single player practice was complete, my finest dirt tree house had become so advanced that I had created a ‘death pit’ just below, into which I could strike zombies who attempted to climb up.

Within the first hour of its existence, the ‘death pit’ had claimed about twenty lives. Three or four of its victims were zombies, one was a hostile spider and, sadly, the other fifteen lives lost were my own – tragic accidents while carrying out routine maintenance.

Nonetheless, I concluded that my master tree house must’ve reached an optimal level of sophistication if I myself couldn’t even escape the clutches of its ruthless security system.

So, I abandoned single player mode and logged onto Autcraft for the first time, feeling confident that I had the mining and crafting skills to fit effortlessly into the community.

In my next blog post, I will explain how this confidence may have been a little bit misplaced.